For more than a week I have been dealing intensively with the pandemic that is happening all around us. One thing is clear to me now. At such times, we are either our greatest allies or our own worst enemies. How we react makes the difference.
A friend brought home a three-inch pandemic book, determined to read it. Another advised everyone on how to properly make a homemade hand sanitizer. Another insisted that she made the best of it by ignoring the whole thing. “There is too much hype,” she said. “I refuse to buy my way through this.”
And you know, she was right. Like everyone else.
After my wife and I found that 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 at Costco. All around us, people were desperately loading their carts with toilet paper and mineral water. The panic in the air was palpable. And we weren’t immune to the panic.
Like halfbacks that snatched an intercepted pass, we came out triumphantly with a hard-won six-pack of disinfectant spray. It was given to me by an employee who discovered it hidden behind a forklift. In fact, the people who worked at Costco were obviously ragged by the intensity of the crowds that poured into the place. All of them had the firm, polite efficiency of ER nurses who practiced triage.
I came home resolutely not to panic and found that I was now connected to the major media. I couldn’t stop checking it every hour, as if turning my eyes away from the situation could prove fatal. Finally, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I turned to a calming activity – a puzzle – and immediately lost it.
As I sat there crying into my half-finished picture of the Grand Canyon, I found that the corona virus stressed me and made me immeasurably sad. Our world is indeed in crisis and there will be more suffering. Maybe a lot of suffering.
I just couldn’t avoid the truth anymore. I took a deep breath and allowed myself to just melt as much as I needed. I had a good long scream and half an hour later I felt remarkably better.
I immediately became clear enough to make my way forward. This included neither binge shopping nor massive media consumption. Instead, I developed my own COVID-19 self-care checklist. Because in addition to washing my hands and disinfecting, I also have to take care of my vulnerable, tender heart.
In fact, I suggest we all do it. That’s how I do it now.
1. Limit media usage to a reasonable amount.
Only you know what that means. However, if you dream of media, jump in in the middle of the night, or cling to it until you feel slightly sick, it’s time to withdraw. Such constant review gives us a sense of control, but caution. Although the news is moving fast, we don’t have to consume media more than a few times a day. More than that just creates more fear.
2. Get together virtually.
This idea prevails quickly and for good reason. With a paid zoom account ($ 15 per month), you can hold group meetings with up to 100 people.
If you click on the gallery view (upper right corner), you can see every person present. Use this for virtual hangouts such as tea parties, happy hour, coffee claps, book clubs and dinner parties. I think it’s a great way to keep in touch with distant relatives – we see each other suddenly more than ever. And when money is tight, there is always FaceTime and Skype
3. Namaste nods work just as well as shaking feet and bumps in the elbows.
There are now plenty of alternative greetings, because we should no longer hug. My sister suggested the Namaste nod and I have to say that when I greet someone my heart feels so much better. It kind of feels right for these times.
4. Go in natural spaces.
I am blessed to live in the Bay Area, where there are many wonderful parks and beaches, and we can reach them with walks, runs and hikes with our “Shelter in Place” order. What I love about going outdoors is that there are no hard surfaces full of germs to hold onto, and it’s easy to keep that critical distance of three to six feet from others.
In addition, a 2014 Finnish study found that a 20 minute walk in a park or other natural environment relieved significantly more stress than a walk on the city streets.
5. Cry well when you need it.
We all agree – this is a scary situation. You want to “keep calm and keep going”, but the cost of suppressing our natural fear and grief is high. It is far better to experience a temporary breakdown, even in the privacy of our bedrooms, and then with clear eyes and better able to deal with it. We will help ourselves and be better prepared to help others.
6. It is okay to ask for help.
Sometimes asking for help can be small and personal. Maybe we need someone to watch our kids while we are stress relieving, or maybe we need a hug from a family member. Ask what you need and you will serve yourself and everyone else in the long run. It is time for us to overcome our differences and support each other, as generations before us did in a crisis.
7. Take supplements to support the immune system.
For some this is considered useless, for others as a gift from God. If you think vitamin C or D, or ginger and garlic tonics – or whatever you are taking – can help you stay healthy, there is a lot of power in it. My own preferences are zinc pastilles and wellness formula capsules. Why not? You cannot harm and possibly do us a good thing.
8. Make sure that your own emergency supplies are up to date.
I have to say that it gave me a huge feeling of relief to replenish our own inventory and organize it with a written inventory. It aroused my feeling of panic considerably.
If you can’t instantly buy everything you want because supplies or your own money is tight, keep calm. Even now that the Bay Area remains at home, we can still buy groceries. I plan to carefully replenish my nitrile gloves and mask as the amount decreases and the situation calms down. I also have my own small bag of disinfectant wipes for the shopping trolley if there is not enough in the store.
This situation is likely to last for months, and experts assure us that US food supply will continue. So we just have to work with it. It does not matter whether we are ultimately quarantined or even have to use these spare stocks (the dehydrated potatoes, the canned beans). They made me feel like I actually had a minimum of control in difficult times.
9. Be compassionate with yourself and others.
This is when people become tense and minds tend to be neglected. We often don’t live up to expectations because we’re stressed. And yet we also have to practice loving-kindness towards ourselves and everyone else. We really do our best, even if it doesn’t look like it. Let’s give ourselves and ourselves a break. And yes, expect to be a little freaked out. This is very normal in a very abnormal situation.
10. Ask yourself what you need right now.
This question is fundamental and is almost always forgotten. When you check in with yourself, you learn things that can surprise you. Try it out now. Put a hand on your heart or stomach, close your eyes and ask quietly. Your body will tell you exactly what it needs.
Do you need a long, warm bath or do you want to finish your work at home and go for a walk? Do you have to meditate? Sit down and play with your kids for a while or have a good hug? If you are alone, do you have to call Facetime a dear friend or mother?
Whatever you need, do your best to meet that need. It will definitely serve you in the long run and maybe even keep you healthy as your own stress naturally decreases.
May my checklist help you relax and find your way back to loving self-care … even in such crazy times.
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