It was Friday, March 13, 2020, at 2 pm when I got an email from our district that all schools are closed for the following three weeks.
The discourse over the Coronavirus (and the disease it causes: COVID-19) had been taking place for a few weeks, and news had slowly been pouring in about the impending urgency for the public to take the virus seriously. However, when I learned that our school district was implemented e-learning, our local library had shut its doors, and essentially all normalcy of life was to change as we know it, panic started to set in. Deep in my chest, I could feel that familiar tightening, my breath hard to come by, and my mind racing from one worst-case scenario to the next.
Am I exhibiting signs of COVID-19 or simply having a panic attack?
Our trip to the grocery store to stock up on essentials for the next few weeks was like a scene from a dystopian future. And just like that, I knew right then and there that anxiety and panic were going to be mental and physical hindrances that I am going to have to deal with for the foreseeable future.
Here are six ways that I am managing them:
1. Identify triggers
So, you’re feeling anxiety and panic. That is OK and completely understandable. Acknowledge your feelings and try to identify what triggers them. Is it the evening news? Is it social media? Is it the eerily empty streets you see when you look out the window? We all know the big trigger is the global pandemic that is overshadowing our entire existence, but if you can identify the smaller things that illuminate all things COVID-19-related, then you know to limit your interactions with them.
For me, I only check the news once a day, after my children are asleep. I usually start my day with the morning news and a cup of coffee, but I’ve stopped that for the time being. I’ve been limiting all media throughout the day and replacing the time I usually engage with music (Charles Bradley is on current rotation) and being fully present with my family. At the end of the day, I’ll turn on the television and log into social media to see the status of current events, and once I’m fully informed, I turn everything off. If I need to panic, it’s best that I do it while my kids are asleep.
Also, a tall glass of wine doesn’t hurt.
2. Assume the best yet be prepared for the worst
It’s not safe to navigate our current situation with rose-colored glasses. We need to be realistic and know that bad things can and do happen. However, we shouldn’t live with an apocalyptic mindset. Find the perfect balance by assuming the best—that social distancing will stop the rapid spread of the Coronavirus—yet be prepared for the worst. Find the balance between remaining calm, yet staying informed and prepared.
3. Get outside
Social distancing does not mean being cooped up in your home all day. Get outside at least once a day and go for a walk or sit in the sun, just don’t venture too close to anyone else. Let your children play in an open field or ride their bikes on the sidewalk, just have them keep their distance from other children.
Fresh air and sunlight will do wonders for your mental health, and now that spring has sprung and the weather is getting warmer, take advantage of the outdoors as much as you can—using caution, of course.
4. Reach out to family and friends
Call or FaceTime someone you love. Set up virtual playdates for your kids or virtual coffee dates with your friends. We live in a time of great technological advances, so let’s take advantage of being together while staying apart. Don’t let being physically isolated give way to being mentally isolated.
5. Keep up with your normal routines, as much as you can
When anxiety takes over my life, I tend to let go of my normal routine, such as showering, exercising, eating well, and getting a full night’s sleep. Even getting out of my pajamas and into regular clothes is a huge Sisyphean task. However, being consistent with your normal tasks can really help manage anxiety, because a scattered mind needs structure more than ever.
6. Be gentle with yourself
There is a quote that I have over my desk that reads, “Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.” This quote by Max Ehrman reminds me to let go of any and all ideas of perfectionism and allowing myself permission not to be the best that humanly possible, but rather do the best I can under the current situation that I’m in.
Not only do I have to work, but now I have to homeschool my two children, keep them quiet while my husband is on conference calls in the other room, entertain them, feed them three times a day with what’s left in our pantry, and explain to them why they can’t go to school or play with their friends or see grandma or grandpa.
It’s all overwhelming.
But you know what? I’m just going to do the best I can and if that means too much screen time or too much junk food, then so be it. If it means that I need to take a nap in the middle of the day to reset, then I’m going to do it. I am privileged to have the opportunity to stay at home while all of this is going on, so I need to be mindful of the fact that this could be much worse for my family and be grateful for what my husband and I have—careers that allow us to work from the safety of our home.