Anxiety Relief and Boundary Setting Amidst Covid-19
An Interview with Psychotherapist Whitney Goodman
Written by Sonya Matejko
01 Writer and yoga teacher, Sonya Matejko, spoke with therapist, Whitney Goodman, to learn more about maintaining calm and balance during this stressful time.
02 Whitney reinforces the importance of grounding techniques, self-compassion, boundary setting, and leading with empathy.
03 Remember: We’re in this together. Don’t just take things day by day, take them minute by minute.
What’s happening right now isn’t easy for anybody. We’re all doing the best we can to stay calm, but sometimes our best doesn't feel like enough. As someone who has - and still does - struggle with anxiety, I know first hand what it feels like to spiral when the world around me feels out of my control. I know what it’s like to have stress sit on your chest like a 20-pound weight that can’t be lifted.
But I also know, that there are coping mechanisms that make a difference when it comes to managing anxiety — even in extreme circumstances. While times are hard, the one thing we shouldn’t do is make them harder by forgetting to take care of our mental health. So, I sat down with my good friend, Whitney Goodman, a radically honest therapist and owner of The Collaborative in Miami, to get her perspective on how to support ourselves and others during these difficult times. In our interview, we talk about coping strategies, boundaries, and processing our emotions. I hope it can offer some relief, or at the very least, help you hold onto hope. Here we go!
Lets Talk about Emotions with Whitney Hawkins Goodman, LMFT
Doctors Nicole and Whitney discuss emotional regulation.
What are “normal” emotions to feel right now?
WG: I think everything is normal to feel. People are going to be scared, confused, and even calm at times. What I’m noticing the most, is that people are feeling a lot of different emotions at once.
When you are feeling a whole lot of things, how can you ground yourself?
WG: Validation and self-compassion are the best strategies to start with. First, tell yourself that what you're feeling is okay. Then inquire further by asking yourself, “why do I feel this way?” Consider what has changed and caused this emotion. Try to come at it with curiosity and compassion, rather than judgment.
What should you do when self-compassion isn’t enough to tame the overwhelm?
WG: Try distracting yourself. Pick a task that moves you into a flow state. I’ve found that if you do something that allows you to use your hands (like writing, drawing, or cooking), that can be helpful. Another solution is to separate yourself from what is triggering you. If it’s the news or a person, can you find a way to create some distance from the source of your overwhelm — even if it’s temporary.
How do you create boundaries when you’re stuck?
WG: Find a way to separate yourself. Even if you’re limited to a small space, there are options. It could be as simple as taking a shower, or going to sit in your car. Maybe it’s stepping outside if that’s available to you. Even putting headphones on can be a form of a boundary.
How can you communicate boundaries in isolation?
WG: Instead of starting with “you’re doing this to me,” approach it as “this is what I need.” For example, if your roommate, family member, or partner is producing a lot of loud noise in the apartment that’s triggering your anxiety, you could say, “I’m overwhelmed by the loud noise in the apartment. Is it possible to have it be quiet during X hours or at X time?”
What if they don’t take it well?
WG: The fact of the matter is, some people won’t respond well. But it’s not up to someone else to meet your boundaries. So focus on what you can control — maybe it’s creating that distance. Consider also that the thing bothering you might be their coping mechanism, so it may be helpful to tap into empathy while considering why someone is doing what they’re doing, even if you’re irritated.
What about creating boundaries with yourself?
WG: Ask yourself, "where do I need to set a boundary?" Are you watching too much TV? Are you helping other people and forgetting about yourself? Figure out what’s bothering you, and how you’d prefer that situation to look. Make a deal with yourself and schedule those boundaries while leaving room for flexibility as things change (which they inevitably will). Try these mantras.
How do you stay motivated when you’re anxious?
WG: You probably won't be as motivated as usual, and that’s okay. You may need to take more breaks to maintain your motivation (which could sound counterintuitive). Your lack of motivation may be sending a mind-body signal that you’re doing too much right now. Even though you may not be “doing” a lot, processing what we’re all going through is a lot on its own.
How do you deal with the constant change?
WG: We’re operating at 7 in terms of frustration, so it’s really easy to get to 10 right now. Our baseline has risen, and that’s across the board. Things are changing so rapidly that our best path forward is accepting that we are not going to feel “normal” for a long time and that tomorrow might not look like yesterday.
The thing to avoid is letting yourself get stuck in the expectation that you should feel or be a certain way. This is all unprecedented, so your actions and reactions will be too. There is no right or wrong way right now. There’s no training or a pandemic guide book. The best you can do is to try and approach these changes with compassion while separating what you don’t have control over.
Why does it seem others are handling it better than me?
WG: Self-comparison is huge right now — especially on social media. People are only posting the good moments. Someone’s coping is going to look a lot prettier than others, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right for you. And them sharing it may be a coping method in and of itself. What you must remember is that you can’t know what’s really going on in someone else’s life. If looking is making you feel bad in any way, step away from it.
Does that mean I should check in more on my friends too?
WG: It can be hard to interact with people who are calm or dismissive about the pandemic. If you know that’s a trigger for you, don’t engage. But for the friends who are struggling? Check-in when you can, but like they tell you on the plane, make sure you can breathe first. You may not have the headspace to check-in on other people or show up for them in the same capacity; let that be okay.
Okay, thank you, what are some resources to turn to you’d recommend?
- Seek out digital support groups from therapists
- Read and look at mental health resources on social media
- Use telehealth to speak therapist either through phone or video chat
- Know you can always access suicide or domestic violence hotlines (if needed)
Last piece of advice?
WG: We’re in this together. Don’t just take it day by day; take it minute by minute.
About the author
Sonya Matejko is a writer, yoga teacher, and communications consultant. She writes stories and helps people tell theirs by empowering them to express themselves — mentally, physically, and spiritually. Follow Sonya on @aforceofnurture for more, or visit her website www.sonyamatejko.com.