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"You can try tomorrow": a therapist offers help on stress during coronavirus

A little can go a long way.

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Whether you're feeling lonely from social distancing, fearing illness for yourself and loved ones or stressing over a potential recession -- we all need therapy now more than ever. But is that even possible during a pandemic?

As Dr. Navya Singh, adjunct psychology faculty at Columbia University and founder of digital mental health platform, wayForward, tells Inverse, the field is finally rising to meet the demand.

"It is a time of crisis [that has] escalated people's stress or anxiety," Dr. Singh tells Inverse. "A lot of providers are offering teletherapy, phone-based or video-based... the whole field is suddenly moving towards more digital-oriented care. Which is something that had existed for a while but had slow adoption."

While virtual therapy conducted through video conferencing or even text has been growing in popularity in recent years, with $8 billion in funding in 2018 according to Bloomberg, it has still been far from universal. These kinds of apps and platforms seem especially popular among younger, tech-savvy patients, but until recently the practice had still felt push back from more traditional psychologists and even the American Psychological Association (APA) itself.

"The APA and all the governing bodies are also trying to lax the rules a little around [online therapy,] about how you can see patients and how you can start therapy. So they're actually facilitating us the conditions to do more digital or teletherapy," says Dr. Singh.

This, as well as a trial-by-fire learning curve for therapists looking to modernize their practices, has led to more digital opportunities for therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic. When looking for a way to continue weekly sessions with your local therapist, Dr. Singh recommends using a HIPAA compliant Zoom call or looking for resources through your health care provider.

And while it might not be possible to continue your full, weekly hour-long sessions, Dr. Singh says it's still important to still do shorter 20-minute sessions as well.

"Try to reestablish that care and contact, even if it's for a shorter time," says Dr. Singh.

But what if you don't regularly see a therapist, but now want to? Dr. Singh says that in addition to checking resources available through their insurance, people can also look at what digital mental health services are offered through their employers. Inverse employees, for example, have access to wayForward services through our parent company.

But the truth is that many, many people don't have the time or money for services like these. Especially during a pandemic. In that case, Dr. Singh recommends a couple of things you remember or do each day to help you feel like you're regaining control over your life in these unprecedented times.

Don't panic

"Panic is not going to help in any way, panic does not lead to anything," Dr. Singh tells Inverse. "This is a tough situation, [it's a] sudden disruption to our entire way of life. It can be tough, not being able to see people, being inside the house. Having said that, we still need to focus on preparing."

Dr. Singh tells Inverse that preparing ourselves to handle this situation can take on many different forms, whether it's keeping your "normal" routine while at home, engaging in self-soothing or self-care, or breaking down daunting tasks into smaller, easier ones. Dr. Singh says these goals could be doing 15-minutes of an at-home workout instead of your regular hour at the gym or planning to do a certain number of homeschooling lessons with your child.

Dr. Singh says that it will also be important to reward yourself when you do accomplish something and not punish yourself if you don't.

"Have smaller goals and reward yourself once you achieve each of these goals," says Dr. Singh. "And if you cannot achieve the goal, it's okay. You can try tomorrow."

Remember what you can control (and what you can't)

"We cannot control everything," says Dr. Singh. "We cannot control the outside world but we can control our response to it. So if things do feel like they're escalating and you're feeling anxious in the moment, try to relax."

Dr. Singh says that deep breathing or mindfulness, such as focusing on the environment around you, can help when things begin to feel out of control.

"Be mindful," says Dr. Singh. "Stay in the moment and be aware of the present."

Dr. Singh also recommends setting boundaries for yourself that may protect you from feeling overwhelmed, for exampling only checking reliable news sources a couple of times a day instead of constantly anxious scrolling through Twitter.

"Be informed without obsessing," says Dr. Singh.

Think about what you can do

"We're living in a digital world," says Dr. Singh. "Even though physical contact is very important, we can digitally interact with people; have Zoom lunch dates or do karaoke with your colleagues. One thing I like to do is make a list of all the people I've been wanting to call but haven't in the past six months or a year. During this time of crisis, there's an opportunity to do things that you haven't been able to that are positive or productive."

Whether you've been wanting to institute a family game night, make your way through the list of Oscar award-winning films or pick up an obscure crafting habit like cross-stitching, Dr. Singh says now could be the time.

Dr. Singh also stressed that while the pandemic might seem all-consuming now, as long as we all do our best to keep ourselves and others healthy, it will be finite and life will continue after it.

"I was talking to someone the other day who said 'Oh, it will be 70 degrees and Spring in the next two days, it's terrible that I can't be out.' But just think, it will be 70 degrees a few months later too and hopefully by then things will have settled. When everything has settled down, spend an extra hour outside. There is a future, and if we're all cautious and careful hopefully that future is sooner rather than later."

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