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Coping with COVID-19
I’ve completed 9 marathons on a handcycle, and I’ve come up with a few things I can count on. Invariably, the early morning and nearly freezing cold of the start line. After the start of the race, there is certain exhilaration that comes with the burn of not only my arms but my whole body, followed by the 26.2-mile push to the finish. In all the races, right around mile 16 is where the adrenaline starts to wear off and the monotony of my movements starts to catch up with me. As I push myself into the early double digits of miles traveled, I think “I’ve been doing this for so long. I’m at least at mile 20,” only to push past a marker for mile 14.
So far, the year 2020 reminds me of that mile marker at 14. I love marathons and I’m grateful to be living this year, but both of them just take forever. We’re at least in the September month, right? Nope – it’s still May. Working from home, social distancing, the absence of dine-in restaurants, and not being able to go to the gym are on the top of my list of things that are making this year seem like forever.
The biggest hit I’ve taken from all the social distancing and quarantine is the loss of my routine. My routine consisted of social interactions at church on Sunday, weekly friend gatherings at my house on Wednesdays, going to my parents’ house for family dinners, and making plans on the weekends. Now, since March, I’ve had to find substitutes for those pleasures, from the sanctuary of my home. As much as I’m loving this intensive one-on-one time with my dog, a change of scenery would be nice.
To add to being stuck inside, honestly, I’m sad. I’m sad for the people and families affected by the virus, and I’m sad about the fear that hangs over our world like a storm cloud. I’m likely preaching to a choir when I say that my sadness comes from not only fear about the state of the world, but the uncertainty of it all. Throw in the isolation, change of routine, and my overall feeling of powerlessness, and sadness can me take over.
I’ve come up with a routine, of sorts, that allows me to not let give those feelings control but, contrary, hold them back a little bit. In regard to my sadness, I’m in the business of healing and dealing. Here are a few tips:
1. Acknowledge it.
Everywhere I turn, it seems like people are talking about coronavirus; social conversation revolves around life during COVID; our inboxes are inundated with emails about how companies are “responding to the crisis;” and the news is constant chatter about what the world looks like amid pandemic. That is to say that it’s near impossible to not acknowledge what’s going on. When I say that “we need to acknowledge it,” I mean that we need to surrender to the lack of control that we’re all feeling, and remember that the whole world, literally, is in this together. The ability to realize your emotions, show compassion for yourself, and figure out a way to cope alongside millions of people is the first, and arguably most important, step in maintaining your mental health.
2. Be informed, but not submerged.
I’ve learned this one the hard way. When this all started, I fell into the trap of constant news coverage and perpetual COVID conversations, until I recognized I was diving headfirst into the deep end of sadness. It’s important to stay informed, we all agree on that, but dwelling in it will take a serious toll on your mental health. I suggest limiting your indulgence of the hysteria to a designated time (or a couple of times) a day, then tuning back out. That can look like watching the nightly news, subscribing to an email news summary, or listening to a daily media podcast – enough so you know what’s going on, but not enough to be consumed by it.
3. Tune into your body, then move it.
I’m also speaking to myself when I say: you can’t eat yourself out of this pandemic. Salt and vinegar chips and I have tried and, trust me, nothing changed.
“Tuning in” can mean anything from being aware of what your body needs, to how you’re feeling, to how you’re exercising it. After I put down the chips, I tried using the excuse of “I can’t work out because my gym is closed.” That’s an easy excuse but, you have to admit, it’s also a cheap one. Remember: outside. You might have to wear a mask to do it, but the weather is starting to get warm. Gone are the days that it’s too cold for a bike ride, a walk around the neighborhood, or a run around the front yard.
Meditation is another way to tune in. As much as I’ve never been able to get into it, I’m a full supporter of people who can sit down and meditate. There’s no arguing its benefit in quieting your body’s stress response. If you’re one of the people who knows how and is willing to meditate, that’s another great way to tune in.
4. Maintain structure and set a goal.
Two things that have helped me tremendously during my quarantine, going hand-in-hand, are maintaining structure in my days, and setting a goal. In my case, I wake up early, eat breakfast, and go straight to my computer to write for at least an hour. I’m working on material for my next book and I don’t have a deadline to push me forward, so motivation is my goal for every day. If I don’t have a “write for one hour” or “finish one chapter” goal to work toward, I’m likely to procrastinate all the way into bedtime.
The commitment it takes to reaching a daily goal, in return, gives back some of the structure I lost when quarantine started. I’m trying my best to not let all this time at home turn me into a potato, figuratively, so sticking to some kind of routine has been of great importance.
We’re told we have to stay in our houses and keep a 6-foot distance when we do have to be in public, but at least it’s the year 2020 and we have other ways to connect with people. I may have lost going to church, friends on Wednesdays, and dinners with my family, but I am able to tune in to online church service, get on weekly Zoom calls with said friends, and have virtual family dinners via Facetime. I’m not able to make as-exciting weekend plans, but virtual happy hour is definitely a thing people are doing. I haven’t gotten to the point that I’m texting my ex-boyfriends, but I have reconnected with friends I’d lost touch with. Most of us have time to respond to text or calls and, being that socializing is more of a luxury than an assumption these days, we’re thirsty for human connection. That, or we’re just bored. Either way, it’s bringing us together.
In the same vein, reaching out to a therapist is easier than ever. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and it’s impacting your mood significantly, counselors are ready to connect with you over the phone or webcam. All the stigma around seeking help is gone because you can do it from the comfort of your home and, as long as you don’t stand up, you don’t have to put on pants.
There are a lot of things, especially now, to feel sad about. It’s so important to find a routine that works for you and that will give you back some normalcy and happiness. Remember that we’re climbing out of this one together. You might be sad, but this only temporary. Hang in there.
Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of a book, Greater Things, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at https://kristinbeale.com/. Her comics can be found on Instagram @Greater.Things.Comics.
For more resources on the coronavirus, visit the Reeve Foundation COVID-19 Information Center.