Coping Tools for Challenging Times

As the world is opening and we transition back into the lives we lived pre-COVID, there is sure to be a mixture of emotions. You might be hopeful and happy about all of these changes and opportunities for life to go back to “normal.” That said, there may be plenty of uncomfortable emotions as well (i.e., nervous, worried, anxious etc.). Transition, even when it’s good, can feel hard.

Most of us have gotten used to the way we’ve lived our lives for this past year and a half, and we know with change often comes grief and loss: loss of the intricacies of our day-to-day lives, differences from what we have grown accustomed to, just like we might have experienced when the world as we knew it shut down in March 2020. Even things that we are excited for (like camp!) can come with some fear and worry. It’s important to think about some things we can do to help us feel grounded during times of change and transition. 

The first thing I like to do is try and name what I’m feeling. This might sound like, “I’m feeling nervous right now because I haven’t eaten inside a restaurant in over a year” or “I’m feeling worried about camp because I haven’t been around other people besides my family in over a year.” When we name or identify what we are feeling, it helps us better understand our emotions and what we might be going through. It validates our experiences and makes it easier to move through the more difficult and uncomfortable emotions. From there, try one more of the coping strategies below.

Three mindfulness tools

Mindfulness tools help us shift our attention and focus to the present moment and gives us an opportunity to focus on our surroundings. These are strategies you can use anywhere–in the car, at the dinner table, and even in bed while falling asleep. You can use these tools individually or with someone else, and here are some examples:

ABC Mindfulness

  • Pick a category (i.e. food, celebrities, books, sports, video games)
  • Go through the category A-Z. Example: Category-Desserts; A-Apple Pie, B-Banana Pudding, C-Cookies and Cream Ice Cream. This can be done in your head, written down on a piece of paper, or with other people

Counting and Labeling

  • Look outside the window or around the space you are in.
  • Pick some categories of things you will begin to count and label. Example: things shaped like a square, things that are blue, things that look shiny, windows on the building next door, trees that you pass by
  • Set a timer for five minutes, and take time labeling and counting the categories you have identified.

Five senses
You can create a list in your head or take out a piece of paper and write it out. Take a couple of minutes to focus on:

  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste 

Three breathing exercises

Focusing on our breath is a simple action we can do to ground ourselves. Below are some of my favorite breathing techniques to practice:

4×4 breathing 

  • Inhale for four seconds.
  • Hold for four seconds.
  • Exhale for four seconds.
  • Hold for four seconds, and then repeat.

Infinity Breathing

  • For this exercise, visualize an infinity sign or draw one on a piece of paper.
  • If you have drawn out an infinity sign, trace the symbol with your finger while breathing in and out.
  • Inhale as you trace your finger along one side of the infinity sign.

Exhale as you trace your finger along the other side.

“Elephant Trunk” Breathing

  • Stand tall and take a few deep breaths.
  • Stand with your feet hips-width distance and dangle your arms in front of your body like an elephant trunk.
  • As you breathe in deeply through your nose, raise your arms high above your head.
  • Then as you breathe out of your mouth, swing your arms down between your legs.
  • Repeat the steps above as you inhale and exhale.

We might not be able to control all of the shifts going on around us, but we have the choice to take time to practice mindfulness and breathing tools. We hope you’ll try these as needed and also share with your child(ren); you may even want to try them together.

Marissa Kusy-Leavitt is a licensed social worker practicing in Chicago, Illinois. She works with children ages 5 to 14, and their families, in a partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient setting. Marissa has been working with Experience Camps since 2018, starting as a clinician for the Experience Camps Pennsylvania Boys Program. Marissa is extremely excited about the opportunity to be the clinical director for the Michigan Girls Program this summer.