In this time of uncertainty, when so much that we understood and believed about the world, and the way we organized our lives, has been turned upside down, there are a few things we can remember and do to maintain our center and make the best choices for our health and well-being.
1. Listen to the CDC. COVID-19 is a serious issue. If we do not do the right things, it will get worse. Listen to the CDC. As the nation’s health protection agency, CDC conducts critical science and provides information to protect us against expensive and dangerous health threats.
2. Maintain Perspective. While COVID-19 is serious, and thousands will die or lose loved ones, most of us are going to be OK. The steps we need to take to contain and slow the spread of the disease are inconvenient and hard. But social distancing, sheltering in place, and canceled vacations will become part of a shared memory. Most of us have clean water, indoor plumbing, and the internet. The power grid is stable, there is no civil war or famine. The restrictive steps we are taking are frustrating and produce anxiety but will not last forever. You are stronger than you realize, more creative and resilient. You got this.
3. Exercise. Social isolation can lead to depression. Disrupted routines, uncertainty, and fear can increase anxiety. Make sure to take time to exercise. We all know that doing so offers physical benefits. However, the most profound effects may be seen from the neck up. Exercise regulates mood, increases our vitality, and reduces anxiety and depression. Dr. John Ratey points out that in many ways, “exercise is really something we do for the brain, and the rest of the body benefits from the side effects.” By balancing our neurotransmitters and other neurochemicals, Ratey continues, exercise is “like taking a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.” If we can maintain this balance, we will be in a better position to navigate these uncertain and troubling times.
4. Look for the Good. We are wired to notice the bad and dangerous. They demand our attention and drown out the myriad of things that are going well. Look for the humanity around you, people taking care of one another. Look for the humor. Pay attention to the azaleas and dogwoods blooming in the yard. No matter what you are facing, if you seek it, you will be able to grab onto something that you are grateful for. Let this be an anchor to steady you when so much else is uncertain. Gratitude is a resilience strategy, and it can help you love life more.
5. Start a New Habit/Learn Something New. The best time to create a habit is during a time of transition. As we are all adjusting our routines, start a new positive habit, or learn something you’ve always wanted to do. They can be little things. My dentist will be pleased I have started to floss every day. Or they can be bigger. Emerge from the period of self-quarantine 20 pounds lighter. Play with it. There is so much you can access online: Yoga programs, language lessons, classes in art history or computer programming. My wife is learning the piano. I now know the names of the birds in the yard by their song and their plumage. article continues after advertisement
6. Connect. Social distancing does not have to mean isolation. Gone are the days that we had to pay for each minute of a long-distance phone call. Now we can use numerous free or inexpensive programs to connect with one another over video, even internationally or in groups. Reach out to grandparents, college roommates and long-lost friends. Your book club can continue. You can still meet remotely for a coffee or a beer. Use this time to deepen your relationships.
7. Be Patient and Forgiving. Everyone is under a lot of strain. Your spouse. Your children. Your parents and neighbors. Your closest friends. You are too. As our worlds are all tilted on edge, people will be short with one another. We might snip or snap. Be patient. Be gentle. Forgive them and forgive yourself. These are stressful and uncertain times, but together, we can manage them.
These are just a few things you can do, but there are many more. Get outside. Savor the chance to have meals with your family. Clean the attic or finish that home project that never made the top of the list. So often, life will hand us facts that we’d never wish for. We do not have to like them, but maintain your calm. Keep looking for what you can control. Notice the helpers that are all around you all the time. And never let go of the hope that will keep you going.
As a final note, a team of psychologists, coaches, and authors from the community of UPENN positive psychology graduates have organized a series of short, daily, free webinars on strategies for thriving during these difficult times. Each talk will cover a different theme, such as working remotely, homeschooling, or focusing on the good. The recorded presentations will also be available, in case you miss the live stream. You can look at the agenda and register here.
Keep taking care of one another. We’ve got this.
This article first appeared on Psychology Today.
Ratey, John J.,Hagerman, Eric. (2008) Spark: the revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain New York: Little, Brown.
Interview with John Ratey, Wellness Council of America, News and Views.
Doyle, John Sean (2018), Mud and Dreams: Essays on falling more deeply in love with life. Raleigh: Rainstick Press.
©2020 John Albert Doyle, Jr.