As I write this article, it is Easter weekend 2020, after 28 days of “sheltering at home” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, closing schools, churches and businesses.
Like everyone in our community, we are all adjusting to how much our daily lives have changed in only a few short weeks. We seek to cope in ways we have never experienced: families pressed together need each other in new ways at home; fears of catching the COVID virus increase daily; jobs and livelihoods are challenged and finances uncertain; all while trying to remain calm and reasonable ourselves.
This is a tall order at the best of times.
Humans by nature are social beings. We feel better talking to and physically touching others. Even introverts need this. Being connected boosts our mental and physical health, and because that is limited right now, we feel alone, worried, anxious and depressed.
Even the most optimistic people are experiencing worry and depression. We wonder what “normal life” will be like post-pandemic, and when that will happen.
Here’s what I am learning during this difficult time and what I hope to carry forward once we are out in the world again. These things encourage my mental wellness, and I hope yours, too.
This pandemic spotlights that we in this community are experiencing the same as others around the world: We live on a very small planet and our behaviors DO affect each other in many ways. For today, I choose to offer positive rather than negative thoughts in hopes that you may also benefit and pay them forward. I believe more deeply now that being kind, gentle and caring to another can heal both of us in small ways. Surprisingly, I am less self-critical of myself because I see others are just like me, at times anxious, scared and depressed.
In isolation, I have a simpler life and fewer busy days to distract me, so I am doing different things. I am walking in my neighborhood, waving and talking to people from across the road, which increases my appreciation of community beyond Facebook and Twitter feeds. I now feel a sense of belonging and connect differently than what can be provided through text messages. I avoided video calls before, and now recognize they help me bond with others in a way that voice calls do not.
I am forced to slow down my day, too, because everything seems to take longer. I notice I don’t need to be entertained 24/7 and am bored watching movies and online clips. Instead, I read a book, listen to birds sing and look at the stars above at night. I enjoy laughing with my family cooking together or playing a game of cards. And when I feel irritable with my family, I enjoy a bit of alone time to calm my nerves and regroup so we can spend time together without arguments.
Finally, I am learning to focus on living right now, on this day, in this moment. I like living in the present because it is less hectic and there is less worry, and I feel each day is full of only the important things. I cannot imagine how life will be as we venture out into our communities again, but it is my hope to carry this focus forward.
Laurel Kramer is a licensed psychologist who works in behavioral medicine at SSM Health Medical Group.