We have all seen the different ways people are coping with being asked to stay at home as much as possible. I have seen more pictures of pastries and pies, cookies and cakes, than I have seen in a long time. I have seen how people are finding ways to deal with the stress and worry, by taking a walk and being aware of the need for masks and social distancing, by doing jigsaw puzzles, planting a garden, watching TV or reading books. We are all also very fortunate in that we have a great deal of access to connection through the internet. Watching movies, video chats, online gaming, telephone calls and community events done on Facebook live, we are able to stay connected in ways that would not have been possible had this pandemic happened 50 years ago.
All of those things help keep the worry and anxiety to a manageable level. Maybe. We cannot ignore that humans are social creatures who like to have physical contact with other people, whether it is a hug at church, or a high five at a soccer game. The longer that we have to deal with the lack of in-person contact, the more the anxiety builds up.
What can do you to cope with the anxiety and stress?
First, make sure that you are safe, physically and mentally.
If you were in a bad relationship before you had to stay at home, it doesn’t get better when you stay at home together. If you add alcohol and drugs to the mix, you are in a toxic situation. If you have concerns about your safety or your children’s safety, don’t just assume that you have to just take it on the chin until it’s all over, it will be just a few more weeks. It will not be just a few more weeks, this is going to be a long term problem. You need to have a safety plan if things do get out of control. Maybe you stay with a relative or friend until you can get legal relief. Having to deal with a pandemic is hard enough, but if you are in physical or emotional danger, you need to deal with it. Call a family law attorney for advice, call my firm, even if you are not ready to make a decision or make a move right now.
Next, take stock in what things that you do have available to you to help with coping.
A forced slow down creates an opportunity for you to think about what works for you to relieve anxiety. Is it reading a book? Is it cooking? What takes the edge off of worrying? The benefit of making a list of what things help you cope with difficult situations is that when things do start to feel out of control, you have already thought of what to do to make it manageable.
Third, recognize when information is just too much.
When the news about COVID19 first started, things were changing so quickly that I could go to sleep and when I woke up in the morning, things had changed in a significant way overnight. I started waking up in the middle of the night to check the news. This was not helping my coping. I started limiting the times that I would check the news and I limited my news sources to about 4 different sources. Right now, it is hard to find good news, because even the good news comes with caution. The curve is flattening in New York? Great, but it is accelerating in Iowa. Oregon is going to start reopening nonemergency medical procedures? Great, but there is so much more that needs to be done to start getting back to normal. Recognize when you are getting to information overload, and intentionally find something else to think about.
Fourth, recognize what you can and cannot control or influence.
I can’t control when the courts reopen, or what the schedule is going to be like, but I can keep working to have things progress as much as possible, so that we are ready for reopening. If you can’t control the problem, then intentionally block it from taking up space in your head, even if for a few hours, or even a few days.
If you are not already painfully aware of it, if you have children, they are looking to you constantly for reassurance and examples of how to cope.
If you show that you feel out of control, they will feel out of control, and their behavior will reflect that. The ways to help children cope with society and family stress are as varied as there are children. Some children always seemed to internalize the stress that they see around them, and their stress starts to show in physical ways: acting out, not able to sleep or eat, change in toilet training. Other children seem to be oblivious and focus on what is right in front of them, which can be a great coping mechanism. In other circumstances, that might be called denial, but right now, it is called coping. I am amazed when my grandchildren pop their heads over the fence to say hello to the neighbor children, and ask them to play, only to pull back and say “oh yes, the COVID. We can’t play right now” and go back to playing in their own backyard. They are worried, but their support system around them keeps them focused on what they can control, and that models coping mechanisms for children.
Sixth, remember that you do have resources, you do have support systems.
You have people in your life, whether family or friends, that you can connect with, get support from, as well as give support. You do have communities around you where you live that are also offering and giving support. Maybe you are not going to the Timbers games, but you have other ways of getting support from those around you. There are also professional support persons – medical providers, attorneys, therapists – all of whom you can connect with to find support. It is also possible that you were so busy before that you didn’t take time to build up a support system. It’s really difficult when you feel isolated, but view this as an opportunity to start building up that support network.
Lastly, above all, take a deep breath, and acknowledge that you are going through losses: routine loss, financial loss, possibly health loss, social connection loss.
You are probably going through various stages of grieving: denial, anger, sadness and ultimately acceptance. Taking a deep breath reminds you that there is a way through this pandemic, for you individually and for us as a society. We may not know all of the details yet, but there is a way through. You don’t have to solve all of the problems that are here and will be coming in the next several months, you just have to figure out how to get through the immediate future. What can you do to get through the next week? This day? This hour? Maybe you need to just focus on getting through the next breath, and then the next one. No one else can give you a magic solution that will work for you, but you do have the strength to find your own solutions.