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  • Pamela Punzalan

Learning to Cope with the Effects of COVID

It has been about a year since we felt the initial impact of COVID-19 on our emotional and physical well-being. By now most of us have a clear awareness of how the pandemic has affected us. Conversations about mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial health have been an important part of our overall well-being and recovery.

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Registered Art Therapist, I have been supporting individuals of all ages in my practice with learning how to cope with the effects of COVID. Each of us has been deeply impacted by the pandemic and my hope is that I am able to share with you some tips on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and provide you with some tools to help you cope. Some common themes and stressors that I have noticed in my work include:

  • Virtual learning (this has affected both children and adults)

  • Remote working

  • Isolation and loneliness

  • Grief and loss (death of a loved one, closing of favorite store or restaurant, social restrictions, inability to engage in our regular social rituals such as holiday celebrations)

  • Financial struggles (job loss, decreased or loss of income)

  • Overstimulation and sensationalism from the media, leading to extreme worry

  • Sleep disruption

  • Unhealthy coping (emotional eating, relapse, excessive alcohol consumption)

  • Increased agitation

  • Hopelessness

  • Fear of, or known exposure to COVID leading to increased social anxiety

  • Somatic symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches, and fatigue

People are realizing the importance of having access to resources to support our mental health needs. Engagement in psychotherapy and seeking support from mental health providers is being normalized, which means more people are getting support. Sometimes we need reminders of what we have available to us. Below are some ideas:

  • Sensory objects and fidget tools, such as play dough and tactile objects, can help with managing the wiggles and difficulty focusing during virtual learning (and remote meetings).

  • Get back to the basics and schedule time for intentional connection – turn off electronics and go for a walk, play a board game, eat meals together as a family.

  • Connect with your inner child and make art. Color in a coloring book, decorate handmade cards and mail them out to friends. Don’t feel like creating your own? Buy a pack of store-bought greeting cards. Brighten someone else’s day while lifting your mood with creative outlets and sending an uplifting note.

  • Listen to your body. Notice what it’s trying to communicate. Our bodies communicate to us through emotions and sensations. When we ignore it, it can manifest as ailments such as headaches or stomach aches. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member, or find a therapist who you feel comfortable working with, to process through the thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing. When we ignore them for too long, it can lead to anxiety, depression, and overwhelm.

  • Daily gratitude journaling rewires the neurons in our brain. Creating a simple gratitude list each day, listing 3 things you are grateful for, can instill hope and compassion. I recommend being as specific as possible with your list.

  • Movement is medicine! Go for a walk or a bike ride. Find a live streaming exercise or yoga class, or even a pre-recorded one off of YouTube. Make it fun – play tag or kick the soccer ball around with your children.

  • Minimize the amount of time you watch the news or scroll for new information. The media will use words and images to capture your attention. This causes a heightened response in your nervous system, which is contributes to why we feel the stress of an event when we weren’t even present.

  • Find a support group or meeting group that meets your needs and interests. Most of these groups are taking place virtually (and a few in person, too) and are often focused on specific age groups and interests, such as art meet ups, senior support meet-ups, and 12-step meetings.

  • When our struggles require more than peer support group, a psychotherapy group focused on a specific need, such as grief and loss, social skills, or anxiety, often includes psychoeducation, teaching specific skills, and provides a safe space to process through emotions with a licensed therapist.

  • Subscribe to a monthly activity kit or virtual class.

  • Connect with nature. Invest in some indoor plants. Spend time in your garden. Go for a hike or a walk along the beach. Walk barefoot on your lawn. Notice the details of your garden plants and flowers. Nature has a way of revitalizing and grounding our energy.

I wish you all a healthy and resilient 2021. I encourage you to reach out to a neighbor, family member, or friend to say hello, offer a listening ear, or a thoughtful gesture. Meaningful connection with others has been a significant part of my own personal wellness as well as in my work as a therapist. Having tools to manage stress includes having a support system and the courage to reach out for support.

by Charleen Meyer, LMFT, ATR

Charleen Meyer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Registered Art Therapist (ATR). She uses art therapy and evidence based mind-body therapies called Somatic Experiencing and EMDR in her South Torrance practice to help people create meaningful connections with themselves and others by healing their emotional wounds. She offers psychotherapy for adults, teens, and children who suffer from anxiety, depression, trauma, grief and loss, and perfectionism. Charleen offers in-person and virtual sessions throughout all of California. She currently offers a bi-monthly virtual self-care art workshop for women called "Fill Your Cup." You can contact her at or You can also follow her on Instagram at therapywithchar.

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