Focusing on What I Can Control


Last year when I recorded an on-demand webinar on the topic of Managing Stress I had no idea that in a few short months the world would change so much due to Covid-19. Almost overnight, the everyday stressors people feel became exacerbated worldwide and this same stress and anxiety has lasted for months with no clear expectation of an end date. The ways I focused on coping in the early days and months of the pandemic  have changed and shifted, sometimes in good ways (getting a lot of exercise, learning a new hobby) and sometimes in not-so-healthy ways (excessive worry to the point of not sleeping). Realizing that distraction only works for so long and that this is a marathon and not a sprint, I knew I needed a long-term plan for trying to handle my own stress during the pandemic. In response, I have decided to direct my focus on things that I have some control over…and it’s more than I realized.

A quick note on coping – a good way to determine the best strategy is to use the concept of Problem-Focused vs. Emotion-Focused coping. Problem- Focused Coping targets the root cause of a stressor and identifies ways to eliminate or strongly decrease the stressor. Problem-Focused coping works well in situations where you have some control over the stressor. For example, if you are feeling overwhelmed by work and you figure out a new system for time management.

Emotion-Focused Coping involves trying to reduce the negative emotional responses associated with stress such as embarrassment, fear, anxiety, or frustration. This is most effective when you have little to no control over the stressor (e.g. grief, illness, pandemic). There are a wide range of healthy and not-so-healthy emotion-focused coping methods, from journaling, meditation and talking with friends, to substance misuse or denial. While the source of the stress might be out of your control, choosing healthy emotion-focused coping strategies can help you feel like you have some control in the situation.

Dealing with so much uncertainty as we head into Fall 2020 and the sixth month of this pandemic, I am trying to use a combination of Emotion-Focused and Problem-Focused coping methods. I know that I do not have any control over Covid-19, but I do have some control over the ways in which I choose to cope during the pandemic. I am starting with these:

  • Sleep (kind of) –I can usually control what time I go to bed and maintain habits that promote restful and restorative sleep.
  • Exercise: My top three are walking, yoga, and tennis. I can usually add at least one of these activities to my day, even if it is just 15 minutes of stretching.
  • Get out of the house: Walking outside and checking on my tiny garden, sitting on the back porch, anything that allows for fresh air and sunshine.
  • Talk to friends. This has mostly been by phone or computer, but my book club got creative and met outside at the art museum. We brought our own dinner and spread out blankets and it was perfect.
  • Limit media. From scary news to social media (vacation envy, politics, virus misinformation, others’ grief and loss) it can be overwhelming.
  • Diet. Stressed-out Dana really wants potato chips and wine, but Emotion-Focused Dana knows to limit unhealthy stuff and make sure I am getting fruits, veggies, and plenty of water.
  • Feel what I feel. I must allow myself to be worried, scared, or sad sometimes but I can have a plan to limit the time I spend in those thoughts and feelings.

I hope you find the coping strategies that work best for you. I encourage you to write them down as I have above and go to them on days when you feel stuck. If you would like to be connected with a mental health professional to help you with managing your stress, anxiety, isolation or grief during this time please reach out to your insurance provider or search the directory of therapists on Psychology Today's website.



About Author

Dana Aderhold

Manager, Work Life Programs

Dana Aderhold is the Manager of onsite Work/Life and EAP Programs for SAS. She manages both US and Global EAP programs and can help any employee or dependent better understand and use the EAP. She has both Bachelor and Master of Social Work degrees from NC State University and worked for several years with Wake County mental health programs.

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