Updated: Jan 31
Since no one knows for sure how long this virus pandemic and all its thousands of ramifications and effects will last, it makes sense to be proactive about your psychological health as well as your physical health. One feeds the other.
I won't recycle most of the physical health admonitions--they're all over the Internet--but some of the psychological ones bear repeating--with my own spin, of course. I am trying to practice these daily, if not hourly.
1. Limit Your News Intake.
With a pandemic, and one that's potentially lethal for a significant swath of the world's population, that sounds counter-intuitive. Don't I want to be fully informed? Don't I need to know the latest stats, the latest new possible treatments, the latest ways people all over are coping? And oh, let's not forget the POLITICS, for crying out loud--I must stay up on that.
No, you don't need to know hardly any of the stuff listed above. Most, if not all of it, is superfluous to your immediate situation. Here are some things to focus on instead that are potentially a lot more helpful:
What is my city, county, and state doing in response to the virus? How do these measures affect me directly? (Use your city, county, and state government agencies' Web pages to find this information.) Avoid "I heard that . . " from anyone; it only muddies the waters and can actually induce panic.
What ways is my closest medical community being affected, and how does this impact my or my family's medical care? Do you need a scheduled surgery or procedure? Does the pandemic affect your facility's ability to perform this procedure? What are your options if so? And how can you get less-critical care if you need it?
What is my employer advising me to do while my job/jobsite is shut down? Should you file for unemployment? How long can your employer retain you with full or partial pay? Can you return to work when this crisis passes? (Some of these questions may not be answerable now, but they should be on your radar to ask, repeatedly if need be.)
How can I continue to provide education for my children who are out of school? Is homeschooling an option? If you're out of work right now, it might be. What about online resources? And if you don't have access to a computer or the Internet, how can you get it? (If you're reading this blog, you do.)
These strike me as the MAIN things as far as gleaning information from the news. I'm sure there are others I missed, but I'm not really trying to be exhaustive here. We're all pretty tired already. And this list is enough, don't you think? Believe me, there'll be PLENTY of time for you to hear about the politics of the COVID-19 response--years of it, I'm sure. You won't miss a thing.
2. Start--or Revive--a Hobby.
If you're unfortunate enough to not have any hobbies, now's the time to see that for the tragic thing it is and fix it. Hobbies give us an outlet for our stress, fears, our unsolvable mysteries, and for our creative bones. Glass work has provided all of that and more for me, and it's only one of several ways I take a break from the world. Your journey with the creative might be something completely different.
Every human being has those resident needs for release inside him or her. I have, for instance, a lovely pottery dip bowl made by a developmentally challenged teen. The center cup is surrounded by a "moat" for putting in chips or crackers. The glaze is a riot of color--in fact, I can't look at that dish without feeling happy. No matter the cognitive or physical ability, everyone possesses a secret place within that screams "I need to create!" Where did that come from?
I personally believe it is God's stamp on our molecules; He's the ultimate creator, and we have the echoes of that drive since we are made in His image. But even if you don't believe any of that, you STILL will feel a huge jolt of pleasure at figuring out how to bring beauty out of ugliness, order out of chaos, splendor out of the ordinary. Try it if you never have.
And if you have a hobby you've set aside, now's the time to dust off the tools, find the stacks of materials, and get back to work. Or maybe you've had a dream hobby to pursue. Now might be the time.
3. Get Outside.
As I was writing this blog, a gorgeous sunset took shape outside in reds and blues. Yes, WE are mired in a virus pandemic, but the rest of the natural world is going on with business as usual.
Birds are arriving, chasing each other around, scouting nesting sites. Tree buds are already starting to fatten. Spring, already a week old according to the calendar, is right before our eyes. So get your bird feeders out, and if you want a new one, visit the Web site and see what I've got.
Is this just a veiled, crass marketing tool? No. Get yourself into the kitchen and grab a bowl, fill it with water or seed, and set it out. It's cheaper. I don't care how you do it. My point is that getting outside inside you is a good thing. Fifteen minutes several times a week will help your mental well-being, I promise.
4. Get Outside Yourself.
Along those same lines, most mental health breakdowns come from a pre-occupation with self. In this current climate of "social distancing," it's easy to get sucked down the belly-button drain and stay there. This virus is affecting ME and MY wellbeing. How am I going to make it? Again, sitting inside staring at your TV, cellphone, or tablet and overdosing on the bleakness isn't going to work because it all comes back to YOU and YOUR NEEDS. What about others' needs?
With Colorado's statewide "Stay-at-home" order that kicked in today and will run until at least April 11th, many folks are more isolated now than ever before, and while it may be true we can't go physically see some people, we can call them, "face time" or Skype with them (I have a list of people I want and intend to do that for right now), or do other non-invading things to link up with other souls--even strangers. This can include essential tasks like getting pharmacy, grocery, or pet items for people.
I think we are beginning to get hungry for contact. Have you noticed that some people seem eager to talk even if they don't know you? Eye contact or a smile or wave goes a long way. And my sister sent me a video circulating on Facebook about a pianist and saxophonist in Barcelona who spontaneously played a song from their respective apartment balconies. Wow.
5. Be Kind.
I don't need to elaborate on this one. We all know what it looks and feels like when we are kind to each other--and when we aren't.
6. Stay Realistically Hopeful.
This COVID-19 pandemic WILL end. Viruses do run their courses, or in medical terms, they are "self-limiting." That means we will eventually get back to some sort of semi-normal, which is all we've ever had, really. It doesn't mean we should, however, ignore the instructions we are given to isolate, disinfect, and just plain be careful for others' well-being. The fact is, the sooner we can give the virus no new places to go, the sooner we'll put this dark start to 2020 behind us.
We'll likely have inflation later. All of the aid now coming from Washington D.C., though much-needed, will have to be paid for, and the resulting flood of new printed money will drive the cost of goods and services up. Can we recover? Probably. But it will take time, and we're not a patient culture now. Somehow, that has got to change.
Some (maybe many) of us will permanently lose our jobs. Despite the surge in online teaching now, I am out of work for the time being as an online college instructor. But that's only one of the jobs I have. Will some schools keep an online presence such as we have now permanently? It seems likely. Maybe a job will come later. Maybe not. For some of us, a career change might be a good thing. I didn't say "easy." I said "good."
There are a lot of unanswered questions, and time alone is the best medium in which to find those answers. No matter what, though, a healthy, realistic, grounded psychological outlook is about the best vaccine against despair I can see. It's not Pollyanna in action. It's a set of choices I'm making. I think of it as my effort to "put on my oxygen mask first" so I can help others with theirs.