How a Psychiatrist is Personally Coping with the Realities of 2020

By Rahul Kumar
8 min read

There is not a “right” way to cope with the pandemic right now. This coronavirus has taken countless lives and sickened way more since March 2020. As you deal with intense emotions — whether that is fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and/or stress, know that you are not alone in experiencing these struggles. At BroglieBox, we are speaking to various mental health professionals who are supporting individuals during this time, and gaining insight into how care has adapted to today’s needs.

BroglieBox Peer Writer, Rahul Kumar, interviews Dr. Stacy Cohen, MD, a double-board certified general and addiction psychiatrist that practices at The Moment, an integrative wellness private clinic in Santa Monica, CA. Dr. Cohen and her team at The Moment approach mental health in a unique way, integrating biological, psychological, social, and spiritual perspectives to build a collaborative approach in healing. Dr. Cohen has also worked in addiction treatment throughout the greater Los Angeles area and currently holds a teaching faculty appointment at UCLA. While she treats patients with their wellness journeys, here’s a look into how she is personally coping during this difficult time.  Please Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Stacy Cohen, MD

Rahul Kumar: In what ways has your day-to-day routine changed as a result of the pandemic? How are you coping with these changes and new routines?

Dr. Stacy Cohen: I’m home all day doing tele-health visits.  I’m lucky to live near the beach, so I usually run on the beach or do some other type of workout every morning prior to work.  I also have a Peloton, so I’m clocking a lot more hours on that.  I’m spending a lot more time with my pups and the people I’m closest to.  I am running around less to social events so I am in bed earlier and able to be on a stricter sleep routine.  

RK: How has the pandemic personally impacted your mental health?

SC: When COVID first hit, I was having a hard time.  Many of my friends work in hospitals and there were so many unknowns (and there still are).  I was so worried about them.  I was having nightmares and occasional panic attacks, which I hadn’t had since I was an intern in surgery dealing with trauma cases.  It was scary, but I spoke to someone about it and it helped.  It’s the first time I’ve experienced collective trauma with all of my patients.  We are all going through the same thing.  I’m not used to them asking me how I’m doing, but they do now.  We are all going through this together.  It’s certainly a unique experience.  

There are some changes that have definitely been healthy.  For instance, I spend more time in nature than I ever have. I’m eating healthier, because I’m cooking more meals myself.  I work out daily – because I know I’m otherwise not moving much and it’s absolutely essential.   I’ve read some great books that have helped me work on some specific areas of my life that I am looking to evolve.  My skincare routine and workout routines have made me feel better.  I do miss getting dressed up and putting on makeup and feeling pretty, but I’m starting to find more opportunities to do that.  

RK: What wellness resources do you personally use and recommend that help you stay positive amid the current situation?

SC: I think it’s a great time to take a personal inventory and figure out what areas of life you want to work on.  With less travel, there is an opportunity to make spaces to work on things.  Whether it’s decluttering your home, gardening, or self-help books, I think setting goals around self-improvement and making little strides to stick to them is more possible due to the lack of distractions from the “outside world” while stuck at home.  Exercise is key.  This is a time to exercise a lot more than usual, because we are so much less active.  Also, zooming with friends on a regular basis helps keep social interactions alive.  I have a weekly zoom with my college friends and we’ve helped each other through this.  We hadn’t been in touch for a long time prior to COVID, and we are now closer than ever.

RK: In your free time, how do you de-stress? What hobbies or outside activities do you enjoy participating in?

SC: I learned to surf during COVID, which had been something on my bucket list which I kept postponing.  Picnics in the park are a wonderful way to be outside and social but keep a distance.  I also took a road trip and visited national parks.  We were able to socially distance but still get some great exercise with beautiful views.  I encourage people to creatively (and safely) plan vacations so they don’t get burnt out, if working hard from home.  It seems a lot of people are working even harder during this time.  It’s easy to feel like not taking a vacation because there aren’t as many safe travel options, but stay-cations or road trips can still allow you to take a break from your routine. We’re all under a ton of stress that we aren’t used to, and we need to prioritize taking breaks where we can.  

RK: Why is it important for everyone to take time to relax and de-stress on a regular basis? Do you think this is a good time for individuals to instill new wellness habits into their life? 

SC: Stress is responsible for so many of our illnesses – both psychological and physical “dis-ease”. Learning how to manage stress is an inside job.  This situation is putting everyone to the test.  I’m constantly reminding people (and myself) that we can only control what we can control.  It’s definitely a time to add new wellness routines to the mix, but also to set personal boundaries about what does and doesn’t feel good and to stick with them.  We all have to look within and decide what works for us and what doesn’t.  It’s important to figure out what feels too stressful and what feels calming, and keep choosing the direction of what feels good.  

RK: Where can individuals turn for help with their mental health right now?

SC: Mental health clinicians have mostly gone virtual.  In some ways, this makes us more accessible.  Our team at The Moment has many providers with different specialties that are available to see people virtually for all different issues.  There are also some large telehealth companies doing online therapy. Psychology Today can also help you find local providers in your area.  Even though you can see someone virtually, it’s good to plan to see someone that you can visit in person in the future.  

RK: What tips are you recommending to your patients to optimize mental health and well-being at this time? 

SC: I think it’s important to continue to look for the silver linings.  There are some opportunities to reframe the way we do things.  I highly recommend people start a meditation and / or journaling practice.  Both can help people to relax and destress. I focus on gratitude for the things that are going well and all the positives that have come into my life as a result of this.  

Find a fun series to binge on.  Or a good book to read. Take a bath.  We, as a society, tend to be hard on ourselves and think we have to be super productive all the time.  And many people feel that because we are stuck at home, we aren’t productive.  But people don’t realize the level of stress and growth that comes with all this change and new information.  And we need to be kinder to ourselves and give ourselves space and time to process it.  I’m constantly reminding people to take it easy and stop giving themselves such a hard time. This is unprecedented and we shouldn’t expect ourselves to have a specific reaction or agenda.  Feel the feels!

Rahul Kumar is a student who wants to incorporate technology in order to optimize healthcare productivity, especially in the clinical setting. He is entering the University of Miami, and hopes to use his experience and love for the healthcare field to bring meaningful change to the healthcare field. In his free time, Rahul enjoys blogging and photography. He has published past blogs on the impacts of the California Camp Fire, research on Alzheimer’s, and more.

Coronavirus attacking your Mental Health? Check out the below BroglieBox articles:
Can we talk about something else? 100 Things to talk about that aren’t about the Coronavirus.
4 Ways To Stay Resilient No Matter What Happens
Mental Health Tips for Parents, Families, Children During School/Child Care Closings

Benefits of Virtual Therapy (And Where To Find It)

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