“It’s so tough these days,” “I don’t know how much longer I can take this terrible pressure of being cooped up at home,” “I’m filled with so much anxiety and sadness.” “I just feel lost and like nothing is in my control anymore.” Sound familiar? 

According to Mental Health America, “the mental health effects of COVID-19 are as important to address as are the physical health effects.” In fact, they found a 12% increase in clinical anxiety in the first two weeks of March, on the heels of a 19% increase in the first weeks of February. And in a recent KFF poll, nearly half (45%) of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the virus.In addition, they found that more than half of those who lost income or employment reported negative mental health impacts as well. 

It’s time to stop blaming the coronavirus, sheltering-at-home, gyms, hair salons and restaurants that are closed, and schools all going online. In fact, in the words of Albert Ellis, Ph.D., “The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.” Related to not blaming and assuming responsibility for your life and the choices you make, including the feelings you create within yourself, is the perception of whether you see events in your life as being outside or within your control.

In psychology we refer to this as “locus of control.” Those who have greater internal locus of control feel more in control of their lives, a sense so many, right now, are lacking. One of the more prominent feelings expressed in the midst of this pandemic is “feeling out of control.”

Those with more internal than external locus of control are: a) more likely to take responsibility for their behaviors, b) are less influenced by others and external events, c) are confident in the face of challenges, and d) report being happier and more independent. They also tend to be: e) physically healthier. In contrast, those with external locus of control often feel more: a) helpless, b) powerless, c) hopeless, leading to d) greater emotional turmoil.

Simply put, we disturb ourselves. We don’t “get disturbed.” How? As I’ve written here before, mostly by what we tell ourselves, by how we interpret adversity and talk with ourselves about it. We fail to give ourselves much leeway to reframe our thoughts and undo our harmful thinking.

Here are a three, formidable thoughts with which to fill your mind. It’s largely easier to add healthy thinking, leaving little or no room for negative thoughts, than to try to simply eliminate negative thoughts from your mind. The building blocks I teach include: a) “I have” b) “I am” and c) “I can.”

  1. “I have” greater enjoyment creating positive feelings than negative emotions. 
  2. “I am” my own emotion creator
  3. “I can” purposefully create time for my health and wellbeing

“I have” means you have support around you such that you have the ability to trust the world and people in it. People with greater emotional wellbeing are able to let people get close to them without fear of harm. They have mentors whom they respect, and in whom they have confidence. By trusting others to help, successful people avoid feeling sad, angry, and vulnerable in the face of actual impending failure.

“I am” means you have encouragement in developing the inner strengths of confidence, unconditional self-acceptance, self-compassion and responsibility. Successful people, free of the inner fears of failure, believe themselves to be more autonomous, independent and feel free to make their own decisions, including ones that are mistakes. 

“I can” means you have acquired the interpersonal and problem-solving skills to take action. Successful people are free of the psychological blocks that get in the way of developing initiative. They are able to work diligently at a task, free of negative thinking. 

Developing more internal locus of control depends on many factors including:

✓A sense of hope, and trust in the world

✓The ability to tolerate pain and distressing emotions

✓Interpreting experiences in a new, and more positive light

✓Having a meaningful support system

✓Having a mastery and sense of control over your destiny

✓Having a good self-image and self-respect

✓Being insightful and having the capacity to learn

✓Having a wide range of interests and a great sense of humor

Yes, it seems to always come back to “The Link is What You Think,” doesn’t it? When it involves your emotional wellbeing, the best medicine you can take to weather the emotional storm of COVID-19 is definitely carrying that mantra around with you. Better yet, read the book and carry the handy coach in your pocket.