MAR 26-EDIT-PFFT-Licensed counselor offers coping strategies, tips to deal with anxiety, depression during crisis

ST. GEORGE — During times of crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is often an increase in people experiencing depression, anxiety, hopelessness and fear. These feelings, while valid, can have a drastic negative impact on people’s physical, intellectual, emotional, financial and social well-being.

On the flip side, the chaos and uncertainty surrounding crises can often bring people closer together and closer to themselves.

Jason Grygla, a licensed clinical mental health counselor spoke with St. George News to offer tips and coping strategies to help people deal with the stress, anxieties and relationship woes surrounding the affects that the new coronavirus has had on everyday life.

“First, be kind to yourself and breathe,” Grygla said.

Grygla has a masters degree in counseling, specializing in marriages, families and addiction. He is also a certified crisis counselor with the Red Cross.

After a major life shift – home quarantine, home-school, loss of income, for example – it takes time to adjust and settle in, Grygla said.

Jason Grygla, MA, LCMHC, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jason Grygla, St. George News

Self-care is really important at this time. That doesn’t necessarily mean binging on Netflix alone, Grygla said. Self-care is more about what a person needs to fill their cup and be intentional about the choices they make.

Grygla said to avoid imperative thoughts such as “I have to,” “need to,” “must do,” “can’t do” or “should do” because they have a tendency to stress people out.

Focusing on empowering thoughts such as “I want to,” “I will,” “I am excited to” or “I won’t do,” gives people an important sense of control when the world seems out of control.

“Make your task lists based on what you need, not what you need to do,” Grygla said, adding that those tasks could include needing rest or exercise or just a moment to breathe.

Grygla said he loves words like “intentional” and “proactive” during times of crisis.

“Don’t get blown around by the circumstances,” he said. “Being intentional about what and how we choose to ‘be’ and what we ‘do’ can make a meaningful difference in our well-being.” 

Parents and guardians who are in charge of children during this time have the important job of creating an environment of safety and consistency, Grygla said.

“When we ask what do children need most, the most common answer is love,” Grygla said.

While that is true, what love looks and feels like to adults and children often differs. Grygla said that children feel most loved when their environment feels safe, their daily lives have consistency and they have connection with their parents or guardians.

“Children need to be reassured,” Grygla said. “Even if you don’t know how it is going to work out, let your children know they are safe.”

It is also important – always, but especially at this time – to treat each child as an individual. Not every child will react to distressing situations the same, so it is crucial to watch their body language and the choices they are making to understand how to help them navigate their changing world.

There are some children who are more sensitive than others or have more anxiety than others. Give them the time and attention they need, Grygla said. Parents don’t have to have all the answers, but allowing children to talk about and process what they are thinking and feeling helps them share the burden and makes the “monster” smaller, he said.

Another way to reassure children that things will be OK – if parents/guardians are in a place to do so – is by serving others.

“Service is a way to keep things in perspective and bring joy into our lives. Taking scheduled time to identify what others around us need and how we can help meet those needs benefits all involved. Some may need babysitting, some may need help with their lawns, others need an uplifting text or check in. Most could use a roll of toilet paper,” Grygla said.

As families navigate homeschool or remote learning, setting a consistent schedule is key to avoiding stress. Grygla said to set a simple schedule, post it for everyone to see and then stick to it. Let the schedule dictate what kids can and cannot do to avoid getting into the “sleep-eat-whatever-rut.”

Let the schedule be the bad guy, not the adult, he said.

Other tips Grygla offered include keeping electronic devices and video game controllers in a basket or box during times the schedule dictates the kids are supposed to be studying or limiting internet access when it isn’t necessary.

“Don’t set your kids up to fail,” he said.

That said, Grygla urges parents and guardians to remember that their priority is having a healthy relationship with their kids.

“If keeping an overly strict schedule creates stress and hurts relationships, then remember to keep priorities in order,” he said. “It’s far more important that we have positive experiences than doing the task but everyone hating the whole thing.”

As for relationships with a spouse or partner, Grygla said that going through crises together will inevitably change the relationship – for better or worse – based on two different factors. One, the amount of time spent together; and, two, whether the experiences together are negative or positive.

“Couples have the need for time together for their relational health,” Grygla said.

Grygla suggests creating separate times for strengthening romantic relationships and strengthening the partnership as parents.

“Going out together is supposed to be a re-visit to the honeymoon phase of our relationships, not a time to problem solve. So flirt, put out and woo the one you love like you did trying to get them in the first place,” he said. “Schedule separate times for resolving conflicts and problem solving.”

For people living alone or feeling isolated, Grygla offered suggestions to help alleviate some of the feelings of loneliness and despondency.

Grygla suggested creating a virtual dinner party with friends using an app such a Zoom. Schedule a time, invite friends and have dinner “together.”

As a crisis counselor, Grygla said that what people need most during difficult times is not therapy, but rather the opportunity to share the burden, to talk and connect.

“Sharing helps people get to a place where they are not in crisis,” Grygla said.

Grygla also said that now is a great time to consider adopting a pet. Pets provide needed companionship as well as a task or responsibility to train the pet, which helps to alleviate anxiety, depression and isolation.

“For those who are prone to addiction, depression, and anxiety, this pandemic will either drag you down or be a chance to show what you have learned from the past,” Grygla said.

Grygla cautioned people to be aware of falling into bad habits and personal weaknesses by making conscious choices and remembering to meet their needs emotionally, socially, physically, intellectually, and spiritually in safe and healthy ways.

Grygla also encouraged everyone to get outside end enjoy fresh air.

“Taking advantage of nature, fresh air and our beautiful area can be a huge benefit,” he said. “Making ‘outdoors’ a scheduled part of the day or each week could be a lifesaver.”

As everyone wades through this crisis, Grygla said that the next months will either be looked back on as a crappy time or an awesome time and each person has the power to choose which it will be.

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