We don’t like uncertainty. We never do. And in times such as these, so much is up in the air. We don’t know what additional restrictions our local government will mandate in terms of sheltering at home and business closures, nor how long they will continue.
And what about access to testing and treatment for COVID-19, especially if our hospitals reach capacity? In addition, many of us are facing job insecurity, as well as concerns regarding the availability of food and other crucial supplies.
And, of course — how do we protect ourselves and those around us against contracting COVID-19? No wonder we’re anxious.
Let’s start with measures to safeguard your physical health:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. In fact, you could make this into a meditation by choosing a favorite song or prayer while you lather up.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If someone complains of a cough or fever, or is clearly exhibiting these symptoms, steer clear of them.
- Put at least six feet between you and others, even if you and they are asymptomatic. This is not being overly cautious. People can have the virus for up to five days before coming down with symptoms. So, you never know.
- Practice good respiratory hygiene. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your arm, not your hand.
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Most of us touch our faces multiple times a day without realizing it. However, such actions open up a route for the virus to enter into your system.
- If you have fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, seek medical care immediately. Do not wait, since symptoms of COVID-19 can come on quickly and escalate rapidly, like in a matter of hours. Stay informed and follow the advice given by your healthcare provider.
- Stay home when you are sick. If you can, have groceries, medications, and other necessary supplies delivered to your door. In some of our communities, all residents have been ordered to remain at home aside from essential errands, such as groceries and medications. Fortunately, walks outside are allowed.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, such as kitchen counters, door knobs, stair banisters, and elevator buttons.
As for your mental and emotional health:
- Put a limit on how often you check the news and social media. Nobody benefits from an onslaught of the latest, often scary, information about the virus. In addition, not all of this information is accurate. Be selective with your news sources. Don’t feed your anxiety.
- Have enough food and medication to last you for two weeks. No need to hoard such items, though, especially because this could deny other people necessary supplies.
- Keep a routine. Have a regular schedule, wake up at the same time every day, make sure to nourish your body and mind with healthy meals, and get in some exercise everyday, possibly yoga or a walk outside, if only for a few minutes.
- Shower and get dressed as if you were going into the office (or the location of your usual workplace). Maybe you don’t need to put on your usual work clothes, but do get out of your sweatpants. This helps to draw a line between your lounging/hanging out mode and your “I’m ready for the day” mode. There’s a time and a place for both.
- Additionally, plan times for video chats and phone calls with your social support system. Having such an agenda can help to both break up and organize your day. For most of us, work or volunteer activities give us boundaries. When we’re quarantining or practicing social isolation, we need to come up with new ways of planning our time.
- Get an accountability partner. We all will encounter times when we can’t seem to summon the motivation to take the steps we know in our heart of hearts we need to take. This is where being accountable to someone about that hour you’re going to put in on a project, the jog you’re going to take, or the food plan you plan to follow, can mean the difference between accomplishing your goals, procrastinating, or never getting them down. While nobody can do the work for you, committing to someone that you’re going to do such-and-such, and then reporting back to them afterwards, can do wonders.
- Resist the urge to binge watch TV or go on social media. Some time spent viewing shows or checking Facebook or Instagram can be relaxing and rejuvenating, but pace yourself. An hour or two a day, at most, is a healthy goal. These are largely passive activities, and if done to excess they can contribute to depression and lethargy. It’s important that you also schedule time each day to do something a bit challenging, which requires action on your part, to build your self-confidence and sense of mastery.
- If you’re working from home, set a clear boundary around when your workday starts and ends. Once you’ve called an end to your workday, let the office mindset go. Changing clothes, moving into a different room, and refusing to answer work-related emails (or not even opening such emails) can help enforce that you are now away from the office both literally and figuratively.
- Throw in some novelty. If you’re temporarily out of work, you could try learning a new language, reading that book you’ve been meaning to get to, organizing your home, or cooking a new dish. Get creative.
- Help someone else. Call someone who lives alone or who might be feeling lonely or anxious (hint: that could be a long list right about now). Pick up food or medications for someone who’s unable to do so for themselves. Donate to a worthy cause.
- Practice mindfulness. Take some time each day to rehearse the relaxation response. Taking deep, slow breaths tells your body and mind that you are safe. This skill will benefit you now as well as teach you a valuable skill for use down the line.
- Focus on what you can control. The more you spend time and energy on this, the more likely your anxiety is to lessen. On the other hand, if you focus on things outside of your control, the more apt you are to grow more tense. Keep in mind that stress impairs your immune system. If there was ever a time to practice an attitude of simultaneous acceptance and courage, this is it. If you find yourself getting anxious, make a list of your concerns, and for each item, write down what you can and cannot control. Take action on what you can control and let go of what’s beyond your control. Regarding the latter, begin by acknowledging what’s on your mind, say to yourself, “I’m having the thought/feeling that…”. This puts some psychological distance between you and your mind. Then, turn your attention to something else. Rest assured that this becomes easier with time and practice.
- Get in some exercise, outdoors if you can. If you can, exercise in an area with trees, flowers, mountains, the ocean, or a lake – in other words, in nature. Let your mind quiet down and listen to the birds chirp. Being outside during the morning hours is especially beneficial to regulating our circadian (sleep-wake) cycle.
- Maintain social contact in whatever way you safely can. We are interdependent beings, and a personal or global crisis does not change this fact. So…Phone calls, Facetime chats, texts, and emails can help you feel connected with family and friends. When you’re connecting with others, try to spend some time talking about subjects other than the virus.
- Remember that we are all in this together. There’s something about a crisis that can bring out the best in people. Regardless of gender, race, age, or country, we are all human beings who need each other to survive.
- Count your blessings. An attitude of gratitude helps to put things in perspective. Think about the courageous and dedicated medical professionals who are putting their lives on the line to help people with COVID-19. Also, the grocery store clerks and suppliers, the pharmacy staff, delivery people, teachers conducting online instruction, and mayors, governors, congress people, and other leaders working hard to help contain COVID-19. People are doing amazing, altruistic things everyday.
Remember that who you are and what you do count. To quote the Dalai Lama, “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength”. Everything you do to take good care of yourself and to be your best self affects other people and our world, now and down the line, in ways you may never know.