Coping in the Time of COVID-19


It’s like a tsunami has hit us.

A large earthquake took place on the ocean floor in a faraway place, and now huge waves have traveled from that point to our shores.

Some of us are panicked. Others are shut-in and can’t bear the boredom. Some of us are sick and others are worried sick. Some of us are out working, confronting the virus constantly.

Thank you to those of you who are on the front lines helping all of us – from grocery clerks, to medical personnel, to our garbage men and women, to the people who make the internet possible.

We are determined, generous, inspired to help, heartbroken, afraid, overwhelmed, and tired of hand washing.

So how do we manage our stress and overwhelm in the face of this shocking circumstance we all find ourselves in?

An old Al-anon daily reader tells the story of a woman whose husband died one morning. When her minister visited her that afternoon, she told him she didn’t know what to do. He asked her, “What do you normally do at 4 p.m.”

“I have tea and do a crossword puzzle,” she murmured.

“Then do that,” he replied.

You can apply the same strategy to living in the time of Covid-19. If you want to take care of yourself as you normally would, do that. Concentrate on routines and rituals as best you can.

For starters, revisit your bariatric surgery guidelines and recommit to your healthy routines. Do the best you can. Get up when you “fall” and keep going. Get enough good nutrition, rest, exercise, water, supplements, and support.

My husband and I are staying at home, social distancing, and living a new normal. Sure, part of me wants to sit in front of the TV 24/7, eat cookies, and follow the COVID-19 story like it’s a medical miniseries. I just can’t stop watching, even though it’s upsetting me.

We’ll all have our own reactions to the circumstances in our world now. We’ll all need to find our own ways of coping. Here are 5 strategies to try in case they might help you and yours. If nothing else, they can provide a focus away from the crisis, if just for a while:

1. Just Breathe

When we are stressed, we don’t take slow, deep breaths. Focused deep breathing, however, is a great way to calm your nervous system, slow your racing thoughts, and change your focus. When we breathe deeply, we stimulate our vagal nerve and our system responds with physical relaxation and mental calm.

One way to do this is to settle, look down softly or close your eyes, and breathe in slowly 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts, and breathe out slowly for 8 counts. Do this several times, at least until you feel your body relaxing and the deeper breathing feels unforced.

If you are having trouble sleeping, breathing this way 10 times before bed will help you fall asleep.

During the day, if you can step outside into fresh air to do this, all the better. If you’ve got bored children, teach them how to do it, too. Check their heart rate before and after to make it more interesting for them.

2. Cultivate Curiosity

Curiosity is a great distraction from stressful thoughts and situations. You can use curiosity in many ways. You can do experiments (what happens if I do this?), you can research things (I wonder if there is a TED Talk on that topic?), you can figure out how something works (how does it do that?).

Walt Disney said, “When you’re curious you find lots of interesting things to do.” Bored children love following their curiosity, too.

3. Chop Wood, Sanitize Your Doorknobs

Chop Wood, Carry Water is one of the many books on mindfulness I have read over the years. Most of the wellness professionals I meet encourage mindfulness, and some of the old classics give real depth to the concept.

Mindfulness is a great tool to use when you are feeling like your life isn’t your own – when you feel hijacked. Mindfulness brings a sense of calm when you’re telling yourself you feel like your “whole life is ‘have to’.” (A line I love from the movie Parenthood.)

Lately, I’ve been thinking I have to wash my hands – again. I have to sanitize the doorknobs – again. I have to wear my mask – again.

In his wonderful book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh tells a story about a man who was frustrated by how his family was drawing his attention away from his work. The man felt like his life wasn’t his own. Through mindfulness, he learned to surrender and be fully present in each moment, rather than fighting it.

He fully gave himself to the time he spent with his daughter, instead of longing to be in his office working while he was playing Legos with her. (Because in that case he wouldn’t have been present with his daughter or been in his office.)

Choosing to be present to a given moment, rather than resisting it, is good for the soul. Therefore, when you are sanitizing the doorknobs, sanitize the doorknobs. Immerse yourself in the moment. Surrender to what is.

4. Serve Emotional Dessert

Emotional Dessert is defined as the things in life that feel as good as food tastes (and maybe even better!).

This concept is my way of encouraging you to notice what brings you calm, peace, joy, delight, and other positive emotions.

Examples from my life (and please feel free to write me about your examples):

One day I noticed I often choose clothes and jewelry that are turquoise. Once I realized how good that color makes me feel, I painted my office turquoise.

I love the sound of wind in the trees, so each morning when I take my dog out, I pause and listen intently to the leaves in the breeze. This practice is quite grounding for me.

There is a sitcom I love, which always makes me laugh, and I have watched it over and over again recently, instead of the news. Another show I love always makes me cry. When I need a good cry it’s the perfect choice for me. Laughing and crying without judging yourself can be healing. It releases stress.

One of my greatest joys is hearing my son laugh. When he is home for a visit, my husband and I especially love it when he laughs at us. He thinks it’s hysterical when we bicker – and it is. We all laugh until we cry. If you’re hunkered down with other people, set aside some time to laugh. Be creative. And it’s ok to cry together, too.

If you haven’t tried it, create some rituals to help you feel grounded. Rituals can be comforting, whether you create them with your family or friends, or do them on your own. If you can’t be together with people to do this, experiment with using Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime. It’s not ideal, but try to be present in the moment, rather than judging or resisting it.

Children are naturally drawn to rituals. I’m happy to brainstorm with you about what might work for you, your family, and/or your friends.

5. Give *and* Take

In really tough times, like we’re all in now, it’s important to remember we are a community. It’s important to give where we can and it’s just as important to receive. If you have a need, don’t hide it. Let someone know. “Taking” in this example is an act of self-love. You are worth it.

Remember, some people LOVE to give. You wouldn’t be putting them out if you ask for help, you’d be feeding their soul. Even strangers love to help, if you ask them.

My friend went grocery shopping a couple of days ago. She offered to pick up a few things for me. Instead of being embarrassed and thinking I should do my own shopping and not take advantage of my friend, I gleefully gave her a list, saying, “If it’s too much, just get the coffee and eggs.” But she got everything on list – except the toilet paper (they were out, haha!).

Another way to “take” is to ask for emotional support. You don’t have to go through this alone.

I am sending love and light to all of you. My email inbox is always open to receive your messages. If you need a kind word, moral support, or help brainstorming let me know.

Please take good care of yourself. Be with yourself. Wash your hands (and sanitize the doorknobs). And know you are loved.

If you are feeling depressed or anxious, if you are panicking or fearful and you can’t calm yourself or get centered, call your doctor. If you are feeling like hurting yourself, call 911 or the suicide hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255). It’s important to get the help you need ASAP.