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A New Era of Coping

A few short weeks ago, my thoughts revolved around how successful my high school senior’s tennis season would be, how to get started on the long-overdue master bathroom updates, and whether the budget could sustain a family vacation this summer. Day-to-day life moved along at a hectic pace with the usual highs and lows. Today, my mind is filled with a vastly different set of concerns. Suddenly our family is constantly thinking about handwashing, avoiding touching our face, keeping six feet away from others, and the numbers of people newly affected by the coronavirus. We have traded our typical myriad of worries for ones related to basic health and safety. Information about the virus and transmission seems to change daily, and this whirlwind of updates makes us feel incredibly unsettled. We worry about the health of ourselves and our loved ones. We worry about financial and job security. We worry about the loneliness and isolation of those with limited connections to the outside world. The days ahead require us to maintain hope for the future as well as find ways to cope with the anxiety caused by the sudden altered state of our world.

We have four adults and one teenager working and studying at home. In the first few days of our state’s stay-at-home order, the situation felt similar to an extreme weather event such as a blizzard. We tackled the long overdue mess in our walk-in closet and, once we found the floor again, discovered a new space for someone to work in. In some ways, it felt like an adventure to explore our own household, clear out clutter, and organize more space. We cooked and baked every day, finding recipes to use up the food in our pantry, and sat down to every meal together. After dinner, we played cards or board games and watched movies. We went for long walks, along with seemingly hundreds of our neighbors, albeit spacing ourselves out and staying on opposite sides of the street from them. Those are undisputed positives, and yet we wish a little bit more with every passing day that it did not take a pandemic for us to re-discover the importance of this family bonding. Now that the temporary stay-at-home order has evolved into a more ongoing way of life, we are noticing that difficult emotions arise and affect us deeply.

As with any other traumatic event, we need to give voice to the feelings that occur as a result of this pandemic. We may feel hopeless as we watch numbers of infections and deaths rise around the world. We may feel nervous as our family members or friends leave the house for essential work or errands. We may feel fearful as we learn our jobs could be in jeopardy. We may feel disappointed as we learn about postponements and cancellations of events we have been looking forward to for months or even years.

We have certainly felt these emotions and many more in our household. I am sure I cannot remember, and possibly will never experience again, a time with more layers of stress than this pandemic. The effects are incredibly far reaching and overwhelming. It became a daunting prospect to even sit down and write a regular blog about it, simply because, in many ways, I feel paralyzed by the multitude of negative feelings. I’ve worked as an Employee Assistance Counselor for 20 years, and I have spent countless hours encouraging people to focus on what they can control and let go of what they cannot. I’ve advised prioritizing self-care and seeking out the positives amidst a sea of negatives. And I’ve also always been aware that it is much easier to hand out these suggestions to others than to faithfully use them myself. Practicing these and other coping skills is now crucial if we are to successfully navigate this crisis.

My goal is to close these blogs on a “hope and a cope.” For today, it is my hope that we can recognize the incredible meaning and value that helping others can bring to our lives. Right now, we are depending on others to do the right thing with staying at home and social distancing, not only to protect ourselves but also those potentially more vulnerable than we are. We are reminded that although we value our independence, we are always part of a larger community. In any community, some days we are the helpers, other days we are the ones who need help. To cope, let’s put this hope to action. Reaching out to others in need boosts our coping by giving us a break from our own worries, and reminding us that others face different, and sometimes more significant, challenges than we do.

We used this coping mechanism of helping others by coordinating a donation to a homeless meal program in our community. In order to keep volunteers and guests safe, the program now provides bag lunches rather than an indoor hot meal. While dropping off our own and others’ contributions to these bag lunches, we saw guests waiting outside for their turn to go in, one at a time, and pick up their lunch. We also saw a few people eating lunch alone, on a nearby bench or bus stop. Helping these people who face health, shelter, food, isolation and safety struggles does not erase our problems, but it does allow us to keep things in perspective and contribute some good to a world facing unprecedented challenges. Offer to shop for an elderly neighbor; buy a meal for healthcare workers; send an uplifting message to a friend. This pandemic will change us forever. When we help others, we have a say in how it changes our world: let’s make it a more connected and caring one.


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