How to ABCD your pandemic stress away

  • Mind
  • Friday, 14 Aug 2020

The current Covid-19 pandemic has created changes that have increased the stressors in our life. —

Some of you may love the deep sea and are scuba divers.

You may have noticed how corals get bleached when the temperature of the waters increase by just a few degrees.

This is an example of how even a small change in the intricately balanced ecosystem we live in can have an effect on us and other living organisms around us.

While us humans may have adapted to our environment, we have also added more complexity to our lives through rapid changes in urbanisation, transportation systems and information technology, for example.

These artificial creations, compounded by random world events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, can pile up stressors in our lives.

The fifth edition of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Monitor: Covid-19 and the world of work report mentions that there was a 14% reduction in global working hours during the second quarter of 2020, equivalent to the loss of 400 million full-time jobs worldwide.

And the prognosis for the remainder of the year is no better.

Closer to home, we too face job uncertainty and lay-offs, business closures, food and supply chain disruptions, work from home (WFH) arrangements and restricted movements through lockdowns – all of which are new challenges and stressors during this pandemic.

Some may even have become so stressed that they no longer know how to remain productive or to move on, as comfortable daily routines like having a leisurely meal or casual window shopping in the mall, have been complicated by incessant temperature checks, QR code check-ins and having to be always on alert for a suspicious cough.

Shifting to solutions

Although serious, the situation need not be dismal. There are some ways to manage our stress and adapt to the situation.

Let us consider a simple stress management method known as Rational Emotive Therapy, which can deal with weight management issues, as well as managing stress during a pandemic.

This method allows us to create a paradigm shift and develop personal mechanisms to manage stress.

It revolves around a simple format of ABCD: A (Adversity), B (Beliefs), C (Consequences) and D (Disputing irrational beliefs).

First, identify the adversity (A), i.e. major challenges or stressors in your life. For example, it could be losing your job.

Acknowledge that this fear is a stressor and that you need to handle it.

Next, dissect the thought processes behind this stressor.

What are our beliefs (B) about this adversity? Are these beliefs rational or irrational?

Most of the time, we are so stressed out about the consequences (C) of the adversity that we forget to consider the beliefs behind them and dispute (D) any irrational beliefs as they arise.

For example,you may think “I am afraid I may lose my job. If I lose my job, I will not be able to provide for my family.

"If I cannot provide for my family, I am useless to them.”

Instead, try to add the additional step of analysing your beliefs.

“Am I really in danger of losing my job? What can I do to improve my situation and reduce the chances of losing my job?

“Do I really have no worth to my loved ones if I cannot provide for them?

“What is the worst case scenario even if I lose my job?”

This method of analysing your beliefs and disputing irrational beliefs, rather than jumping to perceived consequences, allows us to approach the adversity with possible solutions, rather than simply feeling crippled with problems.

As you exercise this approach more, you may find yourself with more ideas for solutions, rather than being fixated on problems.

And sometimes, you may find that your perceived problem doesn’t even exist.

Dr Matthew Tan is a general practitioner (GP) in Singapore. For more information, email The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be considered as medical advice. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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