How to Not Just Survive the Pandemic, but Thrive!

Terry Lieb Coping with Adversity 5 Comments

For those of you who have been following my writing, you will recognize this post takes a somewhat different approach than usual. However, over the last few days, several of the patients that I counsel by phone have encouraged—or in one case, demanded!—that I write a post on some of the practical coping strategies I have shared with them and that they have found helpful. So I would like to offer some brief reflections and suggestions as we wrestle together as to how we can not only survive this pandemic but more importantly thrive during this time.

Photo by Claudia Manas on

As a mental health professional I’ve been counseling patients for over 40 years, and my major focus for several years has been depression and anxiety. The fears the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered as well as the mandate that we limit our social contact have certainly accelerated or resurfaced various levels of depression and anxiety for many folks who struggled with these illnesses in the past. However, even folks who claim to have never experienced any significant symptoms of either illness are now beginning to self-report increasing symptoms.

It is very important to realize that the earlier we recognize and acknowledge our emotional state, and begin to develop a healthy action plan to support it, the more successful we will be in taking charge of these illnesses rather than the depression or anxiety taking charge of us!

To help stay grounded and resist the negative emotions threatening to overwhelm us, I recommend that we all develop a daily schedule with a mix of activities that address all of the elements necessary for a balanced, well-rounded life. In my practice, I have developed a “total wellness” model that includes 10 areas of wellness. Your schedule should ideally include all of these components.

In creating your schedule, I have found that it works best to do it the night before and to actually write it down. Identify your most energetic and creative times of the day and schedule your activities in accordance with your natural rhythms. For example, my most creative time is the first hour or two of the day so that is the time slot I reserve for writing.

Here are the 10 components you need to address to achieve “total wellness” during the pandemic (and beyond):

  1. EMOTIONAL – First of all, pay attention to your emotions and recognize when you are experiencing stress, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, powerlessness, depression, and even grief. Journaling is a good way of processing your feelings, and a gratitude journal (or other gratitude practice) can help you shift into a more positive mindset. Remember, even if everything else is out of your control, the one thing you can control is your attitude! That said, if you have any history of depression or anxiety and feel your symptoms surfacing again call a mental health professional as soon as possible. Even if you have no history with either of these illnesses and you begin to consider any thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, contact a mental health professional or local agency immediately. If necessary, call 911.
Rita on her trike

Rita on her trike

2. PHYSICAL – Follow all the expert advice on keeping your exposure to the coronavirus to a minimum, while doing everything you can to boost your immune system. Plan to get eight hours of sleep (there are a lot of online resources if this is a challenge for you). Eat healthy meals and avoid the temptation to snack, especially on junk food. Make time to exercise. Work out to an aerobics video, jump rope, walk up and down the stairs, play Just Dance on wii, or try some of these no-equipment workouts: If you haven’t been exercising, start out slow and be sure to consult with your physician before starting any physical exercise program if you have any significant health issues. Even just walking around the house is better than sitting all day but if at all possible, get moving outside (while still practicing social distancing, of course). Despite serious mobility issues, Rita has been riding her trike around the neighborhood while I walk alongside, which has proven to be meaningful talk time for us as well as a good workout.

3. MENTAL – Stimulate your brain by learning something new. Read a book about history, philosophy, physics, or some other challenging topic, watch a topical documentary, or take one of the many excellent courses that are now offered online. Learn another language or pick up a new skill. For example, despite being told I am utterly tone deaf, I am determined to learn to play an instrument. Rita bought me a “pick stick” several years ago for Valentine’s Day. I have worked on it periodically but never stuck with it; this is a wonderful time for me to fully embrace this long-term interest!

4. SPIRITUAL – Engage in daily spiritual practice, whether that means meditation, prayer, reading devotions or sacred texts, listening to worship music, or anything else you find spiritually nourishing. Many churches are having online services and setting up prayer chains and conference calls to keep people connected. Many people are finding that this cataclysmic event brings up profound theological questions and you might need to consider how it fits with your understanding of God. Do you believe in a God who controls everything—both “good” and “bad”—or one who doesn’t orchestrate events like a puppet master, but is with us through our struggles?

5. RELATIONAL – If you are quarantining with loved ones, realize that this might be the longest uninterrupted time you ever get to spend together and take advantage of it! Look for fun, memorable things to do with one another. For instance, Rita and I have taken this time to try several new healthy recipes that we have been talking about for years, preparing and eating them together. Recognize that everyone is stressed and be extra kind to one another. It is also important to bear in mind that some people might require more “alone time” than others so be sure to respect everyone’s needs for solitude—including your own!

6. VOCATIONAL – Now is a time of extreme job uncertainty for many folks. Some are temporarily unable to work, some have already been laid off, and others face possible unemployment. No one knows how long the crisis will last or what the economy or job market will look like once it has passed. Although this is certainly stressful, it can also be a valuable time of reassessment. Normally we are so busy on the treadmill of life, we never have a chance to question if we are on the right path. Would you like to change jobs, switch careers, downshift, start a “side hustle,” or pursue meaningful volunteer work? Take advantage of this rare time to think creatively about vocation and consider opportunities you may not have considered previously.

