While the world practices compassion through self-isolation, it’s important to remember that our physical health isn’t the only thing we need to protect. Our emotional wellbeing during this unpredictable, and at times, genuinely heartbreaking pandemic is as crucial as our toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The question we need to answer is: Can we emotionally thrive during a pandemic? The answer is “yes,” if we keep a few simple habits in play.
The first key to maintaining our mental health during this stressful time involves not mistaking physical distancing for a prohibition on human connection. Over the last few decades, most of us have become accustomed to staying in touch with friends and family through social media, but during times of crisis, we need more than glossy, abstract soundbites to thrive. While many of us still enjoy communicating with co-workers and business partners while we work-from-home, nothing can replace the refreshment and peace that comes from connecting with those closest to our hearts. COVID-19 has become a stark reminder that time is precious. If possible, we need to use some of that time to reach out to our loved ones via a phone call or videoconference every day. We need to hear our loved one’s voices, and we need to share their tears. We need each other, so that we never forget that we’re in this together. We’re not alone.
The second vital component to protecting our mental health is exercise. We might not be able to go to the gym or our favorite workout class. However, we can still find plenty of outlets for our stress and increased calorie count (Am I the only one stress-eating, right now?). In addition to the unparalleled benefits of fresh air and nature, there are multiple online options and apps to help us stay physically active while self-isolating. One of my favorite recommendations is: www.hipshakefitness.com. The website offers hundreds of dance workout videos from Blissful Barre to Burlesque. There has never been a better time to be upbuilt by a group of talented, powerful women.
The third habit we need to master isn’t always an easy habit to cultivate. In short, we need to turn off the news. Whether we binge-watch cable news commentary or receive our news one alert-ping at a time, the constant diet of negativity increases our stress level and makes it more challenging to protect our mental health. We all need the facts in this dangerous and fluid situation, but those facts can’t be the only thing we mentally feed ourselves. For each hour we watch the news, experts recommend we balance it with an hour of non-work-related activities, such as reading a novel, working in a garden, or completing a puzzle. The more successful we are at limiting our exposure to copious amounts of news reports, the more likely we are to be informed by the information we receive and not influenced by every news blurb and twitter feed in the world.
The fourth habit that will help us to endure the prolonged isolation we all find ourselves in is to be patient with ourselves. While we’ve all committed to this course to protect our communities and our loved ones, we can’t pretend we’re not impacted emotionally by the loss and uncertainty that permeates our current circumstances. We keep hearing the phrase “don’t panic,” but what does that really mean? Are officials talking to stock investors, consumers, or the average family living paycheck-to-paycheck? Personally, when I hear someone say, “don’t panic,” I feel a little bit like
THE GREAT AND POWERFUL OZ is telling me to “ignore the man behind the curtain.”
Let’s face it—there is plenty to panic about in a pandemic. Anxiety and depression are natural byproducts of an extremely unnatural situation. We have nothing to be ashamed of if those emotions stop us in our tracks, sometimes. We need to acknowledge our emotions. We need to talk about them, write about them—do anything, but keep them bottled inside. Globally, people are finding ways to express those emotions through music, through vlogging, through a bottle of wine over Zoom.
Whatever method we choose, we diminish the perception that we’re an island with nothing but our anxieties to comfort us. We’re all in this together, but it’s okay if sometimes our closest connection feels a lot further than 6 feet apart.
As cliché as it might sound, we ultimately cope by taking life in a pandemic, one day at a time. We don’t know how COVID-19 will play out, but our communities will recover.
If we can’t control anything else, remember this—we can control how we treat those around us.
Take every opportunity to be kind. We may not be able to open our homes, but we can still open our hearts and seek out ways to help others. Hanging onto our compassion and kindness won’t change the molecular structure of the virus, but those qualities in action will ensure that we’re recognizable as individuals and communities when the crisis passes.