We wake up each morning thinking, “What a horrible dream I had—bats, monkeys, lizards, people in masks and gloves standing by rows of body bags, empty streets, isolation, wanting to go somewhere but having virtually no where to go.” Then we realize the nightmare is real, the “new normal” as some call it. At that moment, we feel confused, frightened, distraught and/or resigned. Where Hope appears, it is apt to flicker more than shine.
Living this real-life nightmare can be dangerously stressful. One psychologist said it can produce a state of mind very similar to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) experienced by many military personnel. He suggested maintaining a sense of normalcy by continuing, even in near-isolation, the same personal hygiene habits—shaving, shampooing, applying makeup—we practiced before the virus arrived. That is good advice. And there are numerous other ways to reduce the stress that accompanies isolation and the loss of established routines. Here are eight of them.
Way One: Relieve confusion by separating facts about the present situation from speculation and unproven theory.
The facts are that the Coronavirus known as Covid-1 originated in Wuhan, China and was then carried in all directions of the compass, eventually reaching the United States via the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is a respiratory infection transmitted by encountering saliva or sneeze droplets directly from a person or indirectly from a surface where they have landed. Common symptoms of infection are sneezing, dry coughing, and fever; but it is possible to have no symptoms. The elderly and those with compromised immune systems are most in danger of serious effects, including death.
The unproven claims include the following: That the virus crossed from animals to humans in the virtual petri dishes known as “Wet Markets,” so called because of the blood and gore and filth associated with butchering bats, lizards, snakes, dogs, cats and other species. That, instead, the virus was accidentally transferred from a nearby Wuhan scientific laboratory to a “Wet Market.” That the transfer from the lab was not accidental but, rather, an intentional act of biological warfare. That wearing a mask in public provides protection from the virus versus that wearing a mask increases the risk. That ventilators help in the recovery of severe cases of infection versus that ventilators cause significant harm to patients. That closing businesses has saved lives versus that closing businesses has put the national economy on the brink of ruin.
How can we resolve the conflicting claims? One way is by deciding whether the competing ideas are mutually exclusive and therefore only one can be factual, or whether each might be partially factual—for example, in the case of masks, they can be helpful if used properly but harmful if not. (This distinction eventually led many municipalities from discouraging or tolerating to encouraging or even requiring the use of masks in public.)
This way of resolving the conflict will not lead to certainty, but it can help us determine which claims deserve our tentative support and application to our personal conduct. (The key word here is tentative, meaning that we should be ready to change our minds as the data changes.) The clarity we gain from separating facts from speculation and theory lessens our confusion and thus reduces our apprehension.
Way Two to reduce stress is to use our imagination in a thoughtful way. By this I do not mean fantasizing, but instead imaging possible outcomes of the pandemic. This approach can alleviate the sense of foreboding that leads to depression.
The place to start is with the worst possible outcomes—countless millions of people, including ourselves and our loved ones, stricken with the virus and in many cases dying; rich nations becoming poor and poor nations poorer; survivors of the pandemic struggling to stay alive; civilization vanishing, perhaps forever. The worse the images we are able to conjure, the more quickly we will realize their implausibility, and that realization will make it possible to consider more probable outcomes.
The most probable outcome is that the pandemic will end in much the same way that tornadoes and hurricanes pass, leaving death, destruction, and disruption in its wake, but on a much larger scale. The challenge of restoration will therefore be greater, extending not just to regions but to entire nations, and covering every sector of society. With that challenge, however, will come opportunity for creativity and ingenuity. And opportunity will inspire many people to self-sacrificing service to others and nobility, as it has already done since the beginning of the pandemic.
Way Three to lessen stress is to see the humor in our enforced isolation. There are lots of jokes making the email rounds, including one about how people are using their time: “I watched the birds fight over a worm. The Cardinals lead the Blue Jays 3–1.” “ I realized why dogs get so excited about something moving outside, going for walks or car rides. I think I just barked at a squirrel.” “ Struck up a conversation with a spider today. Seems nice. He’s a Web Designer.“ “Strawberries: Some have 210 seeds, some have 235 seeds. Who Knew?” We can share such humor with others and ask them to share with us the humor they encounter.
Way Four: Reflect on the friendships that have graced our lives at various times, starting with childhood and proceeding to the present. Recall what makes each one of them special. Then write down those names and recollections and use the list as a bookmark to see and ponder every time we open the book.
Way Five: Talk on the phone or do face-time with others, including those that our previously busy schedules kept us from contacting. Reminisce with them about happy occasions—weddings, baptisms, birthday parties, and so on. Create a list of those occasions and keep it in a prominent place so that we will be reminded of those pleasant times again and again.
Way Six: Do a picture puzzle or play a game on the computer or phone; for example, “Four Picks Puzzle,” “Words of Wonder,” or Solitaire. These focus the mind, stimulate interest, and relieve boredom. Even better are games that provide a feeling of being with others, even when we are alone. They include “Words with Friends,” which is played with one other person and “Zoom,” played with a number of people.
Way Seven: Find a way to help others, even while remaining at home. Many creative ways of doing so are being reported around the country. And they not only help others; they also reward the doers by shifting their focus from worrying about self to concern for neighbors.
Way Eight: The most important and beneficial way of overcoming the stress of isolation is prayer. The most obvious kind in difficult times is Petition, asking God to remain close to us and to give us trust in His providence, and mercy and courage to bear with hardship. But equally important is prayer of Gratitude for all the blessings we have received in the past and those we still enjoy and depend on. Shelter and clothing. Electricity. Grocery stores. Refrigerators, washing machines. television, computers, and the Internet. Automobiles. Schools. Churches, priests and ministers. Doctors, nurses, hospitals and medicines. A system of government and a Constitution that guarantee our human rights.
With gratitude for all these things on our lips morning and night, and in our minds and hearts throughout the day, we will not only survive the present nightmare, but in the process also gain deeper insight into the goodness of God and the mystery of Divine Providence.
Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved