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Whayne Herriford: Coping with COVID-19 — mental health is our ability to adapt to change

One of the measures of mental health is our ability to adapt to change. And we’ve certainly had the opportunity to test that ability in the last two months. Regardless of whether you are terrified about the presence of COVID-19 or you believe the whole thing is an over-reaction, the reality is the world around us has changed and will not likely be the same again.

Change is experienced when something that we are used to or depend on is transformed into something new. Change is not always bad – in fact change is a necessary ingredient for innovation and growth. But when perceived it usually creates a reaction, especially if it affects something that is important to us or which has become a routine or habit. Change is also situational, that is multiple people can experience the same event and have totally different reactions.

Whayne Herriford

One of the ways to think about change is whether or not it is large or small and whether it is something that was anticipated or not. For example, if you go to purchase flour at Kroger and the brand you usually buy is not available, but another brand is available for a similar price you have an unanticipated change that is (hopefully) fairly small. And most of us would probably adjust quickly and move on. On the other hand, when COVID-19 required us to shift how we work, shop, dine out, and live our lives this was both large and unanticipated. And for most of us it was probably much more impactful emotionally and mentally.

Emotional responses to change are natural – it’s our body sending us a message. The most common responses to change include anxiety, depression and self-medication activities and these are not necessarily a problem. The caution with any behavior is whether or not it is so strong that it begins to impact your ability to carry out activities of daily living (ADL). In other words, does your anxiety, depression, or self-medication result in your inability to care for yourself and your family or prevent you from working, going to school or taking care of your home? Is your response more impactful to you than the change itself is?

If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, I’d recommend you consider several things:

• Change is natural and we all experience it.
• There is no “right” or “correct” way to react to change.
• Most of the time you can (and do) adapt on your own without the help of a professional.

There are two questions that I recommend people ask themselves when change is difficult: 1) If no one did anything for you to help you adapt to the change, what can you do for yourself? 2) If you could ask for help, what would it be? The answers to these questions are usually the basis for a plan to move through the change and reestablish a more stable perspective.

If you feel that you need help seek out a counselor/therapist who can help you or talk with your primary care provider. In some cases, you might consider anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication to get you through the time until you feel that you are adjusting to things better.

Whayne Herriford is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) practicing in Kentucky and Ohio. This column is intended to provide general information to people and is not for diagnostic or treatment purposes. If you are experiencing mental health-related concerns you should see a professional.

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