As a psychiatrist and nurse-psychotherapist, we would like to remind you all about the most important things to remember and practice in this often difficult Covid-19 era. The following points will help you more than survive emotionally and spiritually, but more importantly, to thrive, both as an individual and in your relationships.
There has been a lot of emphasis on physical survival, which of course is important. In the following, we would like to also emphasize the non-physical ways to thrive at this time.
Gratitude is high on the list. There is always something for which you can be thankful. Gratitude lifts the spirit immediately. It is a rapid path to emotional and spiritual well-being. Think it, speak it out loud, or write it down, as much as you can. It will make you feel better. If it’s difficult to be grateful, read Joyce’s last month’s article (Sharedheart.org/sheltering-at-home-a-different-kind-of-gratitude/).
Connection. We keep reminding everyone that social distancing refers only to physical distancing. Isolation leads to worsening depression, anxiety and a host of other problems, not to mention a weakened immune system that makes you more vulnerable to getting physically sick.
In a recent shopping experience at Costco, people’s fear of catching the Coronavirus was palpable. Not only were people keeping the six-foot minimum distance from one another, but almost everyone was avoiding eye contact or speaking to strangers, as if this would make them more vulnerable, and the virus can be spread by eye contact. Yes, this social phobia happens to a lesser degree in “normal” times, but it was now exaggerated. I tried to make eye contact, but that didn’t work. I tried to say hello to people I passed in the aisles. I was too often met with nervous and suspicious glances. God forbid I should cough. It would start a stampede!
Reach out several times a day to people you know, especially to those who may be isolated — not just email or text, but use the phone also. It’s never been more important to do this. Now’s the time to appreciate those you love, especially if you are quarantined with them.
Couples being quarantined together will bring up hidden issues that normally don’t come up. Joyce and I are counseling couples (as well as individuals) over Skype and Zoom, and we’re seeing a number of quarantine-specific problems. There’s the effect of couples not taking enough space from each other. Working at home and not going out as much places couples in much closer proximity to each other, and many couples are not accustomed to this. There are many jokes going around of couples getting sick of one another.
Make sure you have adequate physical and emotional space during the day, but eat meals together and try to go to bed together. This really helps! Then there’s the stress and fear, the not knowing and not being able to plan anything, including vacations. This all takes a toll upon relationships. The couples who suffer the most are the ones who don’t share their fears, or talk about the stresses. Communicate, don’t isolate!
Meditation is more important than ever. Your mind needs regular training to stay focused and present. Coffee or other stimulants may seem to help, but in the long run they actually weaken your mind’s natural ability to concentrate. One study reports that, in the year 2000, the average human attention span was 12 seconds. In 2013, it had dropped to 8 seconds. And here’s the sad news: the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds. Goldfish are slightly better than us when it comes to focus!
We suggest simple techniques like following your breath, rather than complicated visualizations. And, whenever possible, limit your time in front of screens, like watching TV, Facebook, YouTube, being bombarded with virus news and other sensory overload. This is especially important if you work at home, watching your computer screen for hours on end.
Creativity. Do something creative every day, whether it is art, music, cooking (but not too much cooking!), writing, gardening, craft work, or anything to express yourself. Joyce and I are working on a new book. I’m writing songs. Joyce grows magnificent roses. Without creativity, the soul withers.
Be of service in a world that needs your love and help. Ask people if you can help them. Suggest specific ways. Even be creative in your acts of service. Support organizations that are helping in this time of greater need. Remember the words of Mother Teresa, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”
Get outside, especially in nature if you can. Walk next to trees to breathe their exhaled oxygen. Get your hands in the earth if you have a garden. There is much healing to be found in growing plants. Your body and soul need fresh air and exercise. If you can, give yourself several outdoor breaks a day.
Most importantly, be gentle with yourself. Do not expect to get more done just because you seem to have more time. Many of you actually have less time, like those of you working at home and watching your children at the same time. We have a very busy friend who, for many years, has looked forward to having more time so she could finally clean out a certain closet. Now she is quarantined in her home. Has the closet gotten cleaned? No. Other things are still more important.
Please don’t make this time about accomplishing more. Make it about loving and accepting yourself more.