Managing the Mental Struggles of a Pandemic
Updated: May 20, 2020
The other day, I made a quick run to a food store for a couple of essential items. When I got there, I noticed this store had everything in place to comply with the stay-at-home rules: “social distancing” designated spaces for their customers, limited people in the store, cloth mask requirements, plexus glass separating customers from the cashier, and a very anxious and irritated clerk.
I tried to engage her in conversation with a “how are you?” only to receive a reply loaded with sarcasm. I’ll admit it was probably a stupid question. None of us are “fine” with what’s going on. I changed my approach. “How are you holding up with coming to work and dealing with this coronavirus?” Jackpot! She opened up and voiced all of what was happening including having to come to work and deal with people every day, handling their money and touching their products, being quarantined from her family because she’s leaves the house, and how she hasn’t seen her grandkids in weeks. She felt as though she was putting her life at risk every time she left the house and she was terrified. I got it. Essential workers leaving their home have that genuine fear of “what if I bring ‘it’ back to my house?” It. Is. Scary.
I stood there and chatted with the cashier, separated by the large plastic clear panel. When I left, she was smiling.
This conversation reminded me that there are so many people in fear for their lives right now: fear of physical health, financial health, social health…..mental health. Most of this is from fears we have allowed to grow in our minds, instead of focusing on the facts we do know.
In no way am I downplaying this novel coronavirus. It is new and we don’t know everything we want and need to know. The increased anxiety and uncertainty of this pandemic is not helping the situation. But I want to remind you of a few things to manage the mental struggles of this new normal:
Live within the facts: It’s important to remember that the majority of people who are positive for COVID-19 are more likely to recover from this illness. That being said, prevention of the spread of the virus is still important. Don’t look at those survival percentages and decide to gamble by running up and hugging people. Let’s allow the “viral spread” to slow down more. #socialdistancing
Video chat works: Many people are having to socially distance from their family and friends. Although it won’t replace a hug, reach out and virtually connect those you love. You don’t have to stop talking to people! Social distancing just provides a temporary physical space. Be innovative and plan your “virtual” lunch date, or “virtual” dinner date, or even “virtual” first date. Consider some new fresh ways to interact. We all need it.
Get up and move: Walk in place while binging your favorite show, or dance to three or more of your favorite songs. It gives your brain a chance to chill. For years the American Heart Association has recommended at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. So if you are stuck at the house, you now have time to catch up on all your exercise minutes.
Talk to someone: Change and uncertainty can be a tough pill to swallow. With the uncertainty of the virus spreading and the extensions of social distancing, anxiety and fear can build up. Even if you have always felt grounded, this situation may be a little harder to get a grasp on. Don’t hold your feelings in. Call someone and talk it out. Just the conversation could be helpful. Consider taking advantage of your employee assistance programs (EAP) at your job. Also, there are lots of tele-therapists providing virtual visits. Whatever you do, don’t let your anxiety build up.
Turn.Off.The.News: I’m not telling you to not be informed. I am suggesting that you should give yourself a “vacation” from the “BREAKING NEWS.” There is sooooooo much information out there that just opening up your social media page can send an emotionally grounded person into an immediate panic attack. Consider giving yourself specific times in the day to watch or read about this pandemic. Then, focus on what is good and lovely about your day, and your life.
You are not alone. COVID-19 has completely turned our world upside down. The “what’s next” and “what if” is dominating out conversations regarding this pandemic. But truly, this is the best time to live in the moment and to be present with just today.
Dr. Gina Simone