Coronavirus and Therapy: Stress, anxiety, flashbacks


In recent weeks of the coronavirus pandemic I’ve had clients say, therapy really works, I feel like I can handle this now. I am free, I feel so much lighter, I feel like I dropped baggage I’ve been carrying for years, I’ve learned to keep myself safe. These are paraphrases of the words of my clients at the end of a processing session. I don’t want to quote anyone directly and I don’t want to breach confidentiality so I won’t use clients’ actual words or scenarios.


Some people are introverts and happy to be working at home. They’re more productive than ever. Others are extroverts and are suffering. They’re missing seeing people. Video conferencing just isn’t the same. Some are having a hard time for other reasons. They’re anxious. Their moods are down. Some are worrying about death and thinking about God and religion. Some are totally distracted and stressed that they’re not getting enough done as a result. Finding it hard to focus. They’re wishing they had a separate space for their work. Missing their office, their facilities, public spaces. Wishing they could still go to the gym. Making a million trips a day to the fridge. You probably saw a meme about that, right? Client miss going outdoors. There’s a meme about borrowing a dog so you can go for a walk while on lockdown. 

Some people are lucky to be home during coronavirus shelter in place with their loved ones. But not everyone has that. Some only have their loved ones at home some of the time. Clients are feeling better when they get exercise. Some are going for groceries every day as a reason to get out of the house. Some are spending too much money on shopping. Others are spending too much time on social media. Some are feeling overwhelmed by the bad news in the media, so they’re shutting it off.


When I talk with clients, we choose what to focus on in a session together. Often, a theme emerges early in the session. Naturally the theme that has come up most often in therapy has been coronavirus. Depending on what the client needs, I might present a concept like the window of tolerance. Then we might practice coping skills to help them get back into their window of tolerance. We practice imagining a relaxing place, containing bothersome thoughts, imagining their TV screen can play a nature channel and they can watch the Big Sur or Mexican beach channel, taking a one-minute vacation, being mindful, setting an alarm every hour to breathe 10 times and check in to notice what they’re feeling and thinking. 


You can find these exercises and many more in Francine Shapiro’s book for practitioners on Eye Movement Reprocessing and Desensitization (EMDR), Tapping In: A Step By Step Guide to Activating Your Healing Resources Through Bilateral Stimulation by Laurel Parnell, Fred Luskin’s books Stress Free for Good and Forgive for Good, The Happiness Trap: How To Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris, a book about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World a mindfulness based stress reduction program by Mark Williams and Danny Penman and thoroughly researched at Cambridge University. You can find the meditations in the book at Mindfulness and Meditation Downloads . Yes, laugh with me. Humor is healthy. It’s true, I like to learn and read a lot.


Getting back to the topic of working with clients, some clients noticed that what was so hard about being on lockdown in order to prevent the spread of corona virus was connected with the past. In therapy, I guided clients through processing. 

These past weeks in therapy, when clients needed to process how it feels to stay home because of coronavirus, it was because the current situation was brought up something that happened in their past. They made connections between the current situation and painful episodes in their past. For some, it was their childhoods. Of course their childhood comes up. The child from the past lives inside of us in our memories. That child self holds unresolved pain from the past. That child made decisions about how to respond to difficult situations that still inform the decisions they make today. When we process, clients gradually release the pain stored in the memories of the child. They begin to form a sense of what it would have been like to have parents who cared for them appropriately. We eventually learn to reject what was not healthy and form new beliefs, new thoughts and feelings and provide for ourselves what we didn’t get as children. 


My clients did beautiful work. I often use the metaphor of a flower opening. I put the heels of my palms together and gently open my hands. Each flower opens in its own timing and has a unique arrangement of petals, its own beauty. For me, that unfolding reflects the clients’ process. Although I facilitate the processing, the clients direct where it goes and how it unfolds. In that sense, it is self-directed. The insights, wisdom, self-protective energy, strength, humor, healing and repair emerge from within the clients. The beauty of the process is so unique and so moving. I have had scalp chills, tears and laughter these last few weeks.


If you are not doing well and feel you need some coping skills to get through this difficult time of coronavirus or therapy with a trusted therapist to help you process your past, please schedule a free consult with me. 

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