Facing Covid Using the Principles of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy

Apr 3, 2020

By Nicola Stigter, Provisional Psychologist at Minds & Hearts

Our world is currently full of uncertainty and rapid change. These feelings of worry, stress, fear, anger and loneliness are going to be normal given the ongoing concerns and safeguards enacted around the unprecedented situation we are all experiencing facing COVID-19. 

During this uncertain time, it is important that we know how to manage our worries and stress before it turns into more severe anxiety and panic. To help equip you and your family to manage these worries, we have summarised some useful tools below.

What is worry?

As humans, we have an amazing ability to think ahead, anticipate obstacles, and plan solutions. Currently, we are planning solutions for coronavirus, such as vaccines, social distancing, and lockdowns.

Worry is a way of thinking ahead. Often it is those worse-case scenarios or “what if” moments, which can leave us feeling anxious. Worry isn’t just in our thoughts: when we excessively worry we can feel physical symptoms such as muscle tension, aches, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping.

Everyone worries to some extent, as a part of this thinking ahead is to help protect us. What separates normal worry from excessive worry is when it stops you from living your life and leaves you exhausted.

What can we do?

FACE COVID is a set of practical steps for responding to the current crisis, using evidence based principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to help with feelings of worry.

In facing covid, the FACE COVID acronym can help you to:

  • F—Focus on what’s in your control. When we are faced with a crisis of any sort, fear and anxiety are normal, natural responses to challenging situations which evoke uncertainty and danger. It can be easy to get lost in the worry and the “what ifs”, that are out of your control. The most useful thing anyone can do in any type of crisis is to focus on what you can control. Write a list of what you can control and set a regular routine.
  • A—Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings. It can be easy to try and avoid or push away the feelings showing up inside you, however, this can lead to more severe anxiety and panic in the future. Instead, silently and kindly acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, memories, sensations and urges. You can say it yourself, “I am worrying” or “I’m feeling sadness”…which brings us into step 3.
  • C—Come back into your body. While noticing these thoughts, try and connect with your physical body. Push your feet into the floor, press your fingertips together, stretch out your neck or arms, and slowly breathe.
  • E—Engage in what you’re doing. Try and refocus your attention on the activity in the present moment. Look around the room and try to notice 5 things you can see or hear. What can you touch? What can you smell?
  • C—Bring in committed action. Intentionally focus on taking action with things that are important to you and your values. Keeping in mind the current Government regulations, you can ask yourself, “What can I do right now?”
  • O—Opening up. In this step, we need to make room for those difficult feelings and be kind to ourselves. As this crisis progresses, everyone will have feelings of fear and worry. Acknowledge these feelings are normal, sit with your painful emotions, and be kind to yourself or do something kind.
  • V—Value your values. What kind of person do you want to be going through this? How do you want to treat yourself? What are your values? These might include: love, respect, kindness, compassion, etc. Use these to motivate your actions.
  • I—Identify your resources. It is important to identify help, support, assistance, and advice. Have emergency numbers on hand, including those for psychological support, if needed.
  • D—Lastly, disinfect and distance. Remember to practice good hygiene and physical distancing for the good of everyone.

Facing covid specifically with children in mind is important.

What about my child?

When we have feelings of fear and anxiety, children will inevitable pick up on this. It is important that children can speak about their feelings and concerns. These following tips can help guide you on how to approach this crisis with children:

  • Try and answer their questions in an honest and age-appropriate way. This can help reduce anxiety they may be feeling.
  • Be an “air-steward”- It is important to try and model calmness with your child, as children will look for you for cues on how to manage their own worries. Your child is sensitive and responsive to not only what you say but how you say it. Being calm, in control, reassuring, and matter of fact.
  • Ask what they already know and clarify any misunderstandings they may have.
  • Give them a sense of control, explain what they can do to stay safe, such as washing their hands.
  • Try not to overwhelm them with unnecessary information (for example death rates or case numbers), so to minimise their anxiety.
  • Allow them phone contact with family members to reassure them they are okay.
  • Explain that it is normal to feel worried and reassure them you can help them with their concerns.
  • Limit media exposure.
  • Seek support when needed. If your child’s anxiety is impacting everyday life, a psychologist may be able to help.

What we are doing at Minds & Hearts

At Minds & Hearts, client safety is our uttermost priority. We are currently following government guidelines and putting measures in place to keep 1.5 metres distance apart from client and clinician, sanitising all rooms after use, and removing non-essential items from client rooms and waiting room.

When attending the clinic we encourage you to practice good hygiene. This includes:

  • Covering your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue
  • Disposing of tissues properly
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet using alcohol-based hand sanitisers
  • Avoiding contact with others and staying more than 1.5 metres away from people

We are encouraging all clients who may be feeling unwell to contact the clinic immediately to arrange alternative treatment options.

Minds & Hearts is also offering Telehealth appointments to avoid physically attending the clinic. Telehealth is a videoconference consultation involving communication between you and your clinician using both a video and audio connection. This is similar to connecting with family, friends or business contacts using programs such as FaceTime or Zoom. If you and your family are interested in telehealth options, please contact our reception staff at info@mindsandhearts.net to explore your options.

References & Resources:

Psychology Tools, 2020. Free Guide to Living with Worry and Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty.


Australian Psychology Society (APS), 2020. Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety.


FACE COVID. Dr Russ Harris: