Sanity in the Time of Covid

To say these are unsettling times would be an understatement. We’ve watched—are still watching—our country rippling and rolling as if a shaken blanket. Mass unemployment, racial tensions, and the daily fear of contracting a life-threatening disease is just cause for anxiety in the calmest of souls. As we watch the number of positive Covid cases rise (by the time I finish writing this, Florida, where I live, will top 100,000 cases and is pushing toward 4,000 deaths), we may think we’ve glimpsed the Reaper in our periphery.

I’m fortunate to work with a large group of brilliant healthcare providers, including a top infectious disease physician. Even so, the information shared by these knowledgeable doctors and scientists is sometimes contradictory. Our nation’s best are applying all they know and learn toward grasping and containing this slippery virus. How, then, can any of us manage our anxiety and remain emotionally upbeat as we navigate these strange, new roads?

I am not a psychiatrist or behavioral health specialist. Regardless, daily exposure to the facts and fallacies surrounding Covid, my husband’s job loss due to this pandemic, and the recurrent mass demonstrations in my county, has required me to face head-on my own anxiety. Here are some tips that have helped me cope with these fright-inducing events. I hope you’ll find comfort in some of the things that have helped me cope.

Focus on today. You live in the present, not the past or the future. It’s not balderdash to say each day is a gift. The fact that you’re reading this now instead of lying in a hospital on a ventilator is a very good thing, so be grateful for this time. Recognize that you’re in a safe place, you have food in your cupboards, a working phone or computer in front of you, and a day full of possibilities ahead. Remind yourself to remain in the here and now. You can deal with tomorrow when in gets here in the same, present-focused way you are handling today.

Disconnect. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, CNN, Fox, etc., etc. Give yourself a break! It’s okay to turn off your television, or at least turn it to The Golf Channel, Food Network, or The Hallmark Channel. (No one has to know!) Check out Cartoon Network or Comedy Central. Give yourself a full day–or week–away from Twitter and Facebook. Hide or block that person whose political posts cause your blood to boil. Follow instead that hilarious friend who always posts cat comics or inspirational quotes. Read a funny blog post. Listen to upbeat music. Fling open your drapes and dance! (You might make your neighbors smile in the process.)

Hit the beach. Or the mountains. Or the lake. Or your backyard. Get outdoors and breath the air. This kind of freedom is free! It costs you nothing to sit by the water and listen to it flow over rocks or wash in as waves lapping your feet. Hike to a scenic overlook or guide your wheelchair along a path through a local park. Bask in the sunshine or stroll through a light rain, sans umbrella. Reconnect with nature. It’s uplifting and energizing, and couldn’t your battery use that kind of recharging?

Immerse yourself in a task or hobby. Now’s the perfect time to take a course in a subject that interests you. EdX has a long list of free courses from universities like Harvard, MIT, Yale, and Berkley covering everything from Roman architecture to video game coding. Pinterest is full of ideas for craft projects, painting, baking, and home décor. Start a novel, a poem, or personal journal. Now is also a great time to work on your landscaping or clean out your closets and garage. (You can donate what you don’t need to charity, and if that doesn’t make you feel good, what will!)

Pray or meditate—or both. Sometimes a moment of silence is the best thing you can give yourself. Strike a yoga pose like lotus or child’s pose, kneel by your bed, or sit comfortably in your favorite chair. Be still. Let your mind settle and push away any negative thoughts that come to you. Focus on a favorite uplifting quote or verse. Visualize a flitting butterfly or soaring eagle. Let peace settle around you and fill your spirit. Allow yourself to smile.

Phone a friend. If you find yourself wading through deep blues, reach out for help. Call the most upbeat person you know and tell them you need an uplift. Phone a pastor or spiritual advisor. Zoom or Facetime someone who always makes you laugh. Reach out to your doctor or therapist (most healthcare providers now offer phone or telehealth visits without having to leave your home) for a one-on-one counseling session. You have a lifeline. Don’t be afraid to use it!

For a list of free mental health services in your area, check out Healthy Place, here. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Pencils

. . . Or pens, or laptops. Someone probably once told you that writing has benefits. I’m talking about benefits that go far beyond getting published and making a fortune as a bestselling author. (Thank God, because that rarely happens!) Did you their advice seriously? Did it really sink in that writing has actual health benefits? It’s true that writing can heal you and help you in myriad ways, some of which you’ve likely never considered.

Writing helps you gain control of your emotional state. Sure, it would feel great to verbally tear into that co-worker who always takes credit for your work or offers backhanded compliments, but you’ll be the one left looking petty. If you put those feelings on paper (and maybe burn them, depending on what you wrote!), you’ll experience relief similar to what you’d have felt if you told him off in person.

Journaling can help you land a job faster. Laid-off engineers who kept a daily journal had more successful interviews—they were hired—four times faster than their peers who didn’t write.

Writing improves your sense of self and self-trust. Seeing your private thoughts and emotions on a page is validating. It provides self-recognition of your feelings, and this acknowledgment allows you to better appreciate yourself and accept yourself—positive and negative attributes alike—for who you really are.

Keeping a gratitude journal makes you happier. Regularly writing down the things for which you are thankful has been proven in psychological studies to heighten your sense of well-being and actually alleviate the physical pain associated with neuromuscular diseases.

Addressing a problem on paper helps remove fear. Discussing a problem with yourself on paper requires you to organize your thought processes and create clarity. Drawing out your inner wisdom by focusing your thoughts into strings of written words eases difficult decision-making and creates resolve for solving problems.

Journaling inspires you to make better choices. Knowing you will write down your actions later in the day may prevent you from making poor choices. (Would I really want to write that in my journal? Wouldn’t I rather brag about this, instead?)

Writing with pen or pencil improves memory recall. While I’m all about MS Word, I’ve personally experienced the fact that, if I take notes by hand, I do a better job of remembering what I wrote than if I typed those same notes. Now there’s scientific proof that handwriting lists, notes, addresses, incidents, events, and so on better helps you remember them.

Writing reveals limiting beliefs. Re-reading what you wrote weeks, or months, or even years ago helps you see patterns you didn’t know existed. You’ll clearly see answers that were once cloudy. In retrospect, you’ll be able to make better sense of the past, and seeing positive growth through your journaling is an excellent boost to your ego and self-esteem.

Journaling is an ACTion. It is a physical accomplishment that subconsciously directs the mind. It’s a form of written meditation, like downloading your mind. This release of thoughts and feelings is healing—emotionally, spiritually, mentally, and physically.

Do you journal now? If so, what benefits have you found from this “daily dump” of your thoughts and thought processes? If you have never tried journaling, why not start today?

I challenge you (call it a triple-dog dare, if it’ll motivate you) to start and keep a journal for ten days. When that time is up, go back and re-read what you’ve written. What did you discover about yourself during those ten days? Did you sleep better after getting those swirling thoughts out of your head? Do you feel more motivated to work toward a goal? Will you continue to keep a journal? Share with me below how this ten-day experiment worked for you.

triple dog dare

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