Over two weeks have gone by since I last posted. I always want to post more often, but the days just seem to zoom on by and then I realize that it’s been too long once again. Strangely, the recent days have seemed to both drag on and zoom by at the same time, which is a phenomenon that I don’t quite understand. March seemed like one of the longest months in my life and I can hardly remember what it was like to socialize with others, eat in restaurants, and run errands without fear.
We’re all in uncharted territory and are doing our best to keep our heads above water and retain some semblance of “normalcy” in the midst of a time that’s anything but normal. There’s never been a period like this when the entire world is in a similar boat, at least not in any of our lifetimes. Yet, even in the middle of all of the coronavirus chaos, our lives still go on. We still have to get through every day. Some of us have more responsibilities than others, which can be both a blessing and a curse. While it can be nice to have some distractions from the world seeming to fall apart, it can also compound our stress to have to hold ourselves together in order to get things done.
Those of us who have fewer concrete responsibilities may ask ourselves what we can do to help, which can be difficult to answer when we’re being directed to stay at home. I’ve decided that in addition to donating to charities that I believe in (here’s a list of some suggestions), I can also help by continuing to share my thoughts and perspectives here on this blog. Today, I want to offer some suggestions for how we can stay sane during the challenging times in which we find ourselves. I’ll highlight what’s working for me, as well as feature some tips that I plan on implementing. It’s my hope that some of you will also chime in with what’s working for you in navigating stressful and uncertain times.
I Hope You’re All Safe and Well
Before I delve into my tips, however, I want to say something very important. That is, that I hope and pray that you all are well and that this horrible virus hasn’t infected you or members of your families. As time goes on and the virus continues its spread, it will be less likely for me to assume or even hope that none of my readers or their family members will have developed Covid-19. I know that even what are considered “mild” cases can still be debilitating and wreak havoc on one’s body for weeks.
I also know that there are other adverse impacts to the pandemic beyond being infected with it. Some of you may have lost jobs or had your income cut way back. The shutdowns and social distancing that aim to flatten the curve have adverse impacts as well, and virtually all of us will be negatively affected in one way or another. I just hope that we will find a way to adjust to the new normal and that we’ll be able come out on the other side of this as stronger people. We’re all more resilient than we often believe, and we’re all in this together. As always, I wish you well and I send you love.
One Day at a Time
None of us know how long our current way of life will last, and it doesn’t serve us to ponder that too deeply. I’ve found that one of the best ways to stay sane through this is to just approach it one day at a time and do what I can to get through each day. I’ll share more tips on what I’m actually doing in the sections below, but I think it’s important to live in the here and now as much as possible. When I was freaking out about the magnitude of our current crisis recently, a close friend reminded me that in that moment, I was fine and all of the members of my family were also fine. Yes, that could change, but that is a great unknown over which we have little control (more on control later).
A small dose of mindfulness is often all we need to help ground ourselves back into the present. What I often do is close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. One quick exercise that I like to do is a variation on the 4-7-8 breathing technique. That technique specifies that we breathe in for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of seven, and then breathe out for a count of eight. I have trouble doing that technique because I’m a shallow breather, so I just eliminate the holding step and focus on taking in a good amount of air and letting it out slowly. After about a minute of taking those slower breaths, I often feel a lot more calm and grounded.
Two other techniques that you might find helpful are the Stimulating Breath and Breath Counting, which are outlined on this page. You can also try naming objects around the room you’re in as a way of calming anxiety and becoming more grounded and mindful. It sounds extremely simple – and it is, but it can definitely help.
Minimize the Doom and Gloom
In my last post, I wrote about the concept of what constitutes enough news and information. I’d like to reiterate this now, as I’ve found that decreasing my consumption of news stories on the pandemic has helped to quell my intense anxiety. I mentioned that I was going to limit my access to news to three timed increments per day of fifteen minutes each. That’s how I started, but now I tend to spend even less time than that on reading the news (I almost never watch it).
I’ve found that it doesn’t take long to learn the essential information and beyond that, it’s just a lot of “noise” and negative input. Yes, I still struggle sometimes with “peeking” at news sites more often than I should, but I’ve also noticed the effect on me and I don’t like it. If you watch or read a lot of coronavirus news, perhaps try to cut way back for a day or two and see how you feel. You may decide to stick to a lower level of consumption after noticing the contrast.
While I’m on the subject of doom and gloom, we also need to consider the people with whom we’re interacting during this time. Most of us are only seeing the members of our immediate families, but we’re likely connecting with many other people via phone, text, and social media. The latter can be particularly problematic because many people don’t do well at censoring themselves when typing comments online.
I took a social media break earlier this year because I’ve found that those sites cause me to experience a lot of anxiety, and I’ve continued to stay away amidst the coronavirus pandemic. I know from previous experience that during times of crisis and strife, social media can become extremely contentious. I know it may help some people to stay engaged online, but we all need to ask ourselves if our interactions are helping or harming us. If you feel more anxious and upset after scrolling through your social media feed, perhaps it’s time to either take some time away or dramatically limit your time there.
Now is a time to be gentle with ourselves. Yes, there are those who advise us to amp up our productivity during the downtime many of us are experiencing, but that can feel like a lot of added pressure in what’s already a difficult time. Instead of rushing to write the novel you’ve been putting off for years, why not focus on doing something that soothes your soul? What constitutes self-care will vary from person to person – and writing can be beneficial for many, but pressuring ourselves to be ultra-productive won’t serve most of us right now. Think about what brings you the most joy and comfort and try to do some of those things. For me, that includes watching movies, reading, baking, and allowing myself to sleep in.
Eating well, getting adequate sleep and exercise, and connecting with our spirituality are all means of caring for ourselves. If you never make time to soak in a bubble bath but find that it helps you to feel more relaxed, perhaps you should prioritize doing this from time to time. Or maybe you enjoy curling up with a good book for a few hours or binge-watching a favorite show. There’s no right or wrong and you don’t have to spend hours at a time doing your self-care activities. Even if you’re cooped up with young children while sheltering in place, you can probably carve out twenty minutes or so to do something that will reduce your stress levels, even if it’s just to listen to calming music while lying down in a dark room.
Stay Active and Get Outside if You Can
While I’m on the subject of self-care, I want to mention the power of staying active and getting outdoors. Even though we’re being told to stay at home, most shelter in place policies allow citizens to get outside for some exercise every day. I’m fortunate in that I live in a temperate climate and am able to go out for a walk with my husband most days for about an hour. That time outside makes a huge difference in terms of how I feel, both mentally and physically. I know that it may still be quite cold where some of you live, but even going out for a short drive can help to lift your spirits. If you have a patio or deck and it’s not too cold outside, you can enjoy a bit of outdoor time that way. Even sitting by a window can help you to feel more connected to the outside world. A little can go a long way in terms of self-care and outdoor time.
If you’re able to be active either indoors or outdoors on most days, it can help to uplift your mood and reduce anxiety. Some gyms are holding classes online, plus there are lots of exercise videos on YouTube. Because of the current demand, it can be challenging to find home exercise equipment online, but I managed to find an arm/leg exerciser and some exercise bands on Amazon last week. I hope to also find dumbbells and ankle weights soon. My husband and I did our first home workout the other day and while we still need to work out some kinks, it went pretty well. Since we’re not sure when our gym will reopen (it closed almost a month ago), we’re happy to have an alternative for keeping up our fitness during these challenging times.
We might not be able to see our friends and family members in person for a while, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still keep in touch with them. I’m not usually one who likes to talk on the phone, so I’ve mostly been keeping in touch via text-messaging and email, although I do have phone calls from time to time. I’ve also sent cards to some loved ones, as I know that I always enjoy receiving cards myself. Most experts say that the risk of contracting the coronavirus from your mail is very low (see this article for more information), but you can always set it aside in your garage or in a cabinet or drawer for a day or two if you want to be extra safe.
If keeping in touch with people via social media works well for you, by all means continue doing so. But if Facebook and similar sites stress you out, either in general or during the pandemic, try switching to other means of keeping in touch with the connections you want to maintain from those applications. I have texted and emailed some of my Facebook friends and plan to get in touch with others shortly. I’m finding it less stressful and overwhelming to maintain one-on-one connections these days, but of course your mileage may vary. The important thing is not to isolate yourself too much, as that can contribute to feelings of despair.
