A Sanity Guide to the Pandemic
Two weeks ago I wrote a blog which challenged veterans to do what we were best at during our deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. In the spirit of that challenge, I am going to try and do the thing I am best at, encourage.
So here we are, week 3 of this quarantine, isolation, shelter in place, whatever you are calling it. At this point most of you are either hitting or are about to hit a wall. The honeymoon is over. The Tiger King high is about to come crashing down. Romanticizing about being in closed quarters with your family, roommates, friends is running out and now your patience is spread thin like too little butter on too much bread.
This is a different life than most of us have ever expected to live. There are a few of us, however, that have been through something that bears a little resemblance to what we now face. I have spent 21 months of my life on small, isolated outposts that were anywhere from 3-8 acres with the same people. When we left that cantonment area, we usually had to keep our distance from people for safety. Most of the day I saw and talked to the same 5-10 people. Cabin fever is a real thing that will impact nearly everyone going through this time of physical distancing and quarantine. Alas, do not despair, you can combat this and you can make it through this time and even be better on the other side!
I’d like to offer up and encourage you to take a few steps that will mitigate the anxiety, irritation, fear, and possibly hopelessness you may be feeling, or will feel soon.
1. Create a Routine
None of the things I’m going to recommend will matter one single bit if you don’t make a routine for at least yourself. If you are with your family, consider partnering with your spouse and putting one together for everyone. Integrate the recommendations below to make sure everyone can get some of what they need daily. Routines create expectations, expectations create dependability, dependability creates comfort. If a schedule works better for you, do that. Do NOT make a schedule for others. Schedules are rigid and allow for little flexibility for everyone, and everyone is going to need a little flexibility.
2. Do Something Physical
Listen, I’m not talking about going to run 5 miles everyday or anything like that. You can do that, sure, but most people are not going to. I’ve seen folks use old, rusty equipment and makeshift weights with sandbags and other building equipment. I’m not saying that you need to do that, either.
Keep it simple. Go outside and walk for 20-30 minutes. Body weight exercises are free and very effective. Pick three that cover most of your body. The best three I know and you can literally do anywhere are push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. Almost anyone of any level of capability can do them, start with what you can do whether that is 5 , 20, or 50 reps at a time, then do that 3-exercise rotation 3 times. I guarantee it won’t take more than 20 minutes.
I can spit a bunch of literal science at you about endorphins, dopamine, and boosting your immune system (That might be useful right now, huh?), but the easiest reason is the simplest one; you will never regret doing it, but will always regret not doing it.
Yes, it sounds hokey. No, it’s not what you think it is.
From the Mayo Clinic:
“During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.”
So a not-so-little secret is that combat deployments are stressful. Work days started at sun-up or before and ended way after the sun went down. The last six months of my deployment to Afghanistan were particularly stressful, there were way more questions on how to make things better in my area than there were answers and only half a year to get anything done. On top of that, we were hit by mortars or rockets every day, adding to the stress and frustration of everyone.
Full disclosure, I started out watching movies every night before I went to sleep. I loved it, because I love movies, but it only ever distracted me. It never got me to the place where I could see what was happening around me a little more clearly. We had two Air Force JTACs (the guys who talk to the planes for us) that lived on the roof on top of my headquarters. I would visit them every other day and talk to them while I practiced on a balance board, a board you balance on top of a cylinder. I got pretty good at it. So one night after I decided to stop working I didn’t go grab my computer and watch a movie, I grabbed my Ipod and climbed up to the roof.
I had one goal, stay balanced through the entire My Morning Jacket album, Z. I obviously didn’t succeed, but that’s not the point. I focused on one thing hard enough, which freed up my mind to organize the mess, stress, and negativity. During the day my mind wouldn’t allow me to see past a few miles of my surroundings, entangled in the concern of the threats in that space. From our outpost at night, I could see the landscape of the entire valley under the light of the moon, miles and miles away. The immensity of that view placed my concerns in the box where they belonged so I could deal with them where they were and not make them my entire world. I made it a habit, and it became my favorite part of each day.
So I say all of that to say this:
Find your meditation. There are some great apps out there that can guide you through learning how to sit and focus, but that isn’t for everyone. Gardening or yard work are great if you have those available (Two-fer, physical activity). Cooking, baking, or making can work for some, but it usually only works in things where you are already practiced and knowledgeable. Remember, it’s about reducing stress.
4. Do Something You Love or Learn Something New
You’re likely reading this one and saying “yeah, of course, duh…” One thing about driving down the road and anticipating that you might hit an IED, your sense of control is considerably reduced. Someone who wants to blow you up always gets a vote in how you are going to do the things you need to do. Our new reality isn’t so different.
Think about it, though. We’ve all been thrust into a new world. Even if you already worked from home before, now your family is there with you and presenting new challenges. Let’s face it, your grip on the control you thought you had on this life is suddenly a lot looser. You cannot just go where you want and do everything you need to anymore and for a while. For the good of most, many of us are electing to restrict ourselves.
The reasoning of why I recommend this might not be as clear, either. If you’re a parent or you work long hours, when was the last time you actually did something you love? Life has a way of shifting our priorities and we never go back and reevaluate for our own good. Getting back to that thing you love will quickly bring you back into a world where you are in control again, and you need that feeling if only for a little while.
On the other hand, learning something new provides a different sensation altogether. You would probably agree that the things you surround yourself with have gotten really familiar lately, too familiar, maybe even mundane. Learning a new hobby or skill will break up that monotony. Are you starting to lose your optimism? It’s okay to admit it to yourself, it happens to everyone. The small struggles and successes which are gained during the learning process are amazing sources of hope and dopamine.
Finally, if you are doing something you love or learning something new, bring your kids into it. If they see the passion you have for something, they are more likely to seek it for themselves and watching you fail and persist in learning sets a great example for them in school and pursuing the things they like.
5. Allow Yourself to Feel
All these recommendations are great ways to abate negativity, but we feel fear, anxiety, and uncertainty for very good reasons. They help us to remain vigilant for those around us and to maintain the purpose behind struggle, whatever that struggle may be for you. You must allow yourself to feel those things. Sometimes they will build to a boiling point and the tears will fall, let them. It’s okay to be vulnerable, we’re here to support each other. Be there to support someone that is feeling all this, let them express themselves (as long as they are in your group or 6 feet or more away if not). You may need it soon, too.
Feel for others as well. I share a great deal of empathy for what our medical professionals are facing now and what others will face before this is over. Essential service workers are still showing up to work everyday. Give encouragement if you can, if not, give thanks. Neither of them cost you a thing, and the smallest dose of each could be enough to make someone’s day.
This period is impacting many people in many ways. Our elderly may not be getting the visitation and supplies from family and friends which sustains them. 1 in 5 children depend on schools for the only two meals they get in a day. Most schools are doing everything they can to get those meals distributed, but some kids may not be able to pick them up. 70% of Americans have less than $1000 dollars in savings, many of whom are hourly workers that find themselves now without hours. Small businesses often operate in small margins and lending is scarce in our current market. We will all need to help each other before this is over, in one way or another, there’s a strong chance there are simple ways you can start doing so now.
I wouldn’t call this a survival guide, because it’s not. It’s more like a guide to keeping your sanity and helping all of us through this. You can do it, we all can. We’ve got this.
If none of that works, you could listen to a podcast...