Forum provides tips for managing pandemic emotions

Living life during a pandemic has forced many people to deal with significant disruptions to their daily lives and handle the overwhelming emotions that come with it.

To help ISU employees find ways to deal with the pandemic’s psychological toll, ISU WorkLife and university human resources sponsored the forum, Above the Emotional Fray: Managing Your Emotions Through Pandemic Fatigue on Jan. 19.

ISU WellBeing

A recording of the forum will be available on the WorkLife website under the "Special Events" tab. For more information on mental health resources as well as mindfulness and well-being activities go to the ISU WellBeing website.

More than 200 people registered for the virtual event where five panelists -- Luke Seaward, expert in stress management; Dina Eisenberg, ISU ombuds officer; Jacob Meyer, ISU assistant professor of kinesiology; Doug Gentile, ISU professor of psychology; and Joleen Frideres, licensed mental health counselor -- answered questions posed by moderator Stephanie Downs, ISU WorkLife and WellBeing senior coordinator.

What to question

Gentile said it's too late to question whether the pandemic has eroded the quality of my life; it probably has. Two more useful questions at this point, he said, are:

  • Are the coping strategies and habits I have developed still helping me or hurting me?
  • What supports do I need to change the habits or build new healthier ones?

Ways to find balance

Looking at only the negative leads to stress, but it is unrealistic to only see the positive. Panelists shared ideas for finding a healthy balance:

  • Look for one positive when times are challenging
  • Spend more time outside
  • Take a walk before and/or after work to reset
  • Reduce screen time and avoid "doom scrolling"
  • Regularity of exercise trumps duration and intensity
  • Do something nice for another person
  • Make a list of things you can and cannot control; focus on what you can
  • Meditate

Dealing with stress

Much of the past 10 months has people grieving the loss of the way things used to be. Seaward acknowledged the importance of grieving but warned not to get stuck in it.

"There is healthy grieving, but we don't want to get so caught up in it that it is all we do," he said. "Prolonged grieving becomes a stressor in itself and leads to health problems."

The key is to acknowledge it, address it and move beyond it. Be a victor and not a victim when it comes to dealing with stress, Seaward said.

Meyer's research on activity and well-being during this time led to what he called predictable but important conclusions:

  • People who decreased their activity level in response to the pandemic had higher levels of depression and anxiety than people who maintained their activity level.
  • People who increased screen time experienced more loneliness, depression and stress.
  • People who maintained or increased time spent outside during the pandemic had lower levels of stress and better mental health.

Asking for help

Eisenberg said the challenges of the pandemic have led to many questioning their own ability to trust.

"No one is fine right now," she said. "If someone says they are, they are lying to themselves and to you. No one is getting through this challenging time without some struggle."

Working from home can make it difficult to know when or who to reach out to for support and help. Voicing struggles is important because it allows others to feel comfortable sharing their feelings, Eisenberg said.

Eisenberg suggests people check in with themselves throughout the day and do something to reset -- take a 20-minute nap, if needed.

Being able to overcome one's own ego and show some vulnerability is key to getting help from others, Frideres said.

Dealing with anger

Not being in control -- of a situation or how others respond to it -- has some feeling angry, Eisenberg said.

"Anger is not necessarily a bad emotion, but what you do with it could be bad," she said. "Often the target is not what we are angry about, it is just nearest or easiest to hit."

Taking a moment to pause allows for a chance to think about what led to the emotion and how it can be channeled.

Anger is a protective emotion but often masks fear or hurt, Frideres said.

"Anger is a healthy emotion because it is a survival emotion," Seaward said. "It is OK to be angry, but you want to refine your expectations so you don't give your power away."