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Coping during the Pandemic If You Are Undercontrolled

The pandemic has changed lives all over the world. Some of you are coping with tragic losses, including loss of loved ones and/or family members. Some of you are coping with loss of the life you lived every day and expected to continue. The givens of daily life are no longer givens. The world is no longer as it was. That assumption that you could wake up and the world would continue as it has for most of your life is no longer true. Many of you may be grieving the safety and the life you had just a few months ago.

Not everyone will react the same way to the many situations and complex issues the pandemic has created. It’s not possible to even know all the issues everyone faces. But we can talk about general coping strategies. But for those coping strategies to be helpful, they need to fit with your personality style.

Not everyone will benefit from the same coping strategies. A big part of the way you respond will be based on your personality style and your personality style will also determine the best coping strategies for you. So what is your personality style? Two basic, underlying personality styles have been identified by researchers: One is under-controlled (UC) and the other is over controlled (OC).

If you are under controlled, you tend to be impulsive, spontaneous, and a risk-taker. You crave novel experiences; like to do new things. You tend to see the big picture in life, may overlook details, and seek out pleasurable experiences or look for ways to feel good. You express your feelings in big ways, sometimes ways that others may not understand. Emotions play a part in the decisions that you make.

So what coping skills will be helpful for you?  When you are under controlled,  the idea is to help increase the control you have over emotions and actions.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Use the STOP skill.  First, stop. Don’t act, don’t make any decisions when you are emotional. When you are under controlled, your emotions can take over and that can mean that sometimes your decisions are not good ones for you. So wait. Put a pause between you and action.

Take a step back means to step back from the situation and soothe yourself or get in touch with your        wise mind.  Get out of the situation if possible. Take time and get some distance from the situation. Taking a step back can mean really looking at the emotions that you are feeling and what is important to you.

Observe.  What are the facts?  What are the possible consequences of taking the action you are considering?  Are you making assumptions?  Check out what is true and real.

Proceed mindfully.  Mindfully includes doing what is effective, being one-mindful, being nonjudgmental,  and participating fully.

     2. Identify what you are feeling. Label it.  When you have big emotions, labeling them helps you know what to do and also puts a brake on them. Just the act of labeling your emotions can help you be more in control.  For example, sometimes when people are scared, they react with anger. But the anger is not really the issue, the fear is what they are actin on. If you correctly label the fear, then you can deal with the fear. If you try to deal with anger when you are actually afraid, it is not as effective.

3.  What can you change and what do you need to accept?  Are you being willful?  Trying to problem solve when it’s something that can’t be solved creates anxiety. It’s like trying to control something that you can’t control. So deciding what you can problem solve and what you need to accept (though maybe you don’t want to) is an important step.

4.  Radical Acceptance of what you can’t change. For what you can’t change, practice radical acceptance. Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you agree with whatever it is that you have to accept, just that you are acknowledging it is real. For example, you may hate that you cannot go to work or go to visit your friends. But if going to work or visiting your friends is not in keeping with the current mandates, then acceptance just means that you acknowledge the reality and that you aren’t going to fight against it. Fighting against reality is like trying to change the way the river flows, and it creates suffering. When you acknowledge reality, you may feel sad. That’s often part of acceptance. And it still doesn’t mean that you agree or that you necessarily think it is right.

 5.  Self soothe.  Find ways to distract yourself by playing games, reading, being creative, listening to music, and more. Use activities that engage the 5 senses to help calm yourself. If faith is important to you, turn to your faith. Try to find the meaning and/or silver lining in what you are going through. Is there anything that you have learned by going through this experience?  Can you find safe ways to connect with friends and others so you don’t feel alone?

We will get through this. In the meantime, work at managing your emotions so you don’t take actions that make the situation worse for you.



More About Coronavirus: Psych Central Coronavirus Resource


Coping during the Pandemic If You Are Undercontrolled

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2020). Coping during the Pandemic If You Are Undercontrolled. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Apr 2020
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