Frustration, grief, disappointment, devastation — we have all experienced such negative emotions at some point since the pandemic started. Coping with our negative emotions can prove to be very difficult at times. But is it really better for us if we pretend that we are not feeling these emotions and avoid them?

Coping healthily

A noteworthy study indicated that people who suppress negative emotions tend to develop a more negative outlook on life. Psychologist Judith Grob showed two groups of people disgusting images and asked one group to hide their emotions and another to react naturally. She found that the group that hid their emotions reported feeling less disgusted by the pictures than did those who had been allowed to react naturally. However, those who suppressed their negative emotions suffered some side effects; their memory was impaired and they seemed to have adopted a negative outlook — when Judith Grob had them fill in the missing letter to the word “gr_ss”, for example, they were more likely than others to offer “gross” rather than “grass”. This study shows us the importance of healthy coping methods when dealing with negative emotions as it may unconsciously affect the way we look and feel about life.

How have you been coping during this COVID-19 pandemic?

The pandemic has affected us all profoundly; we have had to deal with tumultuous and often disruptive changes to our personal and work lives since the pandemic started. These changes may have been debilitating and as we continue to ride the waves of changes brought on by the pandemic, and sometimes it can feel like a struggle to stay afloat. 

In our efforts to cope, some of us might escape the stressful situation by procrastinating on our tasks, or numb our emotions through various addictions, but if we look deep within ourselves, we might find that these forms of coping do not really help us feel better in the long run. We understand — it’s not always easy to choose positive coping, especially when our negative emotions stir up negative impulses within us. However, the way we cope with negative situations can affect the way we continue to feel and think. As such, we hope that this article will shed some light on some practical things you can try out, to help yourself start feeling  better! 

Healthy emotion management and coping techniques fall under two main categories: emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping.


What is emotion-focused coping? 

Emotion-focused coping is especially helpful when we are trying to cope with situations that we cannot control nor change. For example, anxiety about the unending pandemic situation, not being able to visit your loved ones overseas due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, or the words and actions of another person.

Emotion-focused coping is about changing our perspective so that we can deal with the situation more constructively, making us feel better about our situation, even when nothing about it has changed. A large part of emotion-focused coping is letting go of our need to control or change the situation, and redirecting our attention, instead, on how we can make the best out of this current unchangeable situation.  In doing so, we become less reactive to those stressors, and over time, we achieve better mental and physical well-being.


 4 ways to engage in emotion-focused coping during this season

1. Meditation 

Meditating helps us to acknowledge and accept our thoughts and emotions as they come without judging them to be good or bad. It also allows us to focus on the present reality – the negative situation and emotions – and be able to better address the emotions. Meditation can be done anytime. An easy way to practice meditation would be to sit still and focus on your breathing. Click here to find out more on how you can start your meditation journey.

Coping by thought journalling

2. Thought Journaling

Thoughts influence our response and experience of a situation. Writing them down helps us to identify and clarify helpful and unhelpful thoughts and emotions, so that we can begin to work through them.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves:

  • Are my thoughts helping or hindering me? 
  • Are my thoughts backed by facts and reality?  
  • Is there another way of looking at my situation? 
  • Within this seemingly overwhelming situation, what are some things still within my control?



3. Reframing Unhelpful Thoughts

Cognitive reframing is the process of challenging unhelpful thoughts which are often clouded by emotions, so that we think more accurate thoughts, and our stress levels decrease. Many of our negative thoughts seem rather automatic, however, over time, practicing this changes your natural thoughts and reactions to the things around you; you learn to be a more positive (and realistic) thinker as a whole. 



 Common automatic negative thought patterns include: 

  • All-or-nothing/Black-and-white thinking: “If I don’t see my loved ones now, I will never be able to see them again.” 
  • Overgeneralizing: “After being fired from my job, I don’t think any company will want to hire me ever again.”
  • Catastrophizing: “This Covid-19 situation is never going to end!” 
  • Disqualifying the positive: “Nothing good comes out of this pandemic situation.”
  • Jumping to conclusions: “At the rate the pandemic is spreading, it’s only a matter of time before I get it too!”



The next step is to challenge these distortions by performing a quick fact check. Here are some questions you can ask yourselves to challenge those distortions:

  • Is what I’m telling myself really true? How likely is it that the situation I’m replaying in my mind will come true?
  • Is there evidence that supports my point of view? 
  • Is there evidence against my point of view? 
  • How can I look at the situation with a more helpful perspective?



After challenging these distortions, reframe these thoughts into something more helpful, a good way to start this step is to ask yourself: “What would I say to a friend if they are going through this?”. This may give us a fresh perspective on the incident and enable us to cope more healthily. 

4. Using Humour

Watching a funny show or movie can also serve to boost your emotions which may help you see things from a clearer perspective. By feeling more lighthearted and less upset, you will likely be in a better headspace to handle the situation more rationally. Just the act of smiling at will can also make you happier as it releases endorphins, which make you feel good!

Coping Healthily: Humor

Besides targeting negative emotions as a way of coping, we can also target the problem directly through problem-focused coping


What about problem-focused coping?

Problem-focused coping focuses on taking action to improve the stressful situation or altering the source of the stress. It removes the main stressor and is a long-term solution as it addresses the root of the problem. This coping method works best when your stressor can be controlled, such as stress from working from home due to balancing family and work responsibilities. It is less effective for dealing with other uncontrollable situations, such as grief or loss.


4 things we can do to engage in problem-focused coping during this season

1. Lowering expectations

  • We can better prepare ourselves for this consistently turbulent period of change by lowering our expectations for plans in life 
  • This may look like lowering expectations of finding a job that you’re interested in, hence redefining or widening your job-search, or even delaying plans to head overseas for the imminent future. 
Coping Heathily: To-do List

2. Planful problem solving 

  • Creating a to-do list helps us keep track of our deadlines while working from home and allows us to plan our time better, which can help us cope with our stress
  • Click here to find out how you can prioritise the things at hand by grading their importance.



3. Establishing healthy boundaries when working from home

  • It may be tough setting boundaries while working from home and this may end up with us taking on more work than we can handle, which may affect our mental and physical health
  • It is okay to be assertive when we know our resources are insufficient at the moment to deal with all our responsibilities and tasks at hand



4. Seeking social support

  • Surrounding ourselves with friends and family who are supportive can make it easier for us to face and address the problem and help encourage us when the going gets tough.
  • “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” – Fred Rogers


So, should I use more emotion-focused or problem-focused coping?

“Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.” – Virginia Satir


Both! At the end of the day, when we face challenges, we should use a combination of both emotion and problem-focused coping strategies. These two strategies complement each other, helping us to manage our negative emotions, as well as address the problem at hand. 

Finally, the coping strategies we’ve just discussed can be employed beyond the COVID-19 period; you can use them to deal with and overcome any future obstacles and setbacks!

References

Scott, E. (2020). How to Laugh in the Face of Stress. Retrieved 12 July 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/maintain-a-sense-of-humor-3144888
University of Groningen. (2009, March 18). If You Don’t Show Your Disgust, Your Emotions May Stay Negative. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 14, 2021 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090312093916.htm