Yesterday my body panicked. I couldn’t settle down to work. My legs wanted to run, my throat wanted to scream, my arms wanted to flail and punch. I was angry, and scared. My brain knew I was doing the best I could–I have been staying at home in our place in the mountains since last Monday with a (different) virus–but my body didn’t care. It was feeling threatened and scared of dying and it just needed to go nuts for a bit. So, since I am staying in the middle of nowhere, I screamed, and kicked and punched and got some of it out, and then I could focus on work.
You may be feeling some sort of fear or anger too. It is very likely that everyone is, if they are honest with themselves. This is entirely unexplored territory for us. We don’t know how bad it’s going to get, how many people are infected, how long it’s going to last, how many people have been exposed but don’t have symptoms. We are just stuck in our homes, or stuck going to work somewhere that might be putting us in danger of getting sick. We are in a situation where the best advice seems to be “wash your hands,” and we want to be more active than that, we want it to be fixed, to be over, we want certainty, and we don’t have it, and won’t have it for some time to come.
So what do we do to survive not being in control, not knowing, not being certain? Furthermore, how do we survive it when we can’t go out to eat, or to the movies, parties, concerts, or the gym? Animals hate being trapped; we are trapped. We are trapped not just metaphorically, in a worldwide situation that we cannot escape, but we are trapped actually, in our homes, with our families, roommates, or alone. What can we do? Here are some suggestions:
Accept the situation. Railing against it only creates anxiety and makes it worse. Take a deep breath, look around, and see if some part of you is grateful for the time and space to do less. If you need to run or kick or scream, go for it.
Limit your intake of news and politics, including social media. The news is slowing down now, so we can pretty much watch it morning or night and get all the information we need. If social media gets you riled up, find ways to limit yourself. Stay off it completely, or to go straight to the pages you want to go to–music, cat videos, whatever makes you smile.
Find things that make you happy. Are you an extrovert missing connection? Meet a friend or two for a distanced walk in the open spaces. Make an agreement to call or connect with a few people in your life every day. Join a games group, or try Words With Friends. (Are you an introvert? This situation is easier for you, you know that!)
Use the internet and social media to stay connected and learn something new. If you are on Facebook, you can go to our page: the Wide Spaces Community Initiative Group. People there have listed all sorts of free or low-cost, interesting, and fun things to do on the internet. Wide Spaces is also creating some online interactive events: Sing-alongs, coffee talk sessions, games. Find out by going to our page and click to join the group.
Practice self-care. If you need to run around the house, do it. If you need to scream into a pillow, do that. Exercise daily, drink enough water, eat healthy food, get enough sleep, journal, or talk to someone about how this is affecting you and how you are feeling. Laugh often.
We, as a community, will get through this. Some of us may get very sick, and it is possible that people we know will die. But as a community, we can use this time to change our habits, move into a more reasoned way of life, strengthen our connections to those we already know, and explore new ways of living. Because we’ve got grit. We came through a disaster before by pulling together, and we can do it again–just virtually this time.
Janaki Jane is the Program Director of the Wide Spaces Community Initiative. She teaches multiple classes on mental health and suicide prevention and creates community-building events (now online).