COVID-19: Coping with uncertainty

In a relatively short time span the world as we know it has turned upside down. Life is not the same. Stuck in our homes, we can only venture out for short walks, shop for food, and get medicine.

'Everything is in disarray'  (photo credit: JOAN DRAGONFLY/FLICKR)
'Everything is in disarray'
We all have had moments in our lives when things are uncertain. Uncertainty creates stress, anxiety and worry. In most cases, the uncertainty resolves itself or we learn to adapt and are able to manage it. 
However, the coronavirus is a horse of a different color. Why is this so? Simply put, we really do not know what to expect.

In a relatively short time span the world as we know it has turned upside down. Life is not the same. Hunkered down in our homes, we can only venture out for short 100-meter walks, shop for food, get medicines, and (in some instances) go to our workplaces to provide permitted essential services, according to Health Ministry directives. 

The policy of social distancing enables us to take measures to slow down the virus, but it also creates loneliness, and for many, severe anxiety and depression.

As we wait for answers concerning the flattening of the curve and progress toward finding effective medicines and a vaccine, we continue to feel quite uncertain about the future. Although some are able to maintain their employment from home, many others are unemployed and have no idea how they will survive economically.

People - both young and old who have pre-existing medical conditions or compromised immune systems - are terrified. Moreover, older folks, especially those who live alone, are really suffering. They are unable to see children and grandkids at a time in life when these relationships are so vital. 

I have put together some tips to help safeguard your emotional well-being. Here are some coping strategies that can lessen stress and anxiety during this pandemic:

1. Self-care - Get sleep, eat well and engage in some kind of movement every day. Taking walks is an extremely good way to manage stress. I have seen people walking the 100-meter limited walks many times over to complete a 20-minute walk! For the first time in my life, at the encouragement of my wife, I did an on-line aerobic exercise activity to replace my gym workouts, and to my surprise, it was great. You may also want to try deep breathing techniques, meditation or mindfulness exercises. Some people find yoga a perfect home exercise. 

2. Don’t judge your anxieties and worries or those around you too harshly - I tell my clients that these are not normal times. Everything is in disarray. Classes have canceled, wedding plans put on hold, and most of us have been forced to change our Seder night and Passover plans. In other words, do not berate yourself or others for feeling upset or anxious. Acknowledge and accept your feelings and the feelings of others, and most importantly, talk about them. Expressing those feelings will make you feel better.

3. Put aside your pride - Do not let pride get in the way of asking for help with shopping for food or medicines if you cannot get out. Many older people or those with pre-existing medical conditions are too proud to ask for help when they need it most. Now is the time to ask. Put your pride to rest.

4. Stay connected - virtually - My family, scattered throughout the country, has already had some very nice Zoom (online real-time video conferencing) meetings. Online video talks really do help to overcome the feeling of loneliness. My private-practice clients were relieved to learn that they could continue their therapy sessions online. Rabbis have given permission for older people living alone to set up a video conference link before Passover begins and virtually join the Seder of family members in another location. It would be a good idea to consult with your rabbi to get more details about this. This creative idea will help many.

5. Accept what you cannot control - Get used to the idea that you and everyone else have lost a lot of control over aspects of your life. Give up being very upset about this reality. Remind yourself and others that although we do not know exactly when this will change, we do know that it is time-limited. My advice is to concentrate on the things that you can control such as cooking a meal, calling a friend, reading a book or starting your day with a workout.

6. Stay informed with facts but avoid information overload - It is important to stay informed about the new policies being implemented and updated guidelines you should follow. However, do not overload yourself with too much information and media exposure. Constant news consumption can fuel your anxiety and put you on overload.

7. Be silly and try to have some fun - During these days, it may sound counter-intuitive, but try to focus on some of the lighter things. There are many jokes and video clips going around that can make you laugh. Laugh! Enjoy them. Try to watch some good movies. My recommendation is choose your movies carefully, putting “feel-good” movies on top of the list. There is nothing like a good comedy or some Seinfeld reruns.

8. Be grateful for what you have - No matter what you are feeling or facing, this might be an excellent time to take stock in what is going right for you and your family. This is a good time to tell your friends and family how much you appreciate them. When they reciprocate, feel gratitude. Focusing on the things that are going well always makes people feel better.

9. Create some routine that you can control - It’s amazing how many people have told me that they are getting into an organized daily routine, in spite of the fact that they are stuck at home. Look for opportunities to catch up on the backlog of things that you wished you had more time to do. Do not sit around feeling sorry for yourself. Get busy; routines make us feel happier. 

10. Spirituality - I believe that prayer can help many people get through this difficult time. It is a good time to share your fears and anxieties and requests with the highest power. Those who are able to do so report tremendous benefit from having faith in God. 

While uncertainty about the coronavirus pandemic is weighing us all down, practicing effective coping skills can help you to stay strong during the difficult days ahead. Let us hope our uncertainty about this virus will not last too much longer! 

The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana., [email protected]