The Everyday Stress Of Surviving A Pandemic

Pandemics can be stressful. At least that’s what I’ve been told; this is my first one.

Fear and anxiety about COVID-19 and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. Social distancing can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. However, these actions are necessary to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Wearing a mask; not wearing a mask. Public safety. Personal freedom. I will get sick. I won’t get sick. CDC statistics. My cousin Steve’s statistics. The debate continues.

Those last 89 words are the cause of much of my daily stress. Since we reopened on July 6, I am finding ways to cope with stress in a healthy way. Doing so will make me stronger – emotionally and physically. I recommend that you take a moment and collect your thoughts when your stress is building. Remaining calm can help you focus on the things you can control and not dwell on things you can’t.

Even after reading that sage advice – even after speaking that sage advice – and even after thinking about that sage advice, I hear my wife’s voice saying, “Pottle!” She shortens the “pot calling the kettle black” idiom when I’m guilty of the very thing I’m telling others to adhere to. Basically, she made up a word that sounds nothing like the word “hypocrite.”

I’m blessed to have someone to help balance out my life and keep me from falling into a deep, dark, depressing and destructive psychological COVID hole.

It is normal to feel stressed or overwhelmed during uncertain times. Emotions in response to uncertainty may include anxiety, fear, anger and sadness. You also could feel helpless, discouraged and occasionally out of control.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, stress during an infectious disease outbreak can sometimes cause:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job or loss of support services you rely on;
  • Changes in sleeping or eating patterns;
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating;
  • Worsening of chronic health problems;
  • Worsening of mental health conditions;
  • Increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances;
  • Trouble focusing on daily activities;
  • Anxiety that turns into feelings of being out of control;
  • Strong feelings that interfere with daily activities;
  • Having emotions that become difficult to manage;
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.

The Importance Of Self-care

What I have learned the past four months is the importance of self-care. Practicing self-care does not mean you are choosing yourself over your loved one. Self-care doesn’t mean that you are selfish.

Self-care is simple. It is taking the time to care about yourself – what I call “a little me time.”

I struggled with that sentiment but soon discovered that taking care of myself is the opposite of being selfish. Then a good friend explained it in terms I could understand. On an airplane, the flight attendants tell us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first before we help others. Why? If you’re unconscious, you are no good to anyone else. So, absolutely, support others, but take care of yourself first.

During these unprecedented times of self-quarantine and social distancing, we must all take steps to ensure we stay healthy. Experts from the CDC and the Mayo Clinic offered the following advice:

  • Find a healthy balance – Limit the time you listen to news about the virus and instead participate in healthy activities. It’s important to engage in a lifestyle that encourages resilience and a healthy balance between work and home life. I took this to heart. Before the coronavirus, I regularly worked 10-to-12-hour days and still didn’t get everything done. Now I work and, when I get home and after we prepare dinner, I tend to my vegetable and herb garden for an hour or two.
  • Keep perspective – Use reliable sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization to find your information. Being educated can help relieve anxiety and speculation. I’d like to think I’m educated and informed on operating a senior activity center in the midst of a pandemic. I listen to the sage advice of physicians, researchers and public health experts. I don’t just take someone’s word for it based on a Facebook post, what I overhear while filling up the car with gas or what the checker at the grocery store tells me.
  • Take care of your body – Stress can impact many parts of our bodies and can cause shortness of breath, sore muscles and even fatigue. To avoid these side effects, it’s important to take care of your body. Deep breathing, meditation and yoga all can help. The BA Senior Center has five or six exercise classes a day – including four yoga classes during the week. If you can’t come to the Center, our instructor has recommended courses so you can participate at home.
  • Exercise regularly – It’s an important part of staying both physically and mentally healthy. Exercise doesn’t have to consist of a complicated workout routine at the gym. It can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking or biking instead of driving. Daily exercise produces stress-relieving hormones and improves your general health. This is essential and is best done outside before the day gets too hot. Get your heart rate up, whether it is at the Center or at home. Even better, do it with a friend, partner or spouse.
  • Eat healthy foods – It will give your body fuel to exercise. By eating mostly unprocessed foods, you can lower your risk of chronic illness and stabilize your energy and mood. When the pandemic hit, I tried to eat my feelings. I might have eaten 10 pounds of jelly beans in one week in April. Thanks to having vegetables right out my back door and a spouse who loves to cook with me – I’m the sous chef and she’s the chef – eating healthy is easier.
  • Get enough sleep – It’s important in maintaining your physical and mental health. People generally require seven to nine hours of sleep to stay healthy. Turning off your phone and TV about 30 minutes before you go to bed can help you sleep better. Honestly, I have to work on this one. I’m lucky to get five or six hours of sleep a night. I blame it on my wife’s cats – they’re hers, but they like me best.
  • Avoid risky or destructive behaviors – Avoid abusing alcohol or drugs, excessive gambling or ignoring public health recommendations. Check. Check. Check. And check.
  • Spend time outside – Go for a walk in the park, but follow social distancing guidelines. I’ve seen neighbors walking with masks; at the beginning of the pandemic, I made masks at home and passed them out to those who wanted or needed them. We even hang a mask on the front door that we can put on when we go outside or answer the door.

Moving forward, we all need reliable information to understand how best to address our overall health and well-being.

Part of practicing self-care is protecting yourself and others. To that end … wear a mask! You wear a mask to protect others from you – not to protect yourself.

Just do it. That way I won’t get stressed out.