Young Woman Inside House During Quarantine

Psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud on Being a Relational Being During Quarantine

Author Headshot - Reuben Hochstetler
Reuben Hochstetler
May 23, 2020

Emotional support and practical advice often play key roles in helping us get through trying times. And when combined with faith and prayer, practical guidance can be especially helpful as we struggle to cope with the daily challenges facing us during the coronavirus pandemic. Author and renowned Psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud describes five reasons why being quarantined has been so difficult for many Americans and some steps we can take to remain rational, even if some circumstances are beyond our control.

What are five key challenges we face during the COVID-19 crisis?

The path to surviving a crisis begins with an understanding of the challenges that may prevent you from remaining strong and productive. While this list can be lengthy, Cloud points to five things that make it especially difficult for humans to cope during a crisis like COVID-19.

1. A lack of structure and order

Whether we realize it or not, our daily routines are the foundation of our lives. Cloud notes that God designed the human brain to operate in a structured fashion. When a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic strikes, we lose our structure and daily routines, causing turmoil for our brains. Much like small children in a classroom without a teacher, we become disorganized and unfocused.

2. A loss of connectedness

According to Cloud, human beings are relational by design. The New Testament describes how our lives are built on the premise of connectedness, noting that we must be connected with God and with other people. When we have meaningful connections with others, life will flow through us. 

The quarantines, shelter in place orders, and social distancing orders associated with the COVID-19 crisis have impaired our ability to connect with friends, family, and colleagues. And with many states restricting religious services, physically connecting with those we are close to has been impossible for many people. 

3. A loss of control

The ability to physically connect with others is not the only thing we have lost. We have lost our ability to control many of the things that we used to fully control in the past. Our ability to shop, dine out, play golf, and go to events has been severely restricted. Cloud notes that we go into a state called learned helplessness, in which we feel powerless and become negative.

4. Feelings of incompetence

If you were a superstar at your job before the pandemic, your ability to “perform” or excel may now be extremely limited. Whether you are a C-suite executive or a whiz at your customer service job, you may face restrictions that limit your ability to excel in the same way you did in the past. 

5. Racing thoughts

During a crisis, there is often a constant influx of news, most of which is negative. This can lead to anxiety, worry, and a barrage of “What if” questions that can lead you down a counterproductive path. Maintaining focus and a positive attitude becomes impossible. 

What are five steps we can take to overcome these challenges?

Once you understand the obstacles that can prevent you from living a productive life during a crisis, the next thing to do is to map out a plan. Dr. Cloud highlights five specific things we can do to overcome adversity.

Step One: Establish a routine and stick to it.

The path to returning overcoming a loss of structure is to resume order in your life. The best way to do this is by establishing a daily routine and sticking to it. Cloud offers the following tips to help you build and maintain a daily routine:

  • Schedule a regular wakeup time
  • Get dressed and act as if you are going to work each day
  • Use a weekly planner to make a schedule or checklist of things to do each day
  • Try to eat dinner at the same time each night
  • Schedule a “Game Night”

Step Two: Use technology to remain connected.

Video Call During Quarantine for Mother and Daughter

Set aside some time every day to connect with your loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Cloud points to FaceTime and Skype Hangouts as two ways to keep up with friends and family. Here are some other ways to remain connected if you are contending with lockdown or quarantine:

  • Social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram
  • WhatsApp and other private messaging platforms
  • Screen Sharing

Step Three: Focus on the things you can control.

While you may not be able to control the restaurant industry, shopping mall closures, and government restrictions, there are still many things that we can control. Cloud suggests setting aside some time to make two lists. You can use one of the blank pages in your 2020 Ultimate Weekly Planner to keep your list together with your daily schedule. First, write down all the things you cannot control. For example, you may write, “I can no longer go to the gym every day,” and “I cannot dine at my favorite restaurant anymore.”

Once you have listed all the things that are beyond your control, turn your attention to your second list. This list should include all the things you can control. For instance, the gym might be closed, but you can still exercise every day. And while your favorite restaurant is closed, you can still choose what food to eat for each meal. Making these lists will help you realize that you really are not powerless or helpless. 

Step Four: Celebrate small wins and accomplishments.

Do not let yourself be overcome by negativity and feelings of powerlessness. While it can be tempting to zero in on your inability to excel at work or in a social setting, Cloud says you must remember that you still have signature passions and things you can still do well. Even if your accomplishments or achievements are relatively small, it is important to celebrate them. For instance, if you own a neighborhood restaurant, you might be tempted to dwell on your lost revenue. Instead, celebrate the fact that you reached a new milestone with your carryout service.

Step Five: Limit your exposure to news.

While it is important to remain abreast of current events, constant exposure to the news can interfere with your ability to think rationally. You can help yourself remain positive and focused by limiting your exposure to news to a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes in the evening. 

What is the most important key to overcoming a crisis?

Remaining sharp and focused during a crisis is anything but easy, especially when your entire routine is disrupted. By following the steps above, you can train your brain to operate at a higher level and reduce the amount of stress in your life.

But Cloud notes that the single most important key to overcoming a crisis is to stay connected to God. By spending your time working and living in God’s word, you can find the strength to move forward in the face of adversity.

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