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Pause, take a deep breath, & adapt: Do's and don't for coping with the COVID and Shelter in Place

By Brad Smallwood

" I distinctly remember getting the notification on Monday March 15th that starting at midnight the City of San Francisco would be starting “shelter in place.” I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who upon hearing this news was immediately surprised, confused, and a bit scared. I mean, what did “shelter in place” even mean? In the previous weeks it was becoming more and more clear that Covid19 was a serious virus that was spreading across the US after causing significant damage in China and Italy and had the potential to be very harmful to folks here in San Francisco. However, the idea of stopping working as we are used to, closing down schools and businesses indefinitely, and having to stay in our homes except for essential trips to the store and outdoors for exercise sounded bizarre. But it was true and almost 7 weeks later now, it is continuing to be our reality for now. As a therapist here in San Francisco, I spend my days working with people to address their fears, traumas, family issues, and help them to navigate the uncertainty that life guarantees us. It has been interesting to see how everyone has responded to shelter in place and the uncertainty of our future. I spend a great deal of time helping people understand what they are able to control their lives and what they cannot. Given the situation we are in with Covid19, our emotional wellbeing is of utmost importance in moving forward in challenging times and there are some actions we can take to reduce our stress and even improve our emotional states. Below are some practical do’s and don’t for both individuals and families for coping with the emotional impact that has come with Covid19’s appearance in our lives.


  1. Maintain a consistent schedule: Wake up and go to sleep at the same time daily. Continue daily hygiene and even dress as you would if you were going into your job. Take your meals at consistent times.

  2. Establish your support system: Identify the supportive people in your life and maintain regular contact with them. Phone calls, Zooms, text messages, and keep them up.

  3. Maintain your physical health: Exercise, exercise, exercise. Stress is terrible for our mental and physical wellbeing so being proactive in staying active is essential while under shelter in place. This can be walks, runs, hikes to virtual yoga.

  4. Try to grow your passions or learn something new. Start reading that book you’ve been hearing about, improve your kitchen skills, take up hiking (this is what I’ve done and it's been awesome).

  5. Healthy Food: We need to put fuel in our bodies right now, not junk. Healthy food fuels our minds and bodies, junk food fuels anxiety.

  6. Service to others and gratitude: Humans are hardwired for service and compassion and how is a time to double down on these things. The act of delivering groceries to a neighbor who can't leave their house to pick them up or buying a stranger a cup of coffee without telling them are small examples.


  1. Avoid watching the news too much and limit time on social media. There is a lot of internet, news, and TV “junk food” out there which doesn’t do anything for our wellbeing. By checking Twitter multiple times a day to see which shelter in place ends or if there's a vaccine coming will only fuel our anxiety.

  2. Alcohol and Drugs: Try to avoid “virtual happy hours” or using drugs to cope. This is a very complex issue that has only been heightened by the changes we’ve had to make since we’ve been in quarantine. For those in recovery, be sure to connect with your sponsors and sobriety community. There continue to be online and virtual recovery groups that provide support despite not being able to meet face to face.

  3. Don't panic: Use coping skills such as mindfulness and meditation. This period of time will be behind us soon enough.

How to support your kids during shelter in place:

  1. Consistent schedule and structure. Same bedtimes as before shelter in place.

  2. Limit screen and video game time. In my work with teens during this shelter in place, setting limits on screen time has been one of the most helpful things in terms of maintaining emotional and physical wellbeing.

  3. Use the additional time at home to connect. Dinner, game nights, backyard campouts.

  4. Schoolwork: try to set up a work area outside of their rooms to create a space between their work and sleep areas.

  5. Encourage social time with friends over Zoom, FaceTime.

  6. Listen to their concerns, stresses, and anxieties over what they are experiencing. Young people are often not looking for an answer as much as they are trying to be heard and understood.

We’re close to two months into shelter in place here in San Francisco and like you, I’ll be happy to move forward from this situation. I’ll look forward to seeing people back in my office, travelling with my wife , having dinners with my friends, and especially returning to the mat at Ralph Gracie Jiu Jitsu every day. This period of time has illuminated what I really value in my life as well as showed me how adaptable we are. In a way, I’ve come to accept Covid as an uninvited guest in my life that I’ve been able to learn some from positive things from and in an odd way, I’m thankful for what it’s teaching me. "

For more information on Brad Smallwood, please visit him at

Brad Smallwood, MA is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist (MFT) in San Francisco whose main concentrations of treatment and experience are anger management, teenagers, challenging life transitions, and relationships. He was previously the in-house psychologist at Square, the financial technology company, based in San Francisco where he worked with their employees in issues ranging from anxiety, depression, career fatigue, to personal and professional growth. He regularly consults with small, medium, and large Bay Area businesses about their employee wellness planning and programming. 

Brad’s professional background includes treatment at colleges, private businesses, inpatient psychiatric facilities, correctional centers, and community-based agencies and has worked with a very diverse population of individuals and families.

Brad’s background training in the field of psychology is influenced greatly by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Family Systems, Solution Focused Therapy, and Humanistic/Person-Centered Theory.  He has received extensive training in Anger Management and has facilitated numerous groups to address issues associated with anger control. He also facilitates training on the impact of trauma on individuals and communities.

Brad lives with his wife, Melissa, in San Francisco, and when not at work enjoys training daily in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as well as enjoys surfing. 

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