Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Re-booting our Capacity to Cope with the Corona Virus: Strategies

Facing unknowns is very difficult. Facing an ever growing list of unknowns ups the challenge.  The most looming unknown is COVID-19. It is a matter of life and death. As we continue to face this pandemic we are hit with the news of over 207,000 deaths, over a million cases, children trying to risk going to school and a President who has just contracted it. Fear can pull us into anger and blame that rarely takes away risk and uncertainty. If anything, it exhausts our resources for planning and coping. Far better to re-boot our capacity to cope. Here are some strategies.

Staying Informed

The best way to quiet the “ What if’s” is “ What can I do now?” We need to get the latest most valid information on guidelines for  prevention, transmission and spread in order to plan for self and family members. Listed below are some important clarifications.

What We Now Know

Here is some updated Information about transmission, exposure and testing that has changed as experts have dealt with COVID-19 since March 2020.


The virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Masks are the most important way to prevent this spread,

It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes. This is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. ( cdc.gov)

Prevention and Protection

The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is by wearing a mask and  maintaining physical distance of at least 3 feet. This virus is spread by droplets and aerosol from an infected person. Because people may have the virus and may not yet be showing symptoms, anyone with or without symptoms is a potential source of infection for others. Anyone of any age can become infected and spread the virus – even if they never become symptomatic. Being vigilant about your own exposure before you spend time with others – is mutual care.


Testing is crucial and findings must be considered in the light of new information.

According to the FDA, the most common Diagnostic tests are the Molecular Tests like the RT-PCR test or the Antigen Test.

  • The Molecular test, like the RT-PCR test, detects the virus’s genetic material. It is taken with a nasal or throat swap, has results in one week or same day depending on location and is considered highly accurate.
  • The Antigen test which detects the virus’s genetic material is the Rapid Test involving a nasal or throat swap and with results in one hour. The positive findings are considered accurate but negative findings may need to be confirmed with a Molecular Test.

Test Results

If you have had no exposure to anyone who might be carrying COVID-19, a negative result on a COVID-19 test may well be accurate.

Exposure and Test Results

A negative test result in situations where you have been exposed to anyone who tests positive must be considered in terms of time of exposure, contraction and build-up of virus in your system over the course of several days.  Retesting may result in a positive test result.

Supporting Research

  • In a systematic review of seven studies published in May 2020, researchers at Johns Hopkins University considered that the time between exposure and testing positive may be much longer than just a day or two. When taking the P.C.R., after a possible exposure, it makes sense to wait three or four days, ideally self-quarantining while waiting and then getting a test a few days later.
  • The researchers maintain that there is not chance that a test will work in the first day or two after exposure when the false negative rate can be from 60 to 100%. The danger of actually thinking you are negative when it is simply too early to tell is dangerous for you and others.

Other Factors – When considering your possibility of exposure and contraction, experts suggest considering:

  • Do you have symptoms ( shortness of breath, fever, extreme fatigue)?
  • Do you live in a community where the virus is on an upswing?
  • Have you been at large gatherings or exposed to someone who tested positive.

If so, than re-testing may be very important to you and the spread of COVID-19.

Reducing Feelings of Helplessness

  • The sense of helplessness is what is terrifying to adults and children.
  • Provide facts to children and teens about what is going on now and information to reduce their risk of being infected-in words they understand depending on their age.
  • Make plans for every day that involve small and big goals that consider safety.
  • Creative ways to connect by Zoom or to do some of what you need to do or love to do while being at a distance with masks on may feel like a safe accomplishment.

Emotional Bonds

  • A universal factor that mediates our experience of  fear and uncertainty is our connection with familiar networks of support (family, friends that are family and pets) The bond in such groups offers predictable support and validation.
  • Hold on to loved ones through creative means if contact or social media contact is not possible. Go through pictures, draw pictures to be given at a later time to children or grandparents. Narrate your healing by writing your story or keeping a gratitude journal. Children can be encouraged to write their story of the situation or make a book of pictures. A family diary can be kept with everyone adding even one sentence of good, bad, funny, unexpected events, thoughts and feelings each day… Five years from now it will be precious.
  • Given the parent-child stress connection, we know that a parent’s own stress regulation and sense of constancy is a reliable resource that offsets the impact of the unexpected for a child.
  • Parents need rest and turns at being “ Off the Job”  They are the physical and emotional lifeline for their children. Someone once told me that the mother of a large family in the 1950’s stopped everything at 1 PM in the afternoon to lay down on the couch and watch her favorite soap opera – She was re-booting.
  • When parents find ways to regulate anxiety and deal with uncertainty – the children benefit.

Working With Body and Mind

One of the most important ways to cope with fear and uncertainty is to pay attention to body rhythms.

  • Daily routines like exercise of any type, biking, running, playing ball, walking your dog,  playing outside with children are all invaluable in lowering stress.
  • Connection around fun activities a four-way crossword puzzle, watching an evening sitcom (laughter is a great stress reducer), listening to your favorite music, all reduce the hyperarousal associated with the body’s fight/flight stress reactions.
  • Children big and small can reset calm through connection with pets, favorite toys, playing musical instruments, listening and even dancing to music or some version of that.

Sleeping is crucial in regulating the anxiety and worry that disrupt body’s rhythms.

  • A recent study on the impact of fear on insomnia offered unexpected results. Whereas it was predicted that the greater the fear, the greater the insomnia or lack of REM sleep, the finding showed that it was a subject’s response to safety that was the important factor. Regardless of how much fear a person had (as measured by startle response) the ability to re-establish a sense of safety made the difference in sleep.
  • With that in mind, children and adults need bedtime rituals to create safety. There are many options in this culture. Anything that reboots your sense of safety from free mini relaxation sessions http://www.calm.com/to your favorite book, blanket, meditation or prayer can make a difference. The consistent use of it conditions your mind and body for a respite.

Holding on to Hope

Be it through meditation, prayer or the amazing gifts of nature, many lift their spirits and resilience in uncertain times by holding on to hope.

Hope is the belief in options in the future.

It is seeded by catching glimpses of the new flower,  the sound of laughter, the sight of children’s awe, the feel of a pets’ love, the power of human kindness.

It is what makes this journey together possible….

Listen in to Renowned Epidemiologist, Dr. Gary Slutkin discuss “ Coping with Two Epidemics- COVID-19 and Violence on Psych Up Live-

Be Safe -Suzanne