Increasing Positive Emotions in the midst of the COVID-19 Crisis

By Staci Berkowitz, Ph.D.

We are now in the midst of a COVID-19 crisis. If you are a human on this planet right now, you have likely experienced any number of emotions that are normative reactions to crisis situations, including fear, anxiety, sadness, frustration, guilt, and/or anger. Emotions communicate important information to our body and brains. For instance, the emotion of anxiety is intended to communicate the potential for danger in our future while the emotion of sadness may communicate an experience of loss relative to what we have or want. The unfortunate reality of the current crisis is that there is a plethora of emotion-worthy information to be communicated. It is important to validate that emotions in the midst of the coronavirus crisis are normal.

Although it may not be possible to control emotions when they initially pop up, the good news is we do have an ability to influence how we respond after emotions are present. Furthermore, we can control the actions we take that have the potential to increase the likelihood of positive emotions and decrease the likelihood of prolonged negative emotions as we cope with this crisis.

As a clinician and a member of society, I have found there to be three major crisis-related mental health concerns we are speaking about most frequently: 1 – coping with uncertainty, 2 – processing grief or loss, and 3 – coping with negative emotions.  To varying degrees, these topic areas relevant to all of us as we navigate the challenging realities of this crisis. Although there is much to say about each domain, this blog post focuses the current entry on the third, providing an overview of one strategy for becoming less vulnerable to negative emotions.

One of the challenges of living in quarantine is that, for many of us, regular sources of joy are not available and day-to-day tasks that that provide a sense of accomplishment are limited. Mental health clinicians have known for decades that (1) engaging in activities we inherently enjoy and (2) engaging in activities that give us a sense of mastery or accomplishment make us less vulnerable to intense negative emotions (and more likely to experience positive emotions). Given the sudden limitations on our day to day activities, we need to be A LOT more intentional and A LOT more creative about building these into our schedules.

Coming up with quarantine-friendly activities we can engage in that provide a sense of enjoyment and/or accomplishment can start simply. Whether it is taking a walk, reading a book, calling a friend, listening to a podcast, cooking a new recipe, or taking a warm bath, finding basic activities we find pleasant and incorporating them into our daily routines is worthwhile. Similarly, taking on tasks that may not be enjoyable in the moment, but are meaningful or rewarding because they are in line with a goal or provide a sense of accomplishment or purpose, is just as important. This may include exercise, working on crafts projects, caring for a loved one, putting away the dishes, or sorting through old emails.

It is important to consider even smaller actions as well. For instance, getting dressed, showering, and brushing your hair (tasks many of us were more accustomed to pre-quarantine) can provide a small “dose” of mastery or accomplishment, and the accumulation of enough of these experiences over time positively impacts our mood. Because many of our old routines are no longer viable, we need to build in new routines that provide these essential ingredients.

It is also important to acknowledge that for individuals experiencing increased sadness or depression, both common reactions to the current crisis, it becomes increasingly difficult to engage in many day-to-day activities. Withdrawing and isolating are natural responses to the experience of sadness. Importantly, beginning to incorporate activities that provide a sense of pleasure and accomplishment, however small they may be, can help us break out of the cycle of negative emotions. Lastly, as we all begin to create and refine our lockdown routines, it is important to acknowledge that we may simply not be as productive or as joyful during lockdown as we may have been before. That too is perfectly okay and expected. After all, we are living through a global crisis that will be a memorable part of world history! Finding a way to be compassionate towards ourselves and to recognize it is okay not to be our most productive or most ‘happy’ is perhaps one of the most mentally healthy things we can do.

