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Some Calm in Calamity

The Coronavirus Pandemic remains first and foremost on many of our minds. Many of us have personal connections to someone who has contracted the virus, and tragically, a few of us have suffered the loss of a friend, co-worker, or family member. Those of us still going to the store are seeing more customers and workers wearing masks and gloves. It almost feels as though we are holding our breath while we are indoors among people, waiting to exhale until we return to the fresh air and open space outside. We long for indications that the spread of the virus is slowing, even as we continue our social distancing and meticulous hygiene efforts. Uncertainty looms large these days. I am often tempted to feed my anxious cravings by watching too much news, thinking too much about what I cannot control, and engaging in too much negative speculation. The anxious mind often believes that if we just put in sufficient worry time, we could somehow create an invisible shield to protect us. Instead of seeking out ways to worry more, I am trying harder to focus daily on uplifting activities that promote positivity.

Constant access to information is a major contributor to our higher anxiety levels. Internet sites and 24-hour news networks bombard us with coronavirus updates. In order to capture the attention of more people, alarming news is often at the top of a webpage or at the beginning of a broadcast. Although we need to be informed of the changes and challenges during this time, we do not have to overwhelm ourselves with negative news. Rather, we can gain the pertinent information by simply watching a 30-minute broadcast or setting a timer for 30 minutes and reading through factual updates. It is helpful to remember that the term “news” has now evolved to include “speculation,” “analysis,” “opinion,” and “prediction.” If we set boundaries around the amount of this “news” that we absorb, we prevent the information overload that only increases our sense of helplessness.

Many of us are feeling the impact of having to severely limit in-person connections. In order to fulfill social needs, we have turned to electronic platforms so that we may talk to and even see our friends and family members virtually. Conversations often become impromptu therapy: we share our feelings with others, support one another, and are reminded that we are not alone. If we only talk about virus concerns during the times we connect with others, however, we can fuel negativity and feel even worse after we talk with loved ones. It is important to bring up silver linings: the little things, such as one friend’s mention of her blooming spring yard, thanks to each family member’s daily commitment to spending time outside helping around the house. Part of our electronic socialization could also be spent playing trivia or cards or telling stories about other areas of our lives. Humor may not be the first thing that comes to mind during a pandemic, but adding levity at the appropriate times certainly can also help reduce stress. Maybe, with the promise of a few extra treats, the family dog could take our place in front of the laptop at the start of a (non work-related) video meeting. Or maybe we could look harder to recognize and share humorous anecdotes, such as the recent breakfast in our home when I dumped an entire powdered sugar container on top of my much-anticipated French toast, thanks to a lid that was not tightly secured (certain family members are currently under investigation). That may not have seemed so funny to me at first, but it was just the right detail for an isolated elderly relative who needed a chuckle. Our shoulders can only manage so much weight, and sometimes we just need to lighten the mood (and, subsequently, the load) a little bit.

We know that during this pandemic, our minds will naturally wander into worry territory. It helps to reserve at least two manageable blocks of daily time for self-care activities that provide respite from troubled thoughts. For me, this is found in activities such as reading a novel, participating in an online yoga class (thanks to my dear friend Angela Stewart Yoga), watching my favorite baseball team’s winning highlights, or going for a run. The weekend before our Wisconsin Safer at Home guidelines went into effect, I splurged on a new pair of running shoes, knowing that if I spent money on higher quality shoes, I would feel more compelled to actually use them. I am so extraordinarily glad that I went to the running store that day. With my humble pace, most power walkers could pass by me when I run, but the benefits are undisputed: exercise, fresh air, and, since I have not updated my music selection anytime recently, the opportunity to listen to songs that remind me of pandemic-free times. If you are out of practice setting aside time for positive self-care, consider watching John Krasinski’s “Some Good News” segment, filled with touching stories of human connection and generosity. It will remind you there is good to be found in even the most overwhelmingly trying of times.

Before we slowed down to a crawl and started staying at home, many of us were moving at a frenetic pace. When schedules are overbooked, we often let relaxation and self-care fall to the bottom of the priority pile. Yet nurturing ourselves is what truly gives us the energy we need to handle the stressful times that we will inevitably face. For today, I hope that we can begin to faithfully incorporate these newfound ways to take care of ourselves when we return to more typical everyday life. Gaining more control over this virus means that we will not have to fear for our health and safety with every step we take. We can hug our friends and family again, return to jobs, errands, and social activities. Hopefully, we can also remember to cope with anxiety by continually prioritizing the things that we have found to bring us true enjoyment and peace during this time. Remember that we have a say in how this pandemic changes our world: let’s make it one filled with people who say no to endless anxiety, and yes to making self-care an everyday part of life.


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