First came social distancing and then orders to stay at home. As of this writing, about 90% of Americans have been told to hunker down. Globally, about one-third of the world is under lockdown. Here's what we’re discovering about ourselves so far.
1. We are learning to slow down.
Just weeks ago, we were traveling to sports games and exercise classes, hair and vet appointments, and making endless trips back and forth to wherever we wanted. We didn’t know what we were missing out on because this was our routine, and we were not alone.
With one announcement of “stay at home,” our lives were shut down.
The frantic pace of busy lives has come to a screeching halt because of COVID-19. We have gone from a calendar full of activities and events—from the time we get up in the morning until the time we go to bed—to not leaving the house.
Having everyone home at the same time and the lack of a structured schedule are creating a new type of chaos—one we're just not used to. It will take time for everything to settle down and for our bodies to adjust to a different paradigm (and possibly a slower pace).
There’s also an opportunity to take advantage of this slow-down—to breathe, reflect, nurture, prioritize. For many, it’s become a time to find focus in the little things in life, like:
Enjoy the pace and smell the roses.
2. We are expressing gratitude.
Even when awful things are happening, there are reasons for gratitude. We know from research that a daily practice of gratitude can help us reduce stress, sleep better, and be healthier. Psychologist Lea Waters says gratitude is linked to higher levels of optimism, lower levels of stress and depression, better physical health, and it’s even linked to a better immune system response. Right now, we all know how important it is to boost our immunity levels.
Also, having a sense of “home” is very important. We won’t take for granted those places that provide us with feelings of security and protection, comfort and joy. Home can be in the city, suburbs, country, or anywhere you live. A sense of home can be at work too—a place where you feel you belong and that connects you to a larger community.
Gratitude doesn’t mean ignoring the tragic things happening; instead it’s about recognizing that there are still good things in life. Waters says a simple way to practice gratitude is to answer this question: What went well? Ask this question of yourself, your family, and your significant other.
3. We are getting good at “distant socializing.”
We’ve been able to turn around the negative phrase “social distancing” that is connected to the spread of a virus to “distant socializing.” This new way of maintaining social connections while physically apart is unfamiliar to a lot of people but necessary for our mental health.
We need each other, even if our connections have gone high-tech. Experiments show that the support of loved ones softens people’s response to stress and even their brains’ response to painful electric shocks. By contrast, loneliness is psychologically poisonous; it increases sleeplessness, depression, as well as immune and cardiovascular problems. In fact, according to Douglas Nemecek, MD, chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna, chronic loneliness produces a similar mortality risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
People who admittedly are not tech-savvy are jumping in and learning ways to connect with loved ones and work virtually. There are so many ways we can connect: online virtual games, group video happy hours, work team chats, Facetime, and traditional phone calls. We’ve seen drive-by birthday parties, neighborhood parades, and even rooftop concerts. Any way we can reach out and make someone smile is worth the effort.
4. We are showing how much we care.
Now is the time to get real, be authentic and vulnerable, and show it to the world. We’re checking in with each other to offer support. Despite reports we’ve seen over-buying at stores and hoarding, people are making sure their neighbors have food.
When it became clear that medical staff were short of personal protective equipment (PPE), people and organizations donated what they had on hand—or are sewing new ones.
Asking for help is a sign of strength—it simply means you don’t have all the answers or resources you need. If you find it hard to ask for help, start by saying, “I’m struggling,” advises Amy Morin, author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. If you don’t ask, others may not know about your need.
5. We are laughing and smiling.
This pandemic is serious stuff, and we are bombarded with the media and a constant stream of messaging that’s updated every minute on the spread of the virus. We need to take things seriously. But, for our mental health we also need to make sure we are taking breaks and allowing ourselves to smile, laugh, and have fun.
Here are some links to help you stay positive and even make you laugh:
Solidarity during crisis is what has always gotten people through tough times. It’s what we need now too—whether that’s sharing a gallon of milk, a mask, a phone call, or even a joke.