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Calmer in the Face of Hardship
I came to the Center for Anxiety for help in dealing with a family member who suffered from extreme anxiety. But I ended up getting a serious illness two months later and started having my own sessions. With the help of my therapist I got through my illness, learned to understand my habits that were making my major life stresses worse, learned to communicate better, taper my anger, and surprisingly I became more calmer even though my hardships in life worsened. Therapy is a lot of work and not easy, but nothing in life comes easy! I became a better and softer mom and (when I practice what I learned) and my kids and home are calmer and happier. I am still a work in progress and have more to work on, but I know I am on the right path. I wish I knew before how my communication style and anger were really impacting my life, how being softer you can accomplish way more then being harsh. I have been to other therapists in the past and I can hands down say that the Center for Anxiety’s approach is really effective. I have even referred a bunch of people to the Center and they have been really happy with the therapists and how much they really care for their patients.
I Tackled a Long List of Fears
When I first came to the Center for Anxiety, my list of anxieties/fears was long! I was scared of getting sick, getting stranded, driving, flying and more. With the help of my therapist, I immediately got to work and tackled every one of my fears. Now the world is open to me and I feel free! I can dream big and accomplish whatever I set my mind to! I am especially grateful that I was able to do all this without having to rely on medication. It was hard work – grueling at times! – but now I have the coping tools within me for life. In fact a family member recently said to me “You are awesome. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to because you don’t let fear stop you! ” Thank you Dr. Rosmarin and the Center for Anxiety staff for helping me get here. My fears no longer limit me and I love my life. Try it, it might turn your life around too!
Highly Skilled and Professional Treatment
When I sought treatment at the Center for Anxiety, the clinic was is in its incipient stages. However, by the time I successfully finished treatment, the Center for Anxiety grew and flourished into a world-class treatment center, offering cutting-edge, evidence-based treatment to countless individuals. The continued success of the Center for Anxiety comes as no surprise to me, with a team that contains such highly skilled professionals who display clinical acumen, empathy, and compassion. When I first entered treatment I was concerned that therapy would be similar to the experiences with past psychologists: a seemingly bottomless pit with no reductions in my anxiety symptoms, but was so relieved when I started to feel less anxious after only a handful of sessions. My therapist created a treatment plan that was tailored exactly to my needs and taught me practical skills to help me work through my anxiety that I still use and practice to this very day.
No More Panic
When I first came in, I was struggling with panic disorder and didn’t even know it, which only made dealing with it that much more difficult. After my first time sitting down with my therapist, however, I instantly started to gain perspective and look at the difficult situation in a different light. Our meetings helped me conquer the issue step by step and get my life back on track. I’d strongly recommend that anyone dealing with anxiety in a way that impacts their day to day life should visit the Center for Anxiety! I know it helped me tremendously.
Free of Obsessions
When I woke up one morning last June and didn’t want to get out of bed, I knew I needed help. The thought of getting through another day with all my anxieties, obsessions and rituals was just too overwhelming. After feeling stuck for years, I just couldn’t anymore. Thankfully, that’s when I found the Center for Anxiety. Dr. Rosmarin and his staff are experts at what they do, kind and professional. After just several weeks I accomplished my initial targets. The change I experienced in such a short amount of time was astounding that I stayed on for a while longer to work on more complex goals. I soon achieved those too. Now, I am free of my obsessions, know how to manage my anxiety, and love my life. My only regret: not having done this sooner. I wish I had known that you don’t have to wait to hit rock bottom to get help.
Depression Lifted
I’m 26 years old and I’ve been suffering from terrible depression for 7 years. In the throws of my sadness I literally wanted to die. Soon after starting therapy at the Center for Anxiety, my depression lifted. My suicidal thoughts began to dissipate. I remember the feeling that came over me as soon as the dark cloud above me left. It was the most liberating feeling I have ever experienced. I actually shouted to my friends, family and anyone nearby me “I’m Happy! I am Happy!” I felt free.
Over the course of four years I developed anxiety-like symptoms (tightness in chest, gut, back) that slowly but surely increased in duration and severity. The EXTREMELY uncomfortable nature of the symptoms notwithstanding, I still continued and managed to function. The effort required to do so, however, left me utterly drained. Having always been a very spiritual person I strongly felt that a course of therapy incorporating a spiritual component could potentially work well for me and decided to give the Center for Anxiety a try. Happily, I have achieved significant symptom reduction, tremendously improved emotional/mental health, and above all, Connection. Medication free. I’m no longer just existing, I’m LIVING. I’ve been given a second chance to become the unique human being that I was meant to be.
No More worries
I have wormed in healthcare for 36 years in many different settings, and I have been overwhelmingly satisfied with the Center for Anxiety. When staff says they are going to call, I get a call. From the first contact, I have been very impressed with the professionalism and efficiency. I had a situation and needed to have sessions more than once per week, and my clinicians worked out a schedule to accommodate my needs. I was astounded that they attended to me so quickly and effectively - they made my priority their priority. My clinicians were also excellent at what they do - they have a plan for me each session, and it's clear that they have thought in advance about each session, and that they are listening to what I say and observing what I do, even though our sessions have been conducted via Telehealth. Compassion is a quality that I have all too often found to be lacking in my experiences as a healthcare professional and patient, and this is not the case with the Center for Anxiety. Of all the websites I found on Google, I am so thankful that God guided my hand to yours.

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