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Coping with Covid-19 Mentally – Sports Psychology and Clinical Psychology

Special to – April 3, 2020 – By John F Murray – We live in challenging times. Everyone in the world is on lockdown and much more so than during the 1917/1918 Spanish Influenza when social media and even mass media were non-issues. You either got the killer flu and died or you did not, and people in more rural areas often did not even know what was going on until it was over. While the worldwide impact from that was horrible, the psychological impact and issues created by this 2020 virus with social media, daily international press briefings and constant worry has a mental toll that is difficult to measure but nevertheless catastrophic. It is probably more analogous to what our nation dealt with in coping with WW2.

As a clinical and
sports/performance psychologist with over 20 years in private practice helping
people to cope better with an almost unlimited variety of issues I would like
to do my small part to help people understand the potential mental ramifications
of Covid-19 and how we can get through this trying period in our history with
the least amount of mental and emotional damage. I will offer my perspective of
what the mental effect is and offer coping strategies for all.   

Understanding the Mental Toll

Stress and Coping

Fear and anxiety are greatly heightened when factors are unknown or ambiguous. This novel virus has no present vaccine or proven cure and you cannot see it, but latest estimates are that it might kill 100,000 to 240,000 in America alone. Like a thief in the night it strikes terror in its victims. Contracting the virus or having a close friend or family member do so is a particularly daunting challenge. Terror and panic often ensue, and while this is understandable, we know from years of research and clinical experience that this response is very dangerous and ineffective. Stress coping research and practice suggests that magnifying the impact of a problem only serves to exacerbate the impact. If at all possible, a much wiser and more clinically successful approach is to take on a more “can do” spirit and remain optimistic and confident mentally if you get the virus. This has the actual effect of increasing killer t-cell production and proliferation in the blood, a vital immune system response. The mere act of changing your mindset toward a challenge like this can have often surprising and amazing physical benefits according to research that was first presented in 1987 by Lazarus and Folkman.

Social Disengagement

Whether you or your friends
and family get the virus or not, we have some other very important challenges
and they affect everyone. This self-imposed isolation, social distancing, and
acts of watching paint dry at home are not at all healthy mentally. Isolation
is needed, but we’ve known forever how important intimacy, social behavior,
group activities and variety are to healthy living. Who would have imagined
that in just a few weeks we went from perhaps the most vibrant economy in human
history to turning every human into a nursing home patient or white-collar
criminal on house arrest? We all need what is called social support, the connection
with other human beings that is being so drastically altered. The younger folks
with their media savvy, face timing and snap-chatting might be adapting a
little better, but most people over 50 are only into Facebook, and some over 80
are lucky if they even know how to use email properly! If you are into social
media, and living under the same roof as an older person who has not been able
to tap into the benefits, and might be feeling lonelier than ever, this is a great
opportunity to share your wisdom with those older and less sophisticated folks who
need it now.  

Depression and Suicide

At any given time, a huge
percentage of the population is going to be depressed, and one of the leading
causes of death from depression in both younger and older people is suicide. The
research and practice both show that trigger events such as Covid-19 or some
other economic, social or personal loss can often make this depression much
worse and I would not be surprised if the rate of suicides goes way up as a
result of the time we live in. Some will argue that pulling together to fight
this common enemy can also have positive psychological outcomes, and that may
be true for some, but I am more concerned for the vulnerable as this could also
be the tipping point that leads to much more severe depression and ultimately suicide.
Time will tell. The bottom line is that the self-imposed exile and withdrawal
that our society has necessarily imposed is the last kind of behavior you would
ideally like to see for those who because of their mood disorder already self-isolate,
lose valuable reinforcers, and spiral further down.   

What Can You Do to Cope Better?

Keep Yourself Engaged

One of the major
findings in psychology in the 20th century was the values of action
and engagement and striving for something in order to improve mental health. Studies
have established that those who wake up with a mission of sorts, and push hard
to accomplish something that day with mini goals and games, are the best
performers and find their activities most rewarding. Even though you might not
be going to work for a few more weeks, do something, anything at all, to find a
purpose and set some reasonable but challenging goals to keep you fired up. Study
for the SAT if you are a high school student, work on an important hobby, read
that book you keep putting off, or write a psychology article like I am doing


This quarantine period
might be the perfect opportunity to get back into that walking or running
routine that you let slip two years ago when you got so busy making money at
work. Vast evidence shows how exercise and mental health are happy partners,
and the physical and self-esteem benefits of looking and feeling better are

Listen To Music

Get back into your CD collection
or tap into YouTube as you crank up the tunes. Nothing can improve mood and
well-being better than the inspiration and energy resulting from good music. If
you have a quality set of headphones use them well as others in the house might
not be so enthusiastic about your particular tastes!

Help Others

We often get so absorbed
in our own lives that we forget that there are others struggling too. Isn’t it
funny that one of the best ways to improve our own mental state is by aiding
others? It is so true. Some of the wisest psychologists from the early 1900s
realized this and often wrote prescriptions for their most mentally ill
patients to do specific things to help others. The irony is that the patients
often got better just by turning away from their own struggles and seeking to
make another person’s life more comfortable.

Minimize Arguments

We all have our politics
and pet peeves and we live in a very contentious age. Now might be a good time
to try to either give it a rest for a while, or even more ambitiously, to try
to understand the other side even though you’ll never agree. Being cooped up in
a small space can present difficult challenges, so open your mind or just hold
off on pushing your agenda until this all blows over.

Clean Out That Closet

We all have projects
that we’ve been meaning to get to for the past 8 years, but we never really
felt it was the right time. That time might be now. Rip apart that cluttered
closet, throw out 70% of it or donate items you not longer want to a local charity
or thrift shop, and emerge on the other side of this battle with a great feeling
of accomplishment.

Call Your Psychologist
or Sports Psychologist

When one of my athlete
clients is injured, we often find the extra time is perfect to finally work on
those mental skills of confidence, focus, goals, and emotional control, and
imagery/visualization becomes a big part of our work. The same is true for my
more general clients struggling with depression or anxiety who might have been
laid off at work, are going through a divorce, or just coping with the stress
of this virus. The bottom line is that while face to face sessions in the
office are not going to work for a while, 75-80% of my practice is on the phone
or skype, so the phone offers an ideal time to begin a new evaluation and
self-awareness, and start counseling or mental coaching. Many are offering
discounts during this quarantine period, including this particular psychologist.

John F. Murray, Ph.D.,
is a licensed clinical and sports performance psychologist in North Palm Beach,
Florida. Dr. Murray works with high achieving individuals and teams in sports,
business, and life also with those with more general issues and needs as a clinical
psychologist. Dr. Murray has been called “the most quoted sports psychologist
worldwide,” “the king of sports brains,” (Sports Illustrated) and, “one of the
major psychologists in sports,” (Fox Sports). He can be reached for questions
at: 561-596-9898 and his websites are at:

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