These past few weeks have felt like a rapidly escalating nightmare. As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, it’s hard not to feel utterly rudderless, unsure of what’s coming next and unable to find a steady spot to shelter from the storm. In the space of two weeks I’ve gone from feeling complacent, to nervous to completely terrified.
For someone who already struggles with depression and anxiety, a global disaster on this scale is a hard pill to swallow. The feeling of general uneasiness that I have most days has morphed into downright terror and suspicion. To begin with I felt frightened of myself or my loved ones falling ill. On top of that, the last week it’s become clear that my job isn’t as secure as I thought it was. I’m seeing so many businesses crumble and so many friends lose jobs, and my bosses have made no secret of the fact that our business may not make it through this pandemic. The idea that the bedrock of my life: my health, my family, my job, could all be destroyed is chipping away at my mental health. Uncertainty is playing games with my mind, leaving me exhausted, hollow and afraid.
In a weird way, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in this. Everyone is frightened, everyone is worried about their jobs and families and everyone is feeling the sting of isolation. Because we’re all in the same boat, and we’re all feeling raw and tentative about what’s to come, I wanted to share some of the things that I’m doing to cope during this difficult time. It is my hope that it might help a couple of you to feel a little less hopeless and a little less afraid.
What I’m doing to cope with this pandemic:
- Social isolation. I’m reducing my contact with other people as much as possible. I’m only grocery shopping once a week, I’ve cancelled all social engagements and I’m avoiding public transport.
- Exercise. Moving my body is one of the most effective ways for me to manage my anxiety. Heart-pumping activities such as cycling or dance work off my nervous energy and give me a boost of endorphins. Yoga is grounding and relaxing and helps me to take my mind off my spiraling worries.
- Reminding myself that I haven’t done anything wrong, that what’s happening isn’t because of a mistake I’ve made or a reflection of my own value or worth. I tend to blame myself for bad fortune, and it’s been helpful to remind myself that I am not in the wrong here, that I haven’t caused anything that might happen.
- Keeping in touch with friends, family and my partner using Skype and text messages. Normally I feel exhausted from a full day interacting with people at work, and when I come home I just want to be a hermit. But I’m finding that I have more emotional bandwidth available for connecting with other people and checking in on them.
- Repeating the mantra “Nothing lasts forever”. This will pass. I’m not trying to be flippant about it, but there will come a day when this catastrophe is at its end. This mantra also helps me to feel less attached to things like my job or my current financial position, to understand that they might not be a part of my life forever.
- Knitting. Making things with my hands relaxes me and settles my jitters.
- Reading. I’m using this as an opportunity to dive into my to-be-read list and lose myself in some amazing stories. At the moment I’m reading Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton.
- Eating mindfully. I’ve stocked my cupboard and fridge with lots of nourishing food and some treats. I have a tendency to reach for sweets, salty treats and alcohol when I’m feeling low. I’m allowing myself to indulge a little, but before I reach for one of those crutch foods, I’m asking myself “Do I really feel like eating this or am I just looking for something to make me feel better?” If it’s the latter, I try to find a comforting activity to lift my mood.
- Recharging my batteries. In the last few months, I’ve worked incredibly hard and I’m feeling a little burned out. I’m trying to use this isolation time as a forced slow-down, trying to pack less into each day, to savour what I am doing and to rest.
- Thinking about the other difficult times I’ve weathered, and reminding myself that I survived every one of them. From the breakdown of relationships, to the death of family members, to being fired to having a stroke, I’ve managed to pick myself up each time and somehow come out even better on the other side of each disaster. I’m not trying to court tragedy, but rather remind myself that even if the worst should happen, I will make it out the other side.
So far, these tactics are working to help me get through this. Some days are more difficult than others, and uncertainty is not an emotion that sits easily with me. But all I can do is my best, to put one foot in front of the other and weather each day. We’re all in this together, and we can make it out the other side.
What are you doing to cope during this difficult time?