This is an opportune time for embracing the upside of the downside, but first we have to stay calm and carry on. In this, another unprecedented week, it’s hard to know what content is appropriate. When I check my inbox, I hope for normalcy. But every email that promotes a product or service unrelated to the new coronavirus-limited life seems tone deaf. TV commercials are the same way. Party scenes in new episodes of TV shows feel odd.
Some people want information to feel calm. For others, information feels stressful. We are getting a large dose of reality every day. Our systems have many holes. In some areas, they are truly broken. And suddenly those breaks can’t be hidden. That feels frightening.
And there are very personal fears. One of my friends without a large bank account cannot work right now and is not near his family. He worries that his money won’t last until the relief packages are worked out. Another of my friends’ mothers is in a nursing home that has 13 cases of COVID-19. She fears she may have seen her for the last time a week ago when they closed to visitors. My family is facing both the fear of exposure from diagnostic procedures and the possibility of open-heart surgery for my 2-year-old granddaughter before the virus is under control. It doesn’t help knowing that the first positive case of COVID-19 in our state was in a healthcare worker who worked at the only hospital equipped to do the surgery.
I’m pretty good in a crisis, but I hit my limit of calm one night this week when a tornado flattened several houses near my hometown. While I was on the phone with a friend there, three rounds of gunfire rang out just outside my window. I suddenly felt afraid.
In the days since, I realize how easy it can be for fear to turn into panic. Intellectually, it’s easy to see that this is a great opportunity to learn and improve! We just have to treat it that way. But our emotions may get in the way until we find a way to stay calm and carry on.
We all have to find a path to calm that works for us. If you’re not sure how to do that, here are some tips that may help:
Follow a routine
Create a regular home routine if you do not have one. Get up and go to bed at a relatively consistent time each day. Create blocks of time for productivity, mindless entertainment, and physical activity. Experiment with the flow until it feels right then stick with it. If your timeline needs to be rigid, make it rigid. If you work well within loose guidelines, keep things loose.
Put one foot in front of the other. You don’t have to feel like it. Just start doing something. Cook. Do the dishes. Mop the floor. Organize the toys. Clean out your closet. Go for a walk (if allowed), work out, do yoga. Do your nails. Draw. Paint. Write. Repot the plants. Rearrange the furniture. Mow the lawn.
Performing normal everyday activities will make your life feel less upended.
Do something comforting
Take a long bath. Drink hot tea. Break out the weighted blanket and watch a lighthearted movie. Watch a comedy routine. Read. Meditate. Pray. Dance. Play or listen to music. Listen to a podcast. Watch sports reruns. Knit. Crochet. Sew. Play with your kids.
Rinse, repeat! Many of us are so focused on productivity that we feel like we’re wasting time when we comfort ourselves. It’s okay to spend time and energy producing comfort and calm.
This is a wonderful time to stay in the moment. Instead of thinking about what may happen, notice your current surroundings.
That’s easy to say, but We’ve all seen a distressed person pacing because they just can’t be still. Sometimes you have to calm the energy in your body before you can calm your mind.
Doing something that requires strength can help you focus. Planks, pushups, squats, weight lifting (if you don’t have weights at home, grab a cast iron skillet), and stair walking can help dispel nervous energy. Hoeing in the garden or working in the yard is a great way to channel energy, get fresh air, and enjoy the smell of the earth and the sounds of birds singing.
If you can do nothing else, plant your feet firmly on the floor and breathe! Look around the room. Count all of the red objects, all of the yellow objects, everything shaped like a square, everything that’s round, etc.
I’ve sung the praises of yoga for years, but now is a great time to get out that mat you bought and never used (yes, it’s possible without a mat). There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of yoga videos available free online. You do not have to be flexible or strong to begin. And at home no one is going to judge you.
You can combine yoga and weight lifting as well. That’s how I started. I used a short yoga-with-weights practice I found in a magazine.
Learn a dance routine. This requires a combination of mental focus and physical activity, plus there’s music! That’s a great combo to keep you in the moment! There are tutorials online or you can break down your favorite artist’s video on your own.
You may find it’s easier to connect in a real way right now. I’ve used phone calls rather than texts more often this week. It was easy to feel the impact of some of those calls.
Different social media outlets can have very different effects. Choose those that most often make you feel positive and post away. Use video call apps. Talk to your neighbors from your own porch, yard, or balcony.
If you feel afraid, it’s okay to say so. In fact, just saying it out loud to a trusted friend or family member will make you feel better. Unstated fears can easily spiral. Voicing them takes away much of their power. On the other hand, I’m not sure a social media video filled with fear is helpful.
It’s a good time to share some love! I sent a few emails this week to some outstanding doctors and nurses I know telling them how much I appreciate their courage and dedication. Perhaps I should do this when there’s not a crisis, but I never think about it. That’s a lesson I can learn.
This time will present many opportunities for evaluation and improvement, but for now it’s sufficient to stay calm and carry on.
Editor’s note: Since I began writing this post, my friend’s mom received a second negative test for Covid-19. I find it somewhat comforting that in a highly contagious environment, she has not been infected.