Windward Psychologist Dr. Ania Siwek Shares Strategies to Cope with the COVID-19 Pandemic One-Year Anniversary

The following communication is part of our Stay Healthy, Windward campaign

Submitted by The Windward School's Manhattan Lower School Psychologist Dr. Ania Siwek

This week marks the anniversary of when COVID-19 hit NYC. It’s been a long and tumultuous year. For some, this week is bringing up all sort of feelings. I wanted to let you know that it is all normal. Your bodies and minds are processing all that we’ve been through and are still experiencing. 

Below are some ideas for coping. I hope this brings some relief.  

Ideas for Coping: 

*parts were taken from SELF by Seraphina Seow The Pandemic Anniversary Is Coming. Here’s How to Cope.


1. Prepare a self-care tool kit.

Self-care practices—like exercising, getting enough rest, engaging in prayer and meditation, or connecting with loved ones—are often the first to get disrupted when you feel overwhelmed, Dr. Kia-Keating explains. But they are also what assist in rejuvenating you emotionally and physically, setting you up to weather incoming stress. If you’ve stopped doing these, pick one or two and try to do them consistently.

If you find that your old tricks and tactics aren’t as effective, don’t worry too much. Dr. Lowe points out that sometimes your coping strategies may not work as well as they used to in the thick of a stress-inducing period. It’s okay to try new things and discard practices that no longer work. Experimentation can help you get through the month.

2. Allow yourself to experience your emotions.

When a thought or memory rolls through your mind, make it a practice to stop and observe the accompanying emotion. You can write it down or name it aloud. Doing this brings mindful awareness to your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations, Dr. Garfin says. This also helps remind you that you’re experiencing normal responses during a crisis rather than threats that need a concrete resolution. If you are having trouble figuring out exactly what you feel, journaling or even consulting a feelings wheel might bring some clarity.

3. Identify a few grounding techniques.

As mentioned above, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode when you’re stressed, so it’s a good idea to learn a few simple grounding techniques to manage physical symptoms. For instance, deep breathing—where you place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach and you slowly breathe in and out through your nose—activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Known as the rest-and-digest response, the action of your parasympathetic nervous system can help counter anxiety. You might also touch something cold or do a rigorous household chore (like scrubbing tile) to ground yourself. (There are lots of other great grounding techniques to try as well.)

4. Limit stressful media consumption and social media use.

If you know you tense up reading about daily COVID-19 cases or hearing friends vent about non-maskers, Dr. Garfin suggests you limit time spent on social media platforms and news sites. Reports and social media posts on the first anniversary since the start of the pandemic are likely to circulate online throughout March. Since the pandemic hasn’t ended, there’s a chance other people’s posts will reflect uncertainty and grief. Reading that others share your distress may feel validating, but it can also activate stress and compound anxieties. If you need information urgently, Dr. Lowe recommends going to a trusted source like the CDC, getting the facts, then clicking away.

5. Lean into gratitude (without diminishing your pain).

It might seem hokey, but gratitude lists and journals are tried-and-true advice among therapists. Recite or write down something that makes you genuinely feel gratitude and peace, while acknowledging the hardship you’re in. “You can say, ‘It was very difficult that I lost my job and had to move in with relatives. At the same time, I’m very grateful I have relatives to move in with,’” says Dr. Garfin. “It’s a non-dualistic approach to accepting the reality of difficult situations while still maintaining a positive frame of mind to help you move forward.”

Maybe it’s easier for you to feel genuine gratitude for things happening outside your world; if so, go with that. And don’t forget to express gratitude toward yourself too, Dr. Garfin says, for surviving an unprecedented time.

6. Focus on thinking about how you’ve displayed resilience.

As you reflect on gratitude and growth, Dr. Newman encourages you to note how you’ve adapted thus far and consider how you might continue to do so moving forward. For instance, you can think about how you miss 

social gatherings and ask yourself: What have I already done successfully to still connect with people while abiding by my state’s public health directives? What do I want to change from here onward to make it easier to deal with? Reminding yourself that you’ve weathered difficult moments and solved problems helps you build the resilience necessary to keep thriving.

7. Talk with a therapist if you can.

The last year has likely brought significant disruptions to your life, and you might need extra support to help you process. Don’t be afraid to seek a professional mental health provider if you need to talk about your concerns with another person. Could you phone a friend? Yes, but since the pandemic has been a collective experience, Dr. Garfin says that you should be mindful about relying on venting with your friends or family members. Before you unload, check in with your loved ones to ensure they can support you (and grant them grace if they can’t).

Ultimately, a trained mental health provider can give you space to freely express your frustrations and receive the validation you need. You can look into finding an affordable provider or an online support group to help you process. Dr. Lowe suggests using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s health treatment services locator to find a therapist in your area. If you need more immediate support, Dr. Lowe suggests connecting to a mental health hotline; there are some available 24/7. You can text HOME to 741741 and connect with a Crisis Text Line counselor who can support you. Or you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-8255—to get extra support if you need it.

The Windward School does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.