Coronavirus: 9 mental health keys in a time of isolation and uncertanty

An opportunity to see the world in a new way

Esther Krohner and Karin Schlanger


We are putting this together, having had the view of how the coronavirus epidemic played out in China. They had it first and are now certainly recovering. People there struggled with conflict, isolation, and anxiety. Beyond political borders, which viruses don’t recognize, we are all human and now we find ourselves facing the same unknowns. The coronavirus pandemic looms mostly out of our reach but we can try to control our response to it. With this in mind, we are writing some thoughts to share.  They are informed by questions that we imagine some of you might have.  We helped university faculty in Shanghai last month to manage the crisis and aftermath, from a Problem Solving Brief Therapy point of view. We choose to see people as strong, choosing little things daily to brighten ourselves and then our families. We are aware of economic and social consequences, but we are not experts in those areas so we will not comment.

Taking into account what other countries have reported, we can say with some confidence that it is the older population and those with compromised lungs/organisms that will be the most impacted. The biggest danger to the community, in general, is that the hospitals will have a hard time treating symptoms of everyone who contracts the disease. Therefore yes: wash your hands thoroughly, try to keep the ‘social distance’ and try to minimize contact with grandma and grandpa. 

When difficult situations arise as a consequence of daily life being different, try to solve problems one at a time. Think things through! Maintain some level of flexibility and try to stay focused on what is in front of you- here and now. A certain amount of challenge and unrest is natural and expected during this time, especially under the current umbrella of lack of clear information. We hope some of our suggestions will be useful.

1. The power of small actions to deal with panic

Take care of yourself by managing the panic. Recognize it! It makes sense to be alarmed but take time to think slowly, be descriptive in what is bothering you and find a small action. Choose an outlook that will help you be more constructive. This outlook will be easier to achieve if you decide to take a small action , even if that is to make some notes to yourself-find something that is easy and doable.  If you need to complain find someone who can allow you to complain. 

2. Think, before you act, stay informed

While we might panic and see things we want to change while quarantined, take time to think things through, organize, see things from multiple perspectives. It always pays to keep your head plugged in. Panic is, by definition, your gut taking over. In the pandemic situation, your gut needs to be informed as much as possible by your head. 

3. Focus on your social relationships

Try to see the context of what is happening and what is bothering you. Be patient with yourself and others- as odd as it seems, this is a time to play with your kids and reflect . When you inevitably get into a fight or a disagreement – find ways to recover, acknowledge one another and also don’t make any big decisions.

4. Create routines to deal with isolation with your family

If you are at home with kids or other extended family, try to create some routine. Even if it seems silly- try to create a somewhat predictable rhythm for switching rooms, getting outside, making meals, creating playtime and getting some movement. People respond to structure especially in trying times.

5. In times of uncertainty… LISTEN! 

While we are giving some concrete things to do and hopefully not getting into too much of a teaching stance, listening is a VERY valuable tool. Try to stay out of the teaching and lecturing stance with kids and spouses- everyone is too stressed. Lean on listening, try to get descriptions (what, when, how much, with whom), of what is bothering people and build context so that big feelings can be kept in check. A better way to resolve conflicts is to listen to the other person’s argument with curiosity, for example. If you are busy being curious about what is being said, it will be harder to be angry and disrespectful. Give it a try. This works well with conflicts with your older kids. 

6. Solidarity and empathy 

We are all in this together- find ways to respond to conflict in a constructive way. While we will all react in different ways, you might find out different ways to react at a time of stress. Hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer is not the answer. Think of your neighbor and share resources. 

7. Avoid conflict with your children

While kids are working online- try to let them have their space and if they are playing try to play with them rather than argue about their play. That will only escalate and leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

8. Be descriptive, explain yourself 

TRY TO slow down, be descriptive. It’s okay to see what needs to change and do so in small ways- the world at large is being faced with big challenges and we can’t face big challenges in a panic state. Be descriptive, does this really need to change? How can you let this be time to be with family/friends, find hobbies and accept what is? Count your blessings.

9. Avoid screens. Even at home, there’s a world to explore

Focus on the many things you can still do: be outside, go to the park with your kids. You are likely going to be working from home: try to be efficient and use the rest of the time constructively with your loved ones. There will be fewer sports on TV: go out and make your own, put a puzzle together, play cards and board games, which encourage interaction. 

Esther Krohner
LMFT, RYT

I have 14 years of experience working in mental health settings. I am and LMFT and RYT. I have been training and practicing family therapy with Karin Schlanger for 5 years at the Mental Research Institute. I help couples, families, kids and teens to make the changes they want to.When faced with challenges we sometimes get stuck in patterns that don’t support us or our relationships...

Karin Schlanger
MFT

Karin Schlanger was the Director of the Brief Therapy Center in MRI since 2008 until the sale of the building in 2019. She continues to be the director of the BTC currently. She has worked as a psychologist, supervisor in the Brief Therapy Model and professor at several universities internationally.She studied Psychology in the Universidad of Buenos Aires - Argentina and graduated in 1982. She arrived at the MRI in 1983 having head of the work of John Weakland, Dick Fisch and Paul Wazlawick and worked with them until the end of their days...

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