cope with triggers during a pandemic

How to Cope with Triggers During a Pandemic

by Pat Fontana

Stress and anxiety are common reactions to a pandemic such as the coronavirus outbreak that we are currently experiencing. During Mental Health Month, it is timely to review some tips for coping. In particular, it is important to understand how to cope with triggers during a pandemic, to prevent a relapse and to stay safe and healthy throughout the outbreak.

Triggers During a Pandemic

Under normal circumstances, your triggers might involve contact with people or a visit to a location that reminds you of your previous substance use and addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that stress cues linked to the drug use (such as people, places, things, and moods), and contact with drugs are the most common triggers for relapse. When you are staying at home and following social distancing guidelines, though, you may not have that same exposure.

During a pandemic, your triggers may be more related to loneliness or boredom. Your fear, stress, and anxiety may also be triggers for you as you remain isolated during the coronavirus outbreak. When you are not able to freely do the things you are used to doing every day, including accessing your addiction treatment program, these feelings can increase. You should take steps now to learn how to cope with triggers during a pandemic.

What Feeds Your Feelings

Dr. John Sharp, a board-certified psychiatrist on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, advises taking a breath and working toward separating out where your feelings are coming from, as a way to cope with the anxiety and fear that may be triggers for you. Dr. Sharp suggests:

  • Try saying this, for example: “Of course, I’m more concerned than (my roommate/my friend/my family), because I’m practiced at feeling anxious or helpless.”
  • The next step is to recognize that the percentage of feelings that stem from the past do not have to govern how you necessarily feel in the present. Try saying this out loud: “Well that was then, this is now.” A simple statement like this can actually open the door to some significant relief.
  • Gently remind yourself of this crucial separation, cleaving the past from the present. And kindly and reassuringly remind yourself that you have the resources — both internal and external — to manage your feelings and reactions in the now. This is crucially important.

Practical Ways to Cope

When loneliness or boredom become triggers for you, you can find constructive ways to cope with those feelings as well. These stress management strategies can also become practical ways for you to cope with triggers during a pandemic.

  • Be kind to yourself. Remember that you’re not alone in your struggles.
  • Maintain a routine. Even if you’re stuck at home, try to stick to your regular sleep, school, meal, or work schedule. This can help you maintain a sense of normalcy.
  • Take time out for activities you enjoy. Read a good book, watch a comedy, play a fun board or video game, make something—whether it’s a new recipe, a craft, or a piece of art.
  • Get out in nature, if possible. Sunshine and fresh air will do you good. Even a walk around your neighborhood, if it can be done safely, can make you feel better.
  • Find ways to exercise. Staying active will help you release anxiety, relieve stress, and manage your mood. Cycle, hike, or walk, maintaining your social distance from others.
  • Avoid self-medicating. Using alcohol or other substances to deal with the pandemic is not the answer. Focus on the progress you’ve made and on your continuing recovery efforts.
  • Take up a relaxation practice. When stressors throw your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can bring you back into a state of equilibrium.

Access Treatment via Telehealth

Stay connected with your addiction treatment and support groups. Continuing consistently with your program can help you cope with triggers during a pandemic. Behavioral therapies, in particular, can help you handle stressful situations and various triggers that might cause another relapse. Behavioral therapies can also enhance the effectiveness of treatment medications and help you remain in treatment longer.

South Miami Recovery Offers Telehealth Services During COVID-19

Continuing your addiction treatment during the pandemic can help you cope with triggers and prevent a relapse. South Miami Recovery offers HIPAA-compliant telehealth services so you can get the treatment you need, while staying safe and healthy at home. We will continue to provide a wide array of outpatient addiction treatment services to those who need it most during these uncertain times. To learn more and to sign up for telehealth substance abuse services, contact us today. Call South Miami Recovery at 305.661.0055.