I want to mention one caveat related to connecting to friends and family. Although Covid-19 has recently been at the top of our minds, it can increase our stress to talk too much about it. Yes, you may need to vent some of your frustrations about staying at home or process your fears about the future, but pay attention to how you’re feeling as the conversation persists. It’s perfectly fine to request a shift to other, less stressful topics and we should be amenable to others doing the same. Remember the things you have in common and the subjects you used to discuss with the people in your life. It’s not frivolous to talk about movies, television shows, fashion, food, and other such topics. In fact, doing so can help to keep us sane.
I also want to point out that you can get creative with how you keep in touch with your friends and family. I’ve heard of virtual happy hours, club meetings, and game nights. In fact, my husband is playing a game online with two friends and his adult son as I type this! Some popular games offer online options, plus you can always use a service like Skype or Zoom to play a game or even to just see each other while you’re catching up. I need to take advantage of these services more often, even though I never know where to look when I’m doing video-conferencing!
Work on Projects or Learn a New Skill
While I maintain that we don’t need to be masters of productivity during the pandemic crisis, many of us do have projects that we’ve been putting off and skills that we’ve been eager to learn. If there are things you want to do but have been too busy to do, now might be the perfect time to take them on. My husband has been doing some of the smaller home improvement projects that he just didn’t have time for when he was working a lot more (he’s still working some, as he works in what’s considered an essential business). I have been doing more decluttering around the house, as that’s something that I enjoy and that helps me feel calmer (Gretchen Rubin’s concept of Outer Order, Inner Calm is right on!).
Maybe you’ve wanted to learn a new language for a long time or to begin playing – or return to playing – a musical instrument. Or perhaps you’d like to become a better cook. Being at home all the time makes it a lot easier to do these types of things, plus with most restaurants being closed or just open for takeout, many of us are doing a lot more cooking now. I know that I’ve gotten bored of eating the same old standbys all the time, so I’d like to start branching out more. While I love baking and am still doing some here and there, it’s hard when I don’t have anyone to share my baked goods with besides my husband (and neither of us eat too much of it on any given day, so it lasts a long time). But we do need to eat three meals a day, so it’s in both of our best interests if I expand my meal repertoire.
Working on projects and expanding our skill-sets isn’t just about being more productive. Sure, that may be the case, but more importantly, we’ll be distracting ourselves from being glued to the news and we may find ourselves getting into a flow state in which we’re not thinking about the coronavirus at all. One of my friends is sewing face masks, which are a must-needed item in helping to slow the spread of the virus. She told me that she’s been much less anxious and depressed since she started this activity, as it’s keeping her busy and she knows that she’s doing something of value. But we don’t all need to be doing something that will make a difference to others right now. Just staying inside is helping to keep ourselves and others safe and while we’re at home, why not take on some pursuits that we’ll enjoy?
When we’re going through a difficult time such as our current situation, gratitude is more important than ever. It can be all too easy to just focus on everything that’s wrong in the world and our lives right now, but most of us still have a lot to be grateful for even in the midst of all of the challenges. In my life, for example, although I lament not being able to enjoy some of the leisure activities, connection, and entertainment that I used to take for granted, I still have a lot going for me. All of my family members and friends are safe and well (one friend believes she suffered from Covid-19, but it was thankfully a mild case), my husband is still able to work (albeit less than before), I live in a comfortable and spacious home, I have plenty of interests and projects to work on, and I’m able to get out for walks most days that help to brighten my spirits.
I know that many, many people aren’t as fortunate as I am, and I’m reminded of this daily when I do my brief check-ins on news sites. Yes, it’s inconvenient to have to stay at home all the time and what was once a simple trip to the grocery store is now fraught with stress and anxiety. I’m not happy about these things, but I’m grateful to have my wonderful husband and two adorable kitties to shelter at home with. Many people, including my seventy-five year-old mother, are at home alone (luckily, she does have a kitty to keep her company) and aren’t sure how long that situation will last. Lots of people have lost jobs and aren’t sure how they will pay their bills, and some people are still working but are also risking their lives on a daily basis on the medical front lines, in grocery stores, or delivering much-needed supplies to all of us. Still others are battling the virus or have loved ones who are in the hospital, or worse, have lost their lives.
