Staying Sane During a Pandemicby Candace Alnaji
By now, almost everyone in the world has been impacted COVID-19, the disease caused by 2020’s novel coronavirus. It is a global pandemic that has stretched into every corner of the earth and our lives. I live in the second largest city in New York State, the current epicenter for the virus in the United States. Although the region’s cases lag New York City’s, as I write this, my county has nearly one thousand confirmed COVID-19 cases and likely thousands more undetected. Local hospitals have begun to see a surge in COVID patients in need of medical support—ventilators and more.
My husband, a critical care physician, is currently working in the Intensive Care Unit of one of those hospitals treating the very sickest COVID patients. At home, I continue to work on projects and look after our three children—a five-year-old and twin two-year-olds. Full disclosure: I’ve worked from home with kids for several years, so I was not affected by the switch to remote work as so many others have been. Unlike the majority of those working from home right now, I’ve had years to adapt and re-adapt to the absolutely bonkers chaos that is working from home with kids.
That said, working from home with kids during a global pandemic is a different animal.
Like many parents, I’ve had to take on the role of teacher after our son’s elementary school closed and switched to distance learning in mid-March. When I’m feeling exhausted and weary, I can’t ask grandma to drop in for a quick visit so I can take a breather. There are no trips to the zoo or museum to break up our days, and there are certainly no carefree trips to Target.
The mental load of worrying about my family’s wellbeing and the health of our state, nation, and world during this time is overwhelming. And I’m not alone. So many are worried about the condition of their families, their businesses, and their livelihoods. As of the end of March, there were over ten million people out of work in the United States—an unprecedented figure.
Staying relatively healthy and sane during these scary times is hard.
With helpful tips flying in from every corner of the Internet, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and completely burned out on advice. However, during a time when we are disconnected from public life, isolated from our support networks, and swimming through an ocean of uncertainty, it’s comforting to know others are going through the same thing. Here’s how I’m managing. I hope these suggestions help you as well.
Schedule as much or as little as you need.
We’re all familiar with the color-coordinated family schedules that stormed the Internet in mid-March. It’s easy to roll your eyes if laminated chore charts aren’t your jam but remember that they are some people’s jam. Do what feels right for your situation. Remember that you’re managing the routine for your children whose daily lives have also been turned upside down. Do your best to provide some semblance of safety and happiness for you and your family—even if it involves breaking the rules.
Eat what nourishes you—including that bag of Doritos.
Eat healthy food that nourishes you including bright fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. However, don’t feel guilty for eating the Doritos, brownies, and Cadbury Eggs, too. Eat to fuel your body and spirit. Food can be comfort, and while you don’t want to overindulge in a way that hurts your spirit or triggers disordered habits, you should absolutely allow yourself to enjoy the simple joy of eating during these uncertain times.
Move your body.
Exercise is an excellent way to burn stress and decompress. A challenging workout can build resilience and teach you to lean into the grit and determination you need to get through tough times. On the flipside, a gentle yoga session can help you claim space to find peace in your heart and in your day. Find the activity you like and make that time your own. My Peloton workouts are my favorite time to burn stress, zone out, and feel accomplished in a short amount of time.
Get some fresh air.
Head into your yard or onto your porch or street. Sun and fresh air are scientifically proven to boost your health and mind. Even short doses are good for you. Further, taking your family outdoors is a great way to break up the day and switch up the scenery.
Take deep breaths.
In those moments when I’m worried about my husband working in the ICU, my three kids are testing my limits, and I feel like I can’t even get a second to myself, I take some diaphragmic breaths. Through some magic, I immediately feel a reduction in stress. A few deep breaths won’t solve all your problems, but it can be a sanity-saver when you need it most.
There’s a lot going on in the world right now and guess what? It’s a lot. We’ve all been affected in different ways, but no one is leaving this unscathed. Whether it’s working on the front lines, losing your job, feeling isolated from your family, losing a loved one, grieving your normal life, or worrying about your health, the challenges you’re facing are real. You should absolutely feel all your emotions, recognize all your fears, and allow yourself time to work through them.
Seek out the things that make you laugh.
Memes, stand-up comedy, Friends re-runs. Whatever it is, actively seek out the things that lift your spirits and allow you to feel light-hearted. Laughter can be the best medicine. And since trauma is known for cultivating a strong sense of humor in people, you may even leave this pandemic with a few new comedic talents of your own. (Sorry. Too soon?).
Create new traditions.
Our total sense of normalcy has been disrupted. It’s not just the birthdays and holidays we’ve lost either—even the days of the week have been rendered seemingly meaningless overnight. It’s important to mourn the loss of your most treasured daily, weekly, and festive traditions, but you should take time to create new ones, too. Sunday dance parties, Monday spaghetti nights, Tuesday bakeoffs, Wednesday picnics, and more can all be a part of your new normal. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to make you happy.
Connect with a friend.
Make sure you Facetime with someone other than your boss and coworkers. Connect with your friends. Ask how they’re doing and let them know they share honestly. It’s so easy to feel isolated right now. It’s important to remind yourself that we’re all in this together.
Finally, don’t feel guilty for stepping away from the news and the Internet and things that don’t serve you right now. Stay informed, but don’t be inundated. Take a break. Take some time to dive inward and be introspective and quiet for a while. Don’t grind or hustle. Just take time to be human.
No matter how alone or exhausted you may feel right now, know there are billions of others who feel the same way. You are not alone. Sending you my best wishes for good health. Stay safe out there.