7. FINANCIAL – The pandemic crisis has exposed the precariousness of many Americans’ finances, with many households unable to deal with an one-time emergency much less several months without income. This could be the perfect time to assess your true financial situation, develop a budget and/or plan if you don’t have one, and brainstorm ways to make yourself more secure. Are there places you could cut back? Can you build your emergency fund? Are you saving enough for retirement? Are there opportunities for extra income? Now might also be an excellent time to evaluate what money means to you and if you allow it to take an outsized role in shaping your priorities. If you are lucky enough to be blessed monetarily, you might look for ways to use your financial resources to help those hit hardest by this crisis.

8. FUNAL – No, that’s not a typo! This is my word for the “fun” dimension of life. What is fun for you? Consult your inner child and think outside the box! Host a family dance party, make your own board game, whip out your paint set or model airplane kit, complete a puzzle, or produce a play or puppet show. A group of my friends who play cards on a regular basis are presently modifying our favorite card game to FaceTime. We just started this and it was a blast even though it took two hours to play half the game! Limited TV watching is okay, but I would suggest more creative, interactive play/fun possibilities.

9. COMMUNAL – In a time of social distancing, it is easy to think connecting to your wider community is off limits, but you just need to get more creative! Block off time to reach out and offer support to others. Simple phone calls to check in on folks are very helpful, especially for those living alone. For many, FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype can feel even more like being present than simply talking on the phone.

10. ENVIRONMENTAL – This is another category that might seem to be off-limits when you are confined to your house. However, your house IS your current environment! A dirty, messy, or overstuffed environment can drag you down emotionally so now is the perfect time to get organized. Make a list of the projects you’ve planned to get done around the house (or yard—maybe now is the time to plant a vegetable garden!) but haven’t ever gotten around to. Prioritize the times on your list and schedule in some time to begin chipping away at it.

Of course, each person will approach the 10 wellness areas differently and I would encourage you to customize your schedule with activities that are unique to you and your own journey. Obviously being semi-retired my agenda will look different than that of someone who is working at home and suddenly attempting to provide homeschooling for young children. But I have seen exceptional creativity from folks in all kinds of scenarios and surprising benefits in the most unexpected places.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on

Again my hope is we will come through this uncharted experience not only having survived but thriving and perhaps in some areas, undergoing profound transformation. One way this experience might become a transformative pivot event in your life is if it inspires you to commit to integrating this wellness model into your daily life even after we finally emerge from our homes.

It often takes some type of crisis to jar us into looking at and thinking about our everyday life a bit differently, and this is certainly one of those times!  I strongly believe that with the right open, optimistic, and faith-filled attitude we can as individuals, as a country, and as a world come through this stronger, healthier, and celebrating a deeper relationship with each other and our God/creator.


  1. How are you handling the COVID-19 pandemic? What part is hardest for you?
  1. What wellness modalities do you struggle with the most? What specific concrete steps can you take to help you in those areas, not just now but in your “normal” life?
  1. During this unusual time, what are you grateful for? What have you taken for granted that you now realize the value of?
  1. What do you look to and depend upon for security in your life?
  1. What potential positive benefits might come out of this experience for you individually and our society collectively? What can we to do to encourage those benefits to come to fruition?
  1. This epidemic has demonstrated that we are incredibly interconnected both physically and financially. Do you think there is a spiritual takeaway?

Banner photo by Fusion Medical Animation on

5 1 vote
Article Rating
Click your favorite social share option below!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
April 1, 2020 5:58 pm

1st thank you for sharing such wisdom and truth during this strange time. I will keep this in my inbox so I can read and reread at will! So far I’m lucky in that I can work from home, so my days are the same, yet different. From commuting to an office to now working in my spare room, now office. I am actually enjoying the quiet, more focused atmosphere while at the same time missing the camaraderie of my co-workers. Always a balancing act as much in life is. Way too many thoughts but suffice this is showing us… Read more »

Elsa Heintzelman
Elsa Heintzelman
April 1, 2020 6:57 pm

I really enjoyed reading through this Terry. I am doing fine during this strange time, still working part time at Phoebe-Berks Health Care Center, where there are no incidents of COVID 19 yet. I am a per diem social worker, so just providing support to the full time workers, and glad to be helping. Thank you for posting. Stay well and safe! Elsa Heintzelman

April 2, 2020 10:21 am

Thank you for sharing Terry. We missed seeing you this year, but Heather said you were around.
Our youngest daughter keeps a thankful journal, every day she’s writes down what she is thankful for. A positive outlook is good for our wellbeing.
She also put together a helpful Proactive video, to stay as healthy as possible.
There were a couple of earthquakes recently, very little was reported in the media.
I do wonder what God is trying to tell us. We are in His hands. Content in that knowledge.

Martha Sipe
Martha Sipe
May 7, 2020 10:41 am

When this post first came out, I shared it on our congregation’s Facebook page. But I find that I keep coming back to it, not only for my only life, but also for the sake of the life of my congregation. Since the “stay at home” order began, I have been sharing a daily Noon Prayer webcast on Facebook and YouTube. And this week, I began to share a very brief reflection each day on one of the wellness areas. In addition, as I work to help my congregation to focus on more than just making it through the pandemic,… Read more »

Kathy B
Kathy B
July 12, 2020 8:10 am

Thank you Terry! I love the recommendation of journaling, I used to do it, but stopped a long time ago. I especially like the recommendation of writing about somethig I am thankful for each day.Fortunately my husband and I were not affected by the pandemic, employment wise. Yet working from home took a toll on my body! I was sitting at my computer for about 10 hours straight each day! I couldn’t believe how much busier I was! I ended up gaining 15 lbs! Now I’m struggling with getting it off, even though Planet Fitness is now open. I have… Read more »