Remember this is a special moment – and go easy on yourself

Of all the things I’ve said since this stupid thing began – and I’ve said a lot – this is the one that stays with me. It’s something I said to my kids and then got quoted by a reporter. It occurred in the one time I’ve been to Harrisburg since the pandemic began, and that was for changing the House rules to allow for remote voting.

In the article, I was voting from my office and being interviewed by a reporter. I was just musing over the incredible strangeness of the entire situation, and I said:

This is so bizzare. I went for a walk with my kids the other day and I said, ‘I want you kids to remember this because I know it’s strange and scary. But one, we’re going to get through it, and two, your kids and grandkids will ask you what was it like to live through the coronavirus pandemic.’

I had said it to my kids the day before and I meant every word. I was trying to make sure my kids – 8 and 7 – understood the incredible uniqueness of the situation. None of us have ever lived through anything like this before. When we saw a deadly plague in some fiction book, it was quick and brutal. Not…locked in your house.

But, as has been noted by many people smarter than me, this time period is incredibly frightening. Even for those of us who are lucky enough to still be employed, it is stressful and anxiety-inducing. And it’s causing incredible stress and feelings of inadequacy. For example. Common thoughts and fears:

  • I’m stuck in my house – why am feeling so much pressure?
  • How am I going to educate my kids and do my job?
  • What happens if I get sick?
  • I can’t adjust to working this way!

An example? My poor wife (I am sharing this with her permission). She has been very (and understandably) stressed about teaching. She teaches in my local school district and switching the way you teach – in a time-pressure way, when you haven’t been trained until a few weeks ago – is awful. She is nervous about doing a good job and reaching her students appropriately.

I have said to her the same thing I’ll now say to all of you: You do the best you can. I have lost tons of sleep worrying about family, friends, and constituents. We all have. I think the best thing we can do is acknowledge that this is a special moment. Are our kids going to be okay? Yeah, most likely, they will. Will they be behind in school? I mean, compared to where they would have been in a world where some guy didn’t interact with a bat or something, yes. But compared to other kids? Probably not! And even if they are: That’s okay!

People. This is a literal plague. It is a life-taking, economy-wrecking, socially-life-destroying plague. You don’t have to write the next great American novel. You don’t have to start a new instrument, clean your house from top to bottom or personally reshingle your roof. You can just get through it, and that’s more than enough.

Acknowledge that this is a specially painful moment. And don’t judge yourself too harshly.

 

What can you learn from those who are doing better today?

This is a question that I have seen pop up from time to time, and I thought it was worth asking.

First, the obvious: Virtually everyone in the country, if not the modern world, has seen a massive degree of disruption and pain as a result of the Coronavirus. That disruption is likely to continue for some time. Work schedules have been disrupted, unemployment has shot through the roof, and millions around the world will likely be sickened by this disease before we get it under control. As I type this entry, 886,000+ people have been sickened with Corona, and 44,200+ have died. Those numbers are unquestionably low. And they will rise much, much higher before this is all said and done.

As I mentioned in my entry on Saturday, I’ve been grateful for many things, with a particular emphasis on the extensive amount of time that has been placed on helping people who are going to suffer emotionally as a result of the quarantine, economic disruption and more. Sadly, this is happening, and with tragic results. In my area, we just had a murder-suicide of someone who was apparently distressed over the pandemic and his job loss.

Let me take this issue, then, and turn it on its head. We spend a ton of time in the mental health world discussing all the things that are wrong. What about the things that are right?

So, here’s the magic question: What can we learn about people who are doing better, emotionally, as a result of the Coronavirus?

Believe it or not, they are out there. But my observation is that they almost entirely have a certain set of circumstances. Some we can learn from, some we can’t, and some will have you yelling at me for stating the obvious.

  • They are economically secure. It’s almost impossible to be in an emotionally secure place when your finances are in the air. So, these are folks who are either independently wealthy or have no financial worries in the near future.
  • The quarantine has made positive changes to their schedule. That means that they are glad they are stuck at home, but still getting paid.
  • The like the fact that they suddenly have so much free time. They suddenly can pursue passion projects, write the next Great American Novel, learn how to play the guitar or are otherwise in some sort of position of privilege.
  • Odds are good that they have been able to enjoy the outdoors more than usual, and they are happier about that.

What are the lessons from this, besides the obvious conclusion that being born wealthy and in a position of privilege is awesome for your mental health?

Seriously, there are more. The broader conclusion is both societal and individual.

Here it is: Society and culture matters for our mental health. Folks, if you’re in a job that you can’t stand, and suddenly you can’t go and you feel better, well…maybe that speaks volumes about your job. And maybe that shows just how important external factors are towards determining your mental health. I think this is something we forget about. Too many of us lay the blame for our mental illness on ourselves: Our upbringing. Our genetics. Our brains. Maybe, just maybe, your job sucks, and it makes you depressed.

The broader conclusion, and the lessons I hope we can learn from this, is that certain changes in our lifestyle and in the way we chose to live our lives can make us happy. That’s not to say that it’s time to hop in the car and drive to Mexico, screaming “ADIOS!” all the way down South.

But it is to say that you have to understand how real-life affects your real life. And I hope you can use this time to take advantage of whatever the quarantine is teaching you.

Corona is frightening – here’s how to avoid freaking out

Yeah, I can’t lie, I’ve been stressed about Corona too. As I type this on Saturday morning, 103,739 people have the disease and 3,522 have died. By the time you read this, sadly, both of those numbers will have increased.

Corona is obviously having major ramifications on the world economy, and economists have noted that the potential for this disease to harm our wallets is extremely high. The federal government isn’t exactly doing a bang-up job of instilling confidence in their ability to fight back against this disease, with the President and his staff regularly boasting that the disease is contained when we know that just isn’t true.

An objective look at the facts makes it very likely that the disease is only going to get worse. And, if you have a mental illness, this is likely enough to cause no shortage of panic or anxiety. I had a regularly scheduled appointment with my therapist the other day and asked him if Corona was coming up more often in sessions; he said yes, absolutely.

I certainly can’t blame anyone for being stressed about a potential worldwide pandemic. It is frightening, and even more so if you have a health condition that may make you more prone to becoming ill. That being said, I think that it is important that we keep the coronavirus in perspective and avoid treating it like a death sentence. There are some things we can do to maintain our mental health during this outbreak. Here’s a look.

Focus on what you CAN do

Anxiety – at least to me – is largely about control. I always feel most anxious in situations where I am somehow powerless or helpless, and I know that this is a relatively common theme. Corona is so frightening precisely because it seems as if you have so little control.

Look, that’s not exactly true. There are some things – many things – you can do right now. As noted by governmental officials, you should be:

  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands for 2 minutes and multiple times a day, avoid touching your face.
  • Don’t travel to areas with noted outbreaks.
  • Stock up on your emergency kits in the event that there is a disruption of day to day activities.
  • Make plans for you and your family or work in the event that someone gets sick.
  • Research the Coronavirus for symptoms. They appear to be flu-like symptoms.
  • Only get your news from reputable sources. Read something on Twitter? Don’t believe it unless you can confirm it.

And once you do that: Stop. You’re okay. If you are doing everything you can to prevent Corona…well, good! You got this.

Recognize that anxiety has a use

This Lifehacker article on the subject absolutely nails it: Anxiety serves an evolutionary purpose. Yes, anxiety disorders are clearly not helpful, but remember, the purpose of anxiety is to keep you on your toes for any perceived threat. A bit of anxiety over a global pandemic is not a bad thing! It helps ensure that you are keeping informed of developments about the virus and that you don’t take this disorder too lightly.

When you’re feeling anxious, don’t try to suppress it. Try to logic your way through it. Ask yourself:

  • What is the threat? Is there any immediate threat?
  • Are you doing what you can to prevent and prepare for Corona?
  • What do the authorities recommend that you do right now?
  • Do you have an emergency plan?

If you’ve answered these questions satisfactorily, then you’re probably more prepared than the vast majority of society to deal with Corona. Congrats!

Limit your news intake

Throw CNN and Foxnews out the window.

Okay, don’t do that. But remember, the purpose of many news stations isn’t just to keep you informed. It’s to panic you so you need to constantly be turning the news on. These guys profit off of your fear, and yes, they have their use, but don’t sit there, staring at CNN, waiting for the next BREAKING NEWS ALERT (“Wolf Blitzer is coughing, what does this mean!?!?!”). Watch the news at regular intervals, certainly. Stay informed. But at some point, turn the damn TV off.

Of course, there are more tips, and I’d love to hear whatever your recommendations are for staying calm during a viral outbreak. Any tips you want to share with us? Leave them in the comments below!