The whole world is hurting in some way or another, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one to worry about what the future holds. We’ve all been focusing a lot on our physical health, trying to avoid or deal with physical symptoms, but it’s more important than ever to keep our mental health in check too. So I called on my friend Stephanie Engel, who’s a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Chicago, to shed some light on the current COVID-19 crisis, and to offer some advice for dealing with business/career anxiety. Our Q&A interview is below:
Q: Who are you and what do you do?
A: Hi! My name is Stephanie Engel. I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Chicago, Illinois. We all have difficulties and struggles in life. Those difficulties can present in a number of different ways, which may leave us feeling sad, hopeless, confused, anxious, and/or angry. It may also leave us feeling stuck in life, unable to find movement. I assist my clients in finding guidance and answers to alleviate or lessen these difficulties and the impact on their life.
Q: What was your training like and where do you practice?
A: I have a Psychology degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. During my graduate studies, I completed two internships, and, upon graduation, worked in day treatment centers, schools, and in outpatient settings. I currently work at a private practice in Chicago, where I work with children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families.
Q: What are some of the most common stressors and fears that you’re seeing during this time?
A: During these uncertain times, many of my clients are struggling with grief and loss. That doesn’t always mean the grieving the loss of a friend or loved one. It can also be grieving the loss of life as we knew it. Loss of the future and what we thought it was going to be or loss of being able to see and hug our loved ones without the fear of spreading an unseen virus.
Many of my clients are also dealing with fearing for the safety of their loved ones, something many of us don’t deal with on a daily basis but is a valid struggle at the moment. Many people are also dealing with added stress around job and financial security due to the current state of our economy and what it might look like in the next few months. All of these stressors tie back to not having control over this new situation that we have never been through before.
Additionally, I am seeing difficulties in being able to remain rational and stay grounded in the present. Panic and anxiety are contagious, and when they become too much, we are no longer able to shift and block out negative thoughts that lead us in to further stress and anxiety. Breaking this negative feedback loop is a common theme of my sessions with clients.
Q: Can you offer any strategies for business owners or employees who may be experiencing a lot of stress and anxiety?
- You are not alone – Remember that many others are going through the same thing as you. It may be helpful reach out to other similar business owners to get an idea of what they may be doing for their employees, or how they are developing extra resources for their businesses. The country as a whole understands that small and large businesses are being impacted by this and need help, there are many resources – financial and otherwise – that can help. We are all in this together.
- One day at a time. One hour a time. One minute at a time – When emotions run high, we get overwhelmed. If you can, try to slow way down. Remind yourself that the only goal is to get through the next minute, hour or day. When you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, try to shift your focus to figuring out a pleasant and calming activity that you can do right now. Remember we do not know what tomorrow or next week might bring, so the only thing we can control is what we do in this exact moment.
- Be curious – I talk a lot with my clients about being curious with ourselves and what is coming up for us. As humans, we do not like to feel out of control or helpless. Anxiety is rooted in helplessness. Think about it, anytime we start to feel anxious and it starts to get scary, we may try to avoid. Well, we can’t avoid what’s going on right now. We are in a weird and scary time and we can’t deny that. Being able to sit in that – acknowledging how hard and scary this might be and be compassionate and patient with ourselves – can actually be what helps us get through this. So much of the time we avoid, at all costs, sitting in an uncomfortable feeling. When we do that, we experience temporary relief, but fear and anxiety eventually come back and are often worse. When we sit in the discomfort and let us ourselves be there, we find we are stronger than we think and learn how to navigate our fears rather than avoid them.
- This is temporary – It’s true. This quarantine and virus won’t last forever. Humans can sustain stress for long periods of time. We are resilient. Remember, “this stress is temporary!”
- Lastly – everything is going to be ok. The future is unknown, not only now, but always. Remember that. Even before this virus, we had no idea what the future held for us. We can tell ourselves that everything will be ok, and it will be.
Q: “Self-care” is such a trendy term right now. What does it mean to you?
A: Self-care is a concept that I use all the time in therapy. Self-care really is anything that provides you with relief, comfort, and healing. Self-care looks different for each person. One concept I talk about a lot with my client is the idea of an emotional bucket. You can also think about it as a bank account. When we are making self-care a priority, we are filling the bucket (deposits), when we are stressed or having difficulties, we take out of the bucket (withdrawals). When we are taking too many withdrawals, just like a bank account, we go negative. Self-care can be listening to your favorite music, taking a bath, going on a walk, cooking, organizing, watching a movie, or doing a puzzle. Self-care is also self-compassion, letting yourself cry, saying no to events or situations that you might not feel you want to go to. It could be ending relationships that no longer serve you or maybe setting a boundary where you couldn’t before. Self-care is healing and love for yourself that allows you to recharge and move forward.