I don’t want to minimize the struggles that any of us are going through, as our feelings and experiences are valid and do matter. It’s perfectly fine and normal to feel angry, sad, anxious, unsettled, or whatever else you may be feeling right now. Feel those feelings when you need to, grieve the loss of your previous life, but also remind yourself when you can of what you do have to be grateful for, even in the midst of this horrible pandemic. It can be easier said than done, but it does help to take the edge off of the intense anxiety that many of us are feeling. It can be helpful to keep a gratitude journal, or simply pause for a few moments each day to remind yourself of three to five things that you’re grateful for in your life. Doing this is simple, yet can be very powerful in helping to keep you sane.
Remember the Serenity Prayer
Lastly, I want to remind you to be aware of what you can and cannot control in life. It’s at times like this that the Serenity Prayer becomes that much more important:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
You don’t need to be religious (I’m not) or even believe in God to heed this advice. If you’re an atheist, you can reword the beginning to something like “May I have the serenity…” The exact wording isn’t what’s most important. We need to learn to distinguish between what we can and can’t control in life and make the changes that are in our power to make.
We can’t necessarily control whether or not we will contract the coronavirus. Even if we take all of the recommended precautions, it’s possible that we still might get it. But if we ruminate on that possibility, which may be a small one in many cases, we’ll likely be miserable and unable to experience much joy in life. I did go through some days of freaking out, but then I realized that it wasn’t helping anything. I’m staying home, washing my hands often, and I’m now wearing a face mask when I do my grocery shopping (here’s how you can make your own if you can’t find one). I don’t like the masks at all – both wearing them myself and the surreal feeling of seeing so many others in masks, but I know they’re necessary for the time being, so I accept them.
I definitely worry about my parents, but I can’t control the actions they’re taking. I can only control what I do and I’m working on having the serenity to accept that I cannot dictate what others do, especially when they’re adults who live far away from me. Fortunately, my parents have assured me that they’re being safe and cautious, so I need to let go of ruminating about whether they will or won’t contract the virus. I can only keep in touch with them and make sure they know that I love them. I write “only,” but doing that actually means a lot.
Conclusion and Your Thoughts?
I’m doing my best to live in the moment and make the most of this time while also staying sane. There may be a raging storm going on around us, but we can find a way to remain in the eye of that storm as much as possible. Hopefully, the tips above will be helpful to you as you navigate this new normal for the foreseeable future. You might also be interested in reading the following two articles that are related to the themes of this post:
- “How to Stay Calm During the Coronavirus Crisis” (Quick and Dirty Tips)
- “Coping with Fatigue, Fear, and Panic During a Crisis” (Harvard Business Journal)
The one last piece of advice I’ll offer is to remember that this, too, shall pass. While we may never go completely back to the way of life we had before, we will get past this time of crisis and find a way to be out and about and socialize more with people in person again. We don’t yet know what that will look like, but we’re resourceful people and we will find a way to make it work.
I look forward to the day when coronavirus will be a part of our memories rather than a feature of our daily lives. But until then, I will live in the now, take life one day at a time, prioritize self-care, stay connected, keep busy with things that I enjoy, remember gratitude, and focus on what I can control. I hope you’ll all be able to do the same. I wish you peace and fortitude as we continue to navigate this uncertain path.
I welcome any thoughts you’d like to share with me and your fellow readers. If you have any tips and suggestions that might be beneficial for all of us, please offer them below.
One Last Note…
In closing, I want to say that although my last two posts have been about what’s going on in the world, I plan to continue writing about my standard topics moving forward, including wardrobe management, my theme for the year (this year, it’s “enough”), the impact of technology on our lives, and other such matters. I know that I like to read about different subjects myself and get a break from “all pandemic, all the time,” so I’m sure the same is true for many of you. Stay tuned for alternate posts in the coming weeks…
Sending warm Easter and Passover wishes to all who celebrate those holidays. I know that your celebrations look a lot different this year, but I hope you’ll still be able to find comfort and enjoyment in your faith and with your families.