Coping with COVID-19

Note: Dr Unger is now offering Phone or Video sessions instead of office visits. Dr Unger has been using phone or secure video (i.e. telehealth) for therapeutic sessions since 2001. Contact her through your normal channels if you are an existing client to get instructions to set up phone or video options.  California residents only please.

Are You Overly Anxious?

If you have a history of anxiety, specifically around health issues this article is for you. Of’ course exercise, yoga and meditation through apps can help but, with all the dreadful news and social media posts surrounding coronavirus, we need to put some things into perspective and find ways to come together emotionally.

“Social Distancing” is Really Physical Distancing

It is totally normal to have some fear response to COVID-19 since it has been declared a global pandemic and humans have neither “herd knowledge” nor “herd immunity” since it is a new virus. When we are confronted with an unknown threat like this our initial response is to be fearful.

Some fear (or “concern”) is rational if the threat is real. However, turning our fear irrationally into willful ignorance, xenophobia, hoarding, or panic solves no problems. In fact, it creates more problems for the community than it solves. For example, face masks are in short supply for health workers because of panic buying by the public.

The internet is wonderful; the internet is terrible! While the internet can be a wonderful source of factual information, it can also contribute to fear and panic because there is both innocent as well as intentional spreading of incorrect or malicious information, as well as people trying to profit off of the fear and panic.

Check your sources! Only trust news outlets known for objective reporting. Do not trust social media unless you know the source is objective and not politically motivated! Avoid extremist and conspiracy theory based sources!

The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) {} says to stay home if you are sick, keep up your sanitation (especially hand washing) and exercise proper social (i.e. physical) distances (6’ and only fist or elbow bump if necessary). This will help prevent the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 has a longer incubation period during which people can still unknowingly infect others as well as a high infectivity rate; the virus also attacks the lungs directly in advanced cases. These are some of the main “problems” with this virus compared to the common flu (which has a short 2-3 day incubation and lower infectivity). COVID-19 therefore can be spread to many others by people who are unaware they are infected.

The virus appears to be spread mainly by coughing which spreads droplets and some aerosolized particles (much smaller particles which last a little longer in the air, but not indefinitely, and travel a bit farther). It appears to last on various surfaces from a few hours to a few days. Therefore, cough into your sleeve and clean any surfaces you or others may have touched, keep your hands away from your face and well sanitized.

Elderly with underlying health issues are most susceptible.  Younger people may have “mild” cases (ranging from typical mild flu-like symptoms to just short of needing a respirators in a hospital), but are still infectious.

Thus the need for a community based response of avoiding interpersonal contact as much as possible.

Coping Skills

We all react to stressful situations differently but, if you know you are easily anxiety prone, keep your logical and coping mechanisms “on” at all times. This includes keeping to a routine, focusing on learning something new, bonding emotionally with those close to you or even something simple like cleaning out and reorganizing a messy space in your home. These actions can turn an anxious mind into a hopeful one.

If we don’t have hope it is probably because our social, economic, and local support systems are not strong enough. If they are not, this emergent time may be the time to make them stronger.

Here are some symptoms of fear that are not obvious:
• Perseverating on negative thoughts or ideas
• Changes in sleep or eating patterns
• Difficulty concentrating
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Here are some tools to help ease your worries:
• Avoid excessive exposure to media coverage of COVID-19 and only listen a few times a day to reliable sources to get factual updates. Avoid highly political or extremist or alarmist sources.
• Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch or use apps to help you stay in a peaceful place. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep and avoid alcohol and drugs.
• Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade with time. Try to do some other activities you enjoy to take your attention off the negative.
• Connect with others at home especially if you are family quarantining. Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships (but physical distance).
• Maintain a sense of hope and positive thinking. Society has survived pandemics in the past such as the terrible 1918 influenza, SARS, Bird Flu, etc!
• Most importantly, if you are self-isolating with a roommate, partner or spouse use your sensibilities and adopt a civility rule. This means to accept that may be some topics are off limits and we use what San Miguel taught about the four agreements: speak your words with kindness, impeccably and truthfully, no assuming or judging, and of course put your best foot forward. Use your own sense of what you is the right and kind thing to do now. It is easy to get caught up in “Herd Mentality” whether it is to run out and buy a product or to ignore warnings based on fact. Bring up neutral topics with those you are living with and try to put a halt on correcting others or being right. Keep telling yourself we are all in this together and are all taking a hit now.
• Seek professional help (mental health, help lines, etc.) to help get yourself focused and calm mentally if the above doesn’t work.


This is a time for all of us to act as a community and take care of one another emotionally. Stress will just make you more vulnerable to illness. There are many trusted online sources, apps and skilled counselors out there to walk you through this. It is all a matter of reaching out and being open and flexible to possibilities (which you can control) rather than overfocused on calamities (which you can’t control). If everyone did just that we would be better equipped to handle the worst of anything out there.

We will all face this rough patch … but this will pass.


Arlene Unger, PhD is a Dana Point CA based Clinical Psychologist in private practice. Her approach is to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy along with Mindfulness and Acceptance Commitment Therapies.

She is the author of numerous articles ( on the practical applications of mindfulness.

She now concentrates her practice on Telehealth. She works with numerous platforms including Telemynde, Betterhelp and Talkspace and accepts most forms of insurance.

Learn to be Content Mindfully

Learn to be Content Mindfully

Everyone talk­s about their wish for happiness.  Some theorists believe that happiness is life satisfaction while others think it is emotional fulfillment.

However, we all have witnessed people with “nothing” laughing and people with “everything” crying. Why is that?

Those that spend their lives striving for status through pure hedonism may relieve momentary stress but once they get the car, job or elective surgery they crave, its shininess gradually loses its luster and they are on to the next thing. Research has shown that finding joy in life itself however can bring us more everlasting contentment.

