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Managing Stress in Challenging Times

Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D., Director, The Coping Counselors at the Center for Coping, Hicksville, NY.
Member, Autoimmune Association National Board of Directors

The current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been causing increased stress for most people. Both the known facts about the virus, as well as the unknown concerns, can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for adults and children.

It can be helpful to recognize that the way we are affected by anything going on around us is directly related to the way we think about it. Therefore, an important category of coping strategies involves working on your thinking.

We are all dealing with the coronavirus and its impact on society. However, if you think about the people you know, you’ll realize that they’re all dealing with it differently. How can that be if we’re all dealing with the same situation? It’s because each person thinks differently. So if you work on your thinking, you can improve the way you deal with it, even while we’re waiting for it to run its course.

So what can you do? Here are two simple suggestions for how you can start working on your thinking.

Focus on Positive Thoughts Instead of Negative Thoughts

If you were to have a “transcript” of every thought going through your mind, you’d be amazed to see how negative your thinking is. And you get into trouble if you are overwhelmed with negative thoughts, and you don’t “fight back” with realistic positive thoughts.

So work on that. Try to identify as many of your negative thoughts as you can about what’s going on. Then, instead of allowing them to become “a runaway train”, try to jump in and come up with some positive responses. For example, instead of thinking, “I can’t deal with the stress; everything is falling apart,” you might think, “I’m working to deal with the stress better, and I’m going to do the best I can until the problem peaks and then starts to wane.”

Use Positive Affirmations

Positive affirmations are encouraging statements, directed at yourself, that you either say out loud or think to yourself. They are designed to strengthen you, help you to think more positively, and better offset debilitating negative thoughts.

It’s important that these affirmations be realistic and believable, and that you keep repeating them to yourself. In this way, even if you don’t believe them at first, the repetition will help them to become a greater part of the way you think.

Examples of positive affirmations that some people find helpful would be, “I am doing the best I can,” “I can get through this one day at a time,” and “I’m going to continue to focus on the positive things going on in my life.”

Try to Relax

Relaxation is the opposite of tension, so the more you’re able to relax, the more you can your anxiety in check. The relaxation techniques I’m suggesting are clinical strategies, not the typical ways people think of relaxing such as walking, listening to music, reading, etc. Instead, I’m referring to strategies such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, among many others.

Here’s the link to a simple relaxation technique that only takes two minutes to do. It’s an effective technique that I developed more than 30 years ago, and has helped people all over the world.

If you like the technique, I’d be happy to send you an mp3 file of the “Quick Release,” at no charge. Just email me at drphil[email protected], and I’ll make sure it’s sent right back to you.

Moving Forward…

These are skills that take practice, especially when you’re surrounded by negativity. But they give you something to do, something to work on, to get your thinking in check… while we wait for this coronavirus crisis to run its course.

Robert H. Phillips, Ph.D., Director, The Coping Counselors at the Center for Coping, Hicksville, NY.
Member, Autoimmune Association National Board of Directors


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About the Author

Dr. Robert H. Phillips is a licensed psychologist who has been in private practice since 1975 and who has, throughout his career, published and spoken widely on coping with physical ailments and other psychological topics. The published author of more than 40 books, he has presented over five hundred papers and talks at seminars, conventions, and meetings throughout the United States and internationally.

Dr. Phillips currently serves on the National Board of Directors of the American Autoimmune and Related Diseases Association (AARDA), and has served on the Board of Directors of the national Lupus Foundation of America and the Nassau Chapter of the American Heart Association. He is on medical advisory boards of, and is the psychologist for, a number of additional major local and national organizations.

Articles and stories about Dr. Phillips have appeared in numerous professional journals and magazines such as Medical Times and Prevention. The Ladies Home Journal, Vogue, and Essence magazines have also featured his work. Coverage in national and local daily newspapers includes the New York Times, Newsday, and the New York Post. He has appeared on dozens of television and radio programs, and is the host of “Coping Conversations”, a popular, nationally available podcast.

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