Coping is Not a Race

You Cannot “Win” at Mental Health in 2020

We have all been trying to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic now for seven months. Every day we have experiences that we must try to fit into a larger story about how we wish to emerge on the other side of this crisis. Some of us may use the analogy that coping with the pandemic and 2020, in general, is a marathon, not a sprint. However, the notion that any of this is a race at all needs to be dispelled.

One of the biggest challenges in responding to the slew of losses and uncertainty that has characterized 2020 has been to find meaning in it all. Meaning-making is an essential task of coping with loss, and it is one that is often glossed over. Furthermore, meaning-making (and coping with loss in general) is an ongoing process.

Mental health gained a huge amount of attention this year. As quickly as news spread about the pandemic, social scientists began predicting a spike in mental health needs. This was helpful in that it reduced the stigma of having public discussions on coping with mental health issues. We have seen friends, family, even celebrities share what they have done to cope. Sharing our stories of resilience with others is a normal and necessary part of making meaning.

The stories of resilience have been broad and inspiring. Some found meaning in developing new skills while at home. Some have turned to more regular exercise or meditation. Others have found meaning in simply embracing the slowness of spending more time at home. Perhaps you have encountered these stories in your social media feeds or Zoom calls with friends.

Photo by Madison Inouye on

Witnessing others’ “winning” at resilience might inspire you, or it could make you feel like what you have been doing is not enough. It might even feel like you are losing some kind of race to the imaginary finish line of emotional stability. If you find yourself feeling behind, it is time for two quick reminders about coping with loss.

  1. Other people’s stories deserve validation and praise, but they are not goal markers for anyone else’s progress. Only you can tell the story of what resilience looks like for you. In figuring that story out, a therapist can help, but so can a friend or understanding family member. The key is to keep talking.
  2. Resolving the feelings associated with loss is not a linear process. It is normal to not have a straight line of improvement when experiencing such significant, ongoing losses as many of us have during 2020.

Take these reminders as a nudge toward self-compassion. You have to forgive yourself for not following a straight line to recovery. A focus on self-blame and comparison to others will only interrupt the process of finding meaning and a story that carries you through the stressful days that are ahead.

Special guest post by Alexander Chan, Behavioral Health Specialist with the University of Maryland Extension.

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