Pure happiness is as hard to define as it is to capture. It often eludes us because we are in pursuit of a thing rather than acquiring a state of mind.

Poets, philosophers, novelist, historians and artists from many cultures have inspired us to think about contentment but we are still often mystified about its roots and how to go about actually finding it. There is one perfect route to being content, it is something to slowly cultivate and takes some experimentation.

Herman Hesse in his ninth book “Siddhartha reminds us that our search for contentment involves a spiritual exploration once our basic need for security, shelter and food have been met. Siddhartha’s journey for self-discovery provides us with a path toward a life of simplicity and gratitude.

Let’s for a minute think outside our technological bubble about our forefathers and how they experienced contentment. They embraced happiness by sharing love, looking up at the night sky, enjoying a sunset, listening to a lullaby, being in the wild, writing a poem, studying a piece of art, sharing spiritual ideas, or giving to those less fortunate.

My new book “How to be Content” is a self-help guide about making your life worth living by embracing the things we may take for granted. This book takes us on tour of four distinct worlds. The first encompasses the natural world, followed by the world of cultures, then the world of words from great authors and lastly the world of mythology. Each section offers the reader inspiring tools for contentment by taking us through a wonderous exploration of ancient civilizations, philosophical writings, cultural symbols, Buddhist teachings, folklore and mythological characters.

Sample Exercises

A cup full of joy Spend five minutes in the morning savoring a cup of tea or coffee- or a glass of water. Simply let go of the need to do anything else while you are drinking and appreciate each sip.

Time to pause Arrive a few minutes early when you are meeting a friend or have an appointment. Leave your phone in the bag or pocket, use this time to sit, breathe and look around.

Beauty all around Make a point of finding something beautiful to appreciate every day on journey to work – a pretty flower or shrub, the smile of a passer-by, an interesting building. If you really can’t find anything interesting, vary your route to work!

Looking Up We get used to looking down as we walk along. Every, now and then, and look up at the sky-remind yourself that the world is bigger than you are.

Hold Hands There’s a reason that we instinctively do this in times of troubles-it reduces stress. And holding hands with someone you care about is a great way to reconnect.

Make Eye Contact When you get a compliment, say thank you. If someone holds the door open for you, or lets you go ahead of them, acknowledge it. Once you are on the lookout, you will realize that you are the recipient of many small acts of kindness every day


Besides love and understanding, everyone yearns for some happiness and tranquility in life. We can get caught up in the drama of the day or take an accounting of our blessings as well as natural surroundings and find contentment. Whatever section (s) of the book you align with, know each of these chapters speak to truths about happiness.
If we make a habit of what we ultimately enjoy we will continue to experience more pleasure than distress. We will have more spiritual achievements over lack of material goods and experience a meaningful existence over vanity. After reading this book where ever or however you find your bliss, remember to always pass it forward.

“Calm” and “Sleep” books now available at Barnes & Noble

My two books on “Calm” and “Sleep” are now available at Barnes & Noble, in store and online (click on titles below).

These books (the first two of a planned series) contain 50 simple cognitive behavior (CBT), emotional brain training (EBT) and mindfulness/visualizations/relaxation (MBSR) exercises to help readers learn coping skills. Each book focuses on a particular topic and is beautifully printed with rich illustrations and exercises.

They also make an excellent and thoughtful gift!

Calm: 50 Mindfulness Exercises to De-Stress

We can’t escape stress and, in fact, some stress can be helpful to us (“Fight or Flight”).

Humans are equipped to cope with small amount of stress. It can serve as a motivator, keep us focused on our priorities, or help us to detect danger. Misery replaces growth when we are bombarded by stress and can’t escape it. Unrelenting stress deprives our bodies of the homeostatic experience we need and crave.

Many of us are in search tranquility and calm, but this is hard to find when so many are combating stress related illnesses. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) the impact of stress on the USA population has substantially risen in the last decade.  The toll stress has taken on people’s live has contributed to 77% health and 73% psychological problems.  Compulsive eating, alcohol/tobacco abuse, and drug addiction are too often used to curb stress but they only compound the problem.

Rather than turning toward nonproductive methods of coping, this book offers ways to unleash our mind and bodies from the negative cycle of stress.

Fortunately, our brain, bodies and beliefs can be trained through daily practice to embrace peace while protecting us from harmful stressors.

Sleep: 50 Mindfulness Exercises for a Restful Night’s Sleep

One of the most troubling behaviors that effect one out of every 3 people is sleeplessness. So why do we need sleep? First it occupies so much of our 24 hours each day! According to the National Sleep Foundation our bodies need sleep for restoration and rejuvenation. Similar to nutrition, sleep helps our body repair itself on many levels. Sleep has been touted as a necessary luxury, but research shows that we need sleep to function both mentally and physically at our peak levels.

We do know is that our sleep can improve with treatment. Medication does help, but, in most cases, sleep sufferers do better with psychotherapeutic strategies and suffer fewer (or no) side-effects.

Sports and neurological research points out that mental imagery can have a positive impact on our mental health.

The next two books in the series “Happy” and “Courage” are currently in press.

Office Clients Note: I have a small supply of the “Calm” and “Sleep” books as well as my book  “Presence of Mind – Mindful Affirmations” available in my office just for office clients.

SLEEP and CALM Books to be Published January 2016

SLEEP and CALM books by Arlene K Unger, PhD to be published January 2016 by Sterling Publishing

Watch for my two new books to be published by Sterling Publications on CALM and SLEEP in January 2016. Each has 50 exercises based on various psychological techniques and methodologies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR), and emotional brain training (EBT). They are beautifully illustrated as well. More details later. Thanks for your support.