Perspective: COVID-19 Q&A Session with Therapist Matt Driggers

Perspective: COVID-19 Interview with Therapist Matt Driggers

 

The fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has made a dramatic impact on all our lives, especially our mental health. As stress, anxiety, and loneliness become more commonplace while we adjust to the changes in our daily lives, it’s important to find ways to communicate these feelings and find healthy ways to cope.

Previously, we spoke with Dr. Tom Tuzel, Chief Medical Officer for VirtualMed Staff, for a remote Q&A session where VirtualMed’s staff shared personal questions and concerns centered around the virus. The feedback we received and the positive response from our staff led us to hosting another remote session with a trusted advisor who specializes in mental health.

Matthew Driggers is a therapist with specialization in helping patients better manage grief, life transitions, and moving past feelings of isolation and loneliness. During these uncertain times where these feelings are becoming more present in all of us, we wanted to share the responses in the hopes that they can provide guidance and support to anyone in need.  

I assume the stress and fear surrounding COVID-19 is having an impact on our children, especially when they see their parents under stress, the news on the television, and the disruption to normal routines. What can parents do to help alleviate some of these fears and stress?

We never want to pretend like they didn’t hear or see something, so don’t avoid the conversation with your children, but also don’t press it. Provide an opportunity for open communication and when it’s appropriate to discuss what’s going on, validate their fears and give them room to express how they’re feeling.

We have to remember that for a lot of children this is the first scary thing they’ve experienced in their lives, but it won’t be the last. This is an opportunity to provide an example and model to prepare them for moving forward.

What coping advice would you give to individuals who are experiencing physical and emotional pressures resulting from the pandemic?

We’re all in this boat together and we really need each other right now. It’s important to learn to be vulnerable and find someone to express these concerns to. It’s also important to have structure in your day, to get out and exercise, or learn something new. Find something emotional, spiritual, mental, or psychical to keep you engaged and break up the day. Whether that’s taking a lunch break, moving away from your desk, or staying off your phone without any interruptions, the important thing is to make your day balanced.

All of us will ultimately have to return to the office, but it’s almost impossible to not fear the potential for becoming infected once we’re all back. How do we deal with the worry and fear this causes?  

As much as you can, go slowly. I know different organizations will do it differently but recognize where you’re at as an individual. Sometimes the best you can do is to just go to the parking lot, and maybe the next day it’s going to the office for an hour. Go as slow as you need but recognize what works for you.

There’s nothing wrong with being scared or anxious. Everything is valid and you need to do what’s best for you and where you’re at personally.

I am typically a very positive person, but lately I am just “sad”.  I think that is the best word to describe the dark cloud I’m under.  How long will it take for the dark cloud to lift?  How do I accept the new normal when I loved my life before?

It’s hard to tell how long it will take for your dark cloud to lift, but it’s important to distinguish between depression and sadness. Sadness usually has a cause that you can contribute to, but you’re still able to find joy in a lot of things. When we’re moving towards depression there’s not much joy to be found, so if we find ourselves sleeping excessively and losing joy for more than a couple of weeks then it might be time to reach out and get help.

We’ve all lost something, as individuals, as a country, and as a community. We should approach this loss the same way we would the loss of a person. We need to take time to grieve and identify what it was that we miss. It’s helpful to be specific. Is it the commute to work? Podcasts? Going to the grocery store? It’s a lot easier to grieve individual losses than the whole lot, so break it down into bite sized chunks.

The grief is going to come, so instead of fighting it, figure out ways to manage it.

I feel like some people are not observing the “shelter in place” rules and by doing so will spread the virus more, resulting in more deaths and a longer time until we can return to normal. Should I say something to these people or just ignore it?

In a way, it's similar to seeing people driving recklessly on the highway. Everyone has a responsibility to others when we’re on the road, but when we see someone putting lives at risk we want to do something, but we need to figure out what our ultimate goal is here. We all have a lot on our plates right now, so we need to decide if this is an absolutely necessary conflict to take on.

Ask yourself if something else emotionally is happening to you and where this feeling is coming from. Are you feeling powerless? Victimized? Maybe this is just a manifestation of that, and now might be the time to really practice self-care and address those feelings.

I’ve spent my entire adult life being optimistic, but the last two months have left me uneasy most of the time. I can’t shake it and I can’t smile my way through it, but it’s not where I’d ideally like to be. Where do I start and what’s something tangible that I can do to be happier?

The antidote to negativity isn’t being positive, it’s finding the things that you’re thankful for each day and making a list. Every day you should make a new list and focus on the things that you can control and that bring you joy that day.

How do I cope with the anxiety and stir craziness of feeling stuck in a rut?

It’s important to allow yourself to have a bad day. There are some things in life that we can’t control, so sometimes we just have to let go. Life can be unfair at times and it’s okay to surrender to that. More often than not, we don’t have a lot of control over things and we’re just on this rollercoaster of life.

For anxiety, we need to figure out where it’s coming from. Sometimes this anxiety is a flight or fight response, so we need to practice mindfulness and identify where it’s coming from. We need to identify the trigger, how it feels in our body, and see if there are other thoughts that can help us change how we’re feeling. Listen to the wisdom that your body is trying to tell you.

Many families are dealing with differences of opinions on how to handle COVID-19. Some remain sheltered in place and following the rules, while others are more cavalier and venture into public as if it were normal. What is some advice on communicating with family members in a compassionate way without growing frustrated by their actions?

It can be hard to accept the differences in our families, but that’s okay. We’re all different. We need to pick our battles and assume that everyone is doing the best they can and give them room to handle the situation in the way that works best for them.

With everything opening back up in Georgia, how long before we see people going back out in society?

Everyone is going to go back at a different pace. Some people have to get back out there, but for those who don’t, maybe it’s best to do your part and stay put. Go at your own pace and do what’s comfortable. Rather than looking at what other people are doing, do what’s right for you.