Based on what’s happening in other countries, right now we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg of the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on our nation.
We’ve searched our collective memories as well as researched U.S. history, and the time we find ourselves in is truly unique. Yes, we united during World War II and eventually emerged as a compassionate world leader. And after 9-11, we once again pulled together and adapted our ways of life to a strange world filled with terrorism.
Yet those experiences were, for good or bad, “us against them”; the “them” being other human beings with a different world view than ours. But now, our nation of 330 million citizens — and the world — is fighting a viral enemy that can only survive and do damage inside a host body. Inside of each of us — me, you, everyone.
As counties, states, and businesses make painful but necessary decisions to close schools and businesses, or work from home when feasible, and we are told to social distance or self-isolate for our own good as well as the good of others, how can we keep from going stir-crazy for weeks, and possibly months, at a time? And if you’re at a higher risk for serious illness from coronavirus because of your senior age status or a long-term health problem, it’s extra important for you to take action to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease.
Four Coping Skills
Of the myriad of coping skills we reviewed for this article, these four are the simplest and perhaps most important for each of us to practice to stay as healthy as possible during this unprecedented time of social distancing:
For adults, the importance of getting seven to eight hours of sleep is essential for good health and well being throughout life. Getting enough sleep helps protect our mental and physical health as well as quality of life and safety.
While we sleep, our body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain our physical health. For children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development. Our immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. It defends our body against foreign or harmful substances and can help us fight infections. When we don’t get enough sleep, we may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions and behavior, and coping with change.
Here are the National Institute of Health recommended amounts of sleep per age group:
- Infants aged 4-12 months: 12-16 hours a day (including naps)
- Children aged 1-2 years: 11-14 hours a day (including naps)
- Children aged 3-5 years: 10-13 hours a day (including naps)
- Children aged 6-12 years: 9-12 hours a day
- Teens 13-18 years: 8-10 hours a day
- Adults aged 18 or older: 7-8 hours a day
As our stress level increases—and there’s every reason to believe it will—it’s more important than ever to take time throughout the day to take a break, rest, and when necessary, calm ourselves. If we’re anxious, an easy exercise is taking a moment to slow down our breathing.
One way to do this is to inhale slowly to a count of four, hold it for a moment, and then exhale slowly to a count of four. If we do this a few times, we’ll notice our heart rate will slow down too. We can practice this at home or—when it is possible to be outdoors again—also practice this when at a stoplight, in line at the store; you get the idea.
Another way to relax is by watching short, mood-lifting videos (i.e., nature), or listening to enjoyable sounds (i.e., waves, rain, birdsong) or music. Remember, the second enemy to cope with in addition to the coronavirus is our anxiety and fears about the new pandemic. Stay calm, win the war!
Here are a few calming videos:
3. Moving your body
During isolation, it’s easy to overlook the fact that we probably aren’t as active as we were just the other day. Getting up and walking around, stretching, and continuing our regular exercise regimes as best we can is of greater value now than ever before. It is vital to have preset exercise times at home for you and all family members and to do them as if you were in a gym class.
If possible, when not quarantined, taking a walk or jog in nature is greatly beneficial for our physical and mental well being. But as municipal facilities, gyms, and other places temporarily close, it’s up to each of us to keep our bodies in shape in the coming weeks and months so we’re better prepared to cope with whatever lies ahead.
4. Connecting socially
This strange time of social distancing presents us with a unique opportunity that, although we’ve had it forever, we may have taken for granted: connecting with each other. It’s of paramount importance that we communicate with family members, friends, workmates, and especially people we know that are at a higher risk of contracting the coronavirus.
For those we’re close to, it's a chance to convey not only concern but also the love and gratitude we may express only on special occasions. This is no time to hold back! When appropriate, end conversations or text messages with “I love you,” bring up a fond memory you share with that person, or make plans to do something together when the threat is over. Then make sure you follow through.
Isolation can cause anxiety and depression and add to the stress we’re already experiencing. Sharing the positive ways we feel about others helps tremendously. And perhaps more importantly, helping alleviate someone else’s anxiety, depression, and stress is a beautiful, selfless act. Also send notes to all of your online contacts about your health status, as well as updating them on your projects of mutual interest, and asking what they are doing to enjoy their enforced solitude.
Keep calm, stay positive
Rather than being citizens of individual nations, the coronavirus presents us with the chance to unite in a way we haven’t really experienced: as global citizens. Unlike science fiction in days of yore, it isn’t Earth being “invaded” by beings from another world that can or will bring us together. It’s a microscopic, devastating virus, passed from person to person, that promises to bring out the best—or worst—in each of us.
So while we practice the tips above and hold on to the thought that this is temporary, let’s also own that the only person we can control is ourselves. Let’s be conscious that the way we act and react has, for good or ill, ripple effects. During this unprecedented time of stress and illness, let’s choose kindness, empathy, and compassion. Let’s choose wisely, and spread our positive ripple effect widely.
Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency. National Institute of Health.
Zimbardo, P., Sword, R., Sword, R.K.M. (2012).The Time Cure. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.