For more than a week now, I’ve been immersed in how to handle the pandemic that is unfolding all around us. By now, one thing is clear to me. We are either our greatest allies or our own worst enemies at such times. How we react makes all the difference.
One friend brought home a three-inch tome all about pandemics, determined to read her way through it. Another began advising everyone on how to correctly make homemade hand sanitizer. Still another insisted that by ignoring the entire thing, she was serving herself best. “There’s too much hype,” she declared. “I refuse to buy my way through this.”
And you know, she had a point. As did everyone else.
After my wife and I realized all of our emergency supplies were seriously old, we threw them out. A week before the Bay Area released a “shelter in place” order, we waded through the crowds of people at Costco. All around us, people were frantically loading their carts with toilet paper and bottled water. The panic in the air was palpable. And we were not immune to the panic.
Like halfbacks snatching an intercepted pass, we emerged triumphantly with a hard-won six pack of disinfecting spray. It was handed to me by a clerk who spotted them hidden behind a forklift. Indeed, the people who worked at Costco were clearly being run ragged by the intensity of the crowds pouring into the place. All of them had the firm, polite efficiency of ER nurses practicing triage.
I came home determined not to panic, and yet found I was now glued to the major media. I couldn’t stop checking it hourly as if taking my eyes off of the situation could prove fatal. Finally, when I could take it no longer, I turned to a soothing activity—a jigsaw puzzle—and I promptly lost it.
As I sat there, weeping into my half-finished picture of the Grand Canyon, I realized the coronavirus has left me stressed out and immeasurably sad. Our world is, indeed, having a crisis and there will be more suffering ahead. Perhaps even a lot of suffering.
I simply couldn’t avoid the truth any longer. Taking a deep breath, I allowed myself to simply melt down as much as I needed to. I had a good long cry, and half an hour later I felt remarkably better.
Instantly, I became clear-headed enough to carve a path forward for myself. This one did not involve binge shopping, or massive media consumption. Instead, I developed my own COVID-19 Self-Care Checklist. For along with the handwashing and disinfecting, I find I must take care of my vulnerable, tender heart as well.
In fact, I suggest we all do. Here’s how I now proceed.
1. Limit media consumption to a sane amount.
Only you know what that means. But if you’re dreaming about media, leaping in in the middle of the night, or binging on it until you feel slightly sick, it’s time to back off. Such constant checking does give us a sense of control, but beware. Even though the news moves quickly, we do not need to consume media than a few times per day. Any more than that just creates more anxiety.
2. See friends regularly and often.
Yes, we’re supposed to avoid gatherings of greater than ten, but unless we have a shelter in place or lockdown order, we can still host a few friends and practice social distancing, staying at least six feet apart at all times. Have them bring their own beverage, and ideally sit outside. Disinfecting furniture, the doorknob, etc after guests leave is a good idea, as is copious hand washing for everyone. But fun is necessary too. I’d say our central nervous systems really do need a good laugh just about now.
3. Namaste nods work just as well as ‘foot shakes’ and elbow bumps.
Alternative greetings now abound as we’re no longer meant to hug. My sister suggested the Namaste nod, and I have to say, doing so when I greet someone makes my heart feel ever so much better. It feels right for these times somehow.
4. Walk in natural spaces.
I’m blessed to live in the Bay Area, where wonderful parks and beaches abound, and we can access them with walks, runs, and hikes even with our “shelter in place” order. Here’s what I love about going out into nature: there are no hard surfaces teeming with germs to hang on to, and it’s easy to keep that critical three to six foot distance from others.
Furthermore, a 2014 Finnish study found that strolling in a park or other natural setting for just twenty minutes provides significantly more stress relief than walking on city streets.
5. Have a good cry when you feel need to.
We all agree—this is a scary situation. One wants to “keep calm and carry on,” yet the cost of repressing our natural fear and grief is high. Far better to have a temporary meltdown, even in the privacy of our bedrooms, and then emerge clear-eyed and better able to cope. We will help ourselves and be better prepared to help others.
6. It’s okay to ask for help.
Sometimes asking for help can be small and personal. Maybe we need someone to watch our kids while we go for a stress-relief run, or maybe we need a hug from a family member. Ask for what you need, and you’ll serve yourself and everyone else in the long run. It’s time for us to get over our differences and support each other big time, just as generations before us have done in a crisis.
7. Take immune support supplements.
For some this is seen as useless, for others a godsend. If you believe some Vitamin C, or D, or ginger and garlic tonics—or whatever you take—will help you stay healthy, there’s a lot of power in that. My own preferences run towards zinc lozenges and Wellness Formula capsules. Why not? They can’t hurt and potentially can do us some real good.
8. Make sure your own emergency supplies are up to date.
I have to say, replenishing our own stock and getting it organized with a written inventory gave me a tremendous sense of relief. It dialed back my feeling of panic significantly.
If you can’t immediately purchase everything you’d like because supplies or your own funds are low, keep calm. For even now, as the Bay Area stays at home, we are allowed to grocery shop. I plan to gently replenish the stock in my nitrile gloves, mask in place, as the crowds deplete and the situation settles. I’ll also have my own little baggie of disinefecting wipes for the shopping cart if the store’s supply is out.
This situation is likely to last for months, and experts do assure us the food supplies will last in the US. So we simply need to work with it. Whether or not we are ultimately quarantined or will even have to use these back up supplies (the dehydrated potatoes, the cans of beans) is beside the point. They helped me feel like I actually had a modicum of control in hard times.
9. Be compassionate with yourself and others.
This is when people get tense, and tempers tend to run short. We often don’t perform up to expectations because we’re stressed. And yet, this is also when we need to practice loving-kindness towards ourselves and everyone else. We truly are doing the best we can, even if doesn’t look like it. So let’s give each other—and ourselves—a break. And yeah, expect yourself to be somewhat freaked out. That is very normal in a highly abnormal situation.
10. Ask yourself what you need right now.
This question is foundational, and it’s something we almost always forget to do. When you check in with yourself, you learn things that may surprise you. Try it right now. Put a hand on your heart or your belly, and close your eyes and silently ask. Your body will tell you just what she or he needs.
Do you need a long, warm bath or to stop your work at home and take a walk? Do you need to meditate? To sit down and play with your kids for a while, or get some good hugs? If you’re alone, do you need to Facetime a dear friend, or give your mom a call?
Whatever you need, do your best to honor that need. It will definitely serve you in the long run, perhaps even keeping you well as your own stress naturally lowers.
May my checklist help you relax and find your way back to loving self-care … even in such crazy times.
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