by Sarah JF Braley | July 24, 2020

Lydia Z. Golub, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Montclair, N.J., has been understandably busy, as her clients -- mostly seen on-screen this year -- bring up the pandemic daily. To help them cope with the added stressors, Golub helps them analyze, accept and adjust, practices that can help us all.

Start by analyzing how you coped with stress before the pandemic. Did you go shopping at the mall, hang out at a bar or restaurant with friends? Did you travel? Or did you curl up with a good book in your backyard or watch a movie with family? "The difference between what you used to do vs. what you can do now will determine the degree of adjustment that you'll have to make now that the world has dramatically changed," Golub says.

Now accept that things are different. "I like to think that life is 50 percent out of my control and 50 percent in my control," she says. "But really, there is a limit to how much impact you have on the reality around you." She advises embracing what you do know based on science and facts. We know some things about how to protect ourselves (wear masks and distance). But there's a lot we don't know. That uncertainty is just a fact we have to accept.

To help yourself adjust, think about what you used to do to cope before and what realistically you can do now. If your previous coping strategies were things you can comfortably do now (reading a book, going for a hike in a nearby park, watching a movie at home with your family) then you won't have to do much to change your coping behavior. 

But if the difference between what you used to do and what you can do now is greater (you used cope by shopping at a mall, dining out or traveling), you will have to make bigger adjustments. This is an opportunity for you to develop new skills. Can you increase your computer abilities to shop or communicate with people online? Can you discover new countries by watching videos on the Internet and planning to visit new destinations that you hadn't considered before? Can you learn new cooking skills from these different countries? What other aspects of your life are you now able to focus on, such as deepening relationships with loved ones or close friends?

"Remember, change is difficult, scary and uncomfortable," Golub adds. "It reminds us of what we don't know, our inability and lack of skill. When we're stressed we don't want to discover new things, we want to revert to old ways of doing things, things that are familiar and safe, like the security blanket we used as a young child. But if we reassure ourselves that this is something we can master, then it can also be an opportunity for new discoveries. As a species, we have survived because we have an innate ability to be flexible and adjust to new realities. But it will take time. If we stay positive and embrace this new adventure, who knows what new discoveries we'll encounter as we go through this."