Helpful Thinking During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak - PTSD: National Center for PTSD
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Helpful Thinking During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

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Helpful Thinking During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Outbreak

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During the COVID-19 outbreak, you might have concerns about safety, feeling unable to cope, helplessness, guilt and anger. While it is understandable to feel this way, focusing on such negative feelings can make coping even more difficult. You may find it useful to become more aware of unhelpful thoughts and consider focusing on more helpful thoughts.

Use this table to identify thoughts you might be having now, and helpful thoughts you can try instead. Then, it's important to practice using more helpful thoughts as often as you can.


Topic: Safety
Common Unhelpful Thoughts How You May Feel Alternate Helpful Thoughts How You'll Feel
  • The world is a dangerous place.
  • scared
  • worried
  • not trusting
  • The world can be dangerous, but there are things I can do to enhance safety.
  • Change is the only guarantee in life. Sometimes, when things go wrong, the only thing we can control is our reactions.
  • The world is not always dangerous.
  • Most of the time I'm safe.
  • I can trust... (e.g.., that things usually work out; that I can handle things even if they don't work out; in God; in others; in myself; in life).
  • hopeful
  • open to a better future
  • trusting that people will help
  • calmer
  • I can't trust anyone
  • lonely
  • withdrawn
  • suspicious
  • sad
  • Trusting people is why I'm getting help.
  • I can choose some people to trust.
  • more trusting
  • less suspicious
  • hopeful
  • optimistic
  • I'm not safe
  • worried
  • scared
  • insecure
  • Feeling unsafe isn't the same as being unsafe.
  • Something bad happened, but it doesn't mean it'll last forever, or happen again.
  • more relaxed
  • confident
  • capable
  • more secure


Topic: Helplessness and Control
Common Unhelpful Thoughts How You May Feel Alternate Helpful Thoughts How You'll Feel
  • I am too scared to do anything because I might get infected.
  • I am going to infect others.
  • immobilized
  • helpless
  • I can gather information, set priorities, adapt my plans and carry out the most important necessities in ways that are safe.
  • I am doing the best I can to keep both myself and my family safe.
  • I can find ways to express love and be connected in ways that are safe for us all.
  • reassured
  • capable
  • stronger
  • Things will never be the same again.
  • sad
  • regretful
  • hopeless
  • Feeling really bad usually doesn't last forever.
  • Thinking like this makes it hard to plan for the future.
  • Not everything will be like it was before. But some things are the same now.
  • Even though things may never be the same, I can grow from what is happening and adapt to changing life circumstances.
  • open to the future
  • hopeful
  • accepting
  • I have no control over anything.
  • I have to stay home all the time.
  • This is a huge setback.
  • helpless
  • not caring or giving up
  • confused
  • frustrated
  • I can control some decisions about my future.
  • Doing things gives me more control.
  • Talking to a someone about what I'm feeling shows I have some control.
  • There are many things I can do, so I'll focus on those instead of what is out of my control.
  • There have been setbacks but focusing only on them gets in the way of my bigger priorities.
  • Every setback or obstacle can be an opportunity to improve things in my life.
  • I can use this time to strengthen my faith / values / practice.
  • like you have a purpose
  • hopeful, capable
  • able to set goals or take steps
  • less helpless


Topic: Coping
Common Unhelpful Thoughts How You May Feel Alternate Helpful Thoughts How You'll Feel
  • I should be coping better.
  • helpless
  • useless
  • scared
  • I got here today, so I'm coping a bit.
  • Talking to a friend, mentor, or counsellor might help me cope better.
  • Most people are struggling to cope in this new context. We're all doing the best we can.
  • I can use this time to strengthen my skills / faith / values / practice.
  • less scared
  • more hopeful
  • less helpless
  • stronger
  • capable
  • open to getting support or help
  • My reactions mean I'm going crazy.
  • Something must be really wrong with me.
  • scared
  • worthless
  • negative
  • These reactions are temporary.
  • Most people react like this.
  • Things are hard for many people now.
  • Even though my mind tells me that I'm not coping well, that doesn't mean I have to listen to it or agree.
  • I can ignore thoughts that aren't helpful and choose to focus on more helpful thoughts.
  • reassured
  • capable
  • hopeful
  • Other people deal with this better than I do, so what's wrong with me?
  • Only weak people react the way I do.
  • worthless
  • Most people react this way for a while.
  • My reaction shows the challenge I'm going through, not how weak I am.
  • reassured
  • capable
  • stronger


Topic: Guilt
Common Unhelpful Thoughts How You May Feel Alternate Helpful Thoughts How You'll Feel
  • I'm a bad person for letting this happen.
  • guilty
  • worthless
  • like you hate yourself
  • A bad person wouldn't feel guilty about this.
  • The reason I feel bad is because I care.
  • I did the best I could with the information I had at the time.
  • We all make mistakes. I can forgive myself and learn from what happened.
  • I can use this time to strengthen my faith / values / practice.
  • like you aren't to blame
  • worthy
  • self-accepting
  • I should have prevented this.
  • I should have done something differently.
  • I am disappointed in myself.
  • guilty
  • worthless or blaming
  • frustrated
  • upset
  • Nobody could have prevented this.
  • I can't always protect myself or others.
  • There was limited information. about how to prevent this at the time it happened.
  • I had to make difficult decisions and didn't realize the extent of danger at the time.
  • I had few options at the time.
  • I did the best I could given that: I was exhausted; I was dealing with a lot; I was operating with limited resources; I was pressed for time, etc.
  • There are many things I'm grateful for, so I'll focus on those instead of what is bothering me.
  • self-accepting
  • worthy
  • like you aren't to blame


Topic: Blame and Anger
Common Unhelpful Thoughts How You May Feel Alternate Helpful Thoughts How You'll Feel
  • It's unfair.
  • angry
  • vengeful
  • This could have happened to someone else.
  • Sometimes bad things happen to good people.
  • Even though it's unfair, the way I'm expressing my anger is not going to help me get what I want and/or need.
  • It might be unfair, but if I continue to be angry, it is getting in the way of my bigger priorities (e.g., helping my children feel safe).
  • There are many things I'm grateful for, so I'll focus on those instead of what is bothering me.
  • I can use this time to strengthen my faith / values / practice.
  • understanding
  • realistic
  • accepting
  • It's their fault this happened.
  • angry
  • frustrated
  • vengeful
  • blaming
  • not trusting
  • Blaming others doesn't change my situation.
  • Others may be to blame, but I need to focus my energy on me and my family.
  • Later, my anger will motivate me to try to do something to change the things I'm angry about, but at the moment, I need to focus on what I can accomplish in my immediate circumstances.
  • accepting
  • optimistic
  • more trusting
  • better able to move on

References

Adapted from Berkowitz, S., Bryant, R., Brymer, M., Hamblen, J., Jacobs, A., Layne, C., & Watson, P. (2010). Skills for Psychological Recovery: Field Operations Guide. National Center for PTSD & the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Available on: www.nctsn.org and www.ptsd.va.gov.

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