This coronavirus has brought all manner of upheaval to our lives. We’re facing unknown territory. How long will this last? How long will we be consigned to our homes or working in more or less hazardous situations, or facing unemployment unable to pay bills and unable to visit loved ones? Can my business or work place even survive this? What if I or one of my family gets sick or, for an expectant mother, will there be space for me at the hospital? Will it be safe? Many worry about the health care workers putting themselves and families at risk in order to help. Will we ever get back the life we knew before?
The losses are many: financial, schooling, delayed surgeries, funerals without family and friends, community events, delayed careers, vacations, and spending time with friends. Generally, life as we knew it. Many have been faced with tough decisions, like when to reschedule a wedding, which is very stressful. When will it be safe – June, August, or longer?
Many react to stressors like this virus with symptoms of anxiety, fear, depression, obsessive worry, racing thoughts, poor sleep and/or irritability. For people with prior mental health issues, this situation just makes it worse.
On top of all this we must adhere to new behaviors like frequent handwashing, not touching your face. and social distancing. This exacerbates pre-existing compulsive habits. Some families who are under extreme stress due to loss of income coupled with managing young children at home will be at higher risk for family violence.
Despite these challenges, there are ways to cope, to mitigate the losses and anxieties. I have been in awe of what folks have come up with to stay occupied and sane, some even learning new ways of being that are calmer and slower. Here are a few strategies shared with me:
• Make an effort to limit exposure to virus related news or Facebook posts to 30 minutes a day. That is more than enough.
• I remind myself that I trust God and I read the Bible to calm myself.
• I find solace in being outside. Nature’s source of renewal is endless, especially in the Spring. The warmth of the sun on my skin and the beauty in the flowers comforts me.
• Gardening is a healing space and this year I’m trying some new things, like eggplant.
• Reading has always been a good way to remove myself from worries and now I have lots of time to read.
• I’ve thrown myself into major spring-cleaning, doing projects I haven’t had time for in years. I end up feeling really good about what I’ve accomplished.
• Staying connected with family and friends is critical. Seeing them on FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype is even better.
• When getting anxious, I remind myself to pay attention to my breathing, to slow it down and repeat calm, healing phrases to myself. This really helps.
• What is happening today reminds me of childhood when everything was slower and simpler. I allow myself to get lost in pleasant memories. I may write a story about those days or, at least work with old photo albums.
• What helps me most is to find ways to help others – it’s the best distraction. I pick up groceries for seniors and I am planting more than I’ll need so I can give vegetables away.
• I make little gifts to send to others, especially people living alone.
• I’m learning how to cook better. It’s a whole new skill and my husband is appreciative. Good meals are a blessing.
• I’ve started doing crossword puzzles. It’s my new favorite hobby!
• Taking photographs while out in nature or doing artwork takes my mind to a calm place. And, then I’ll have photos and art to submit to the Friends of the Locust Fork River’s 2020 Art & Photo contest. See the rules at www.flfr.org.
What I’ve learned is the resilience and creativity of the Blount County community. Yes, there are more difficult days ahead, but it is clear we will survive and thrive in spite of COVID-19.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this article by sharing their stories with me.