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What action can we take?

Jonathan Sutton, Ph.D.
• May 19, 2020

As the weeks of stay-at-home orders, economic challenges and uncertainty wear on, even more of us are experiencing increased feelings of depression, anxiety and isolation for good reason. If you find yourself wondering, “what can I do?” when experiencing these feelings, Jonathan Sutton, Ph.D., director of our CBT program, shared the following activities to consider:


Engage in activities that bring you pleasure, whether they be cooking, gardening, sewing, watching a new series, listening to music, reading or something else entirely. Pleasure can be thought of in absolute and relative terms. If you can engage in activities that you enjoy highly, that is great. There are other times, such as after watching hours of news or ruminating or worrying where almost any other activity would improve your mood. It may be helpful to keep a list of options to refer to when your mood is low.

Keep in mind that there can be a full range of pleasure within an activity. For example, compare having a TV show on in the background versus selecting a program that is funny or thought-provoking and sharing it with a partner, roommate or family member.

Physical Activity

We might not be able to participate in physical activity in the same ways we are used to — going to the gym or running on the lakefront trail — but we should still make time to be active. Walking, biking, stretching, weight work (even using household items!), streaming workouts or exploring new routes on your run are all great options. You can try to bring in elements of what you’re used to (streaming classes by instructors at your gym) or use this as a time to expand your repertoire and try something new. Please do not forget the basics: healthy sleep routines, fueling your body and seeing some daylight.


What is important to you to learn? You have more time now to watch online lectures, read books, improve at a hobby (art, home projects, chess, cards), sort through your junk drawer or even do your taxes. Now could be also be an opportunity to develop a new skill: cooking, teaching yourself to knit or starting that online research project you’ve always been interested in. Although some tasks may generate joy, you may also notice a sense of accomplishment.


How we live our lives over the past two months has undoubtedly been deeply impacted. While there is not an immediate fix of return-to-normal, think about what is doable in the current environment. There is a difference between physical distancing and social isolation. While video calls are not the same as seeing someone in person, they are one way to stay connected with the people and communities that you care about. For individual conversations with friends and family, think about the quality and topics of the conversations you are having. For your community connections, there may be virtual opportunities for religious services, lectures/presentations, support group meetings or pastimes (cards, chess, etc.). Also, there are still opportunities, while taking precautions, to say hi to a neighbor.

A final note about routine activity and emotional well-being. One consequence of our current circumstances is a disruption in many of our routines. (Have you said to yourself, “what day is it?” at any point over the past two months?) There may be some indicators of difference between days if you are working and schooling from home, but if retired, not in school or not currently working, the days could blend together. Try to build in a benchmark at some point (or a couple of points) in the week — maybe it’s a standing Zoom call with a relative on Thursdays or making a homemade meal for dinner on Sundays. Make it something to look forward to, so there is expectation and momentum building toward that thing over the course of the week.

In sum, a goal of this time is to manage your mood. Capitalize on engaging in activities that you have previously derived pleasure and mastery from. Add in creativity and flexibility to adapting those activities to current circumstances as well as adopting new activities at this time. Self-compassion for your efforts in the face of these challenges is important. Stay focused on what is do-able now to mitigate against prolonged low moods, promote well-being and position you for success in the future.

We recognize that amidst the current pandemic, this is an exceptionally difficult time. If you need support, we can help.

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Jonathan Sutton, Ph.D.

Director of Cognitive Behavioral Therapies Program

Dr. Sutton began his psychotherapy training at The Family Institute and is very pleased to return. During his doctoral training at Northwestern University, he received specialized training in CBT for both anxiety disorders and depression. He furthered this CBT specialization at Northwestern Memorial Hospital during his pre- and post-doctoral years.