Sam’s Outlook
Editor Albany UU | Apr 30, 2020

Coping with the Pandemic: Phase 2

We are entering our eighth week of self-quarantine.  I sense many of us are moving into a different phase of dealing with this crisis.

This came up for me in the reaction Dan Miyake and I got from his idea to have a “pity party” so people could vent their feelings about being quarantined for so long. We heard about another congregation that had done one and it had been a good emotional release for people’s frustrations at being stuck at home. The name was triggering for some people who had a strong negative response to the idea. I also heard from others that they thought it was fine and would like to attend. In the reactivity I sensed a change – the heightened reactivity may be signaling an increase in stress levels of people in our congregation.

The first phase of the pandemic for many was the adjustment phase. It was about getting accustomed to quarantine at home right at the front end of the crisis. Hospitals were yet to be flooded in New York City and the devastating losses yet to begin to be counted. Being sequestered at home felt novel, even welcome – a chance to catch up on home projects and maybe do some spring cleaning. A time for more family togetherness.

Now we’ve had enough of that. Daily the losses mount up, especially the horrific toll of life and harm down state and increasingly right here in the Capital Region. We feel these losses – whether it’s someone close to us who is sick or has died; or it’s the loss of a job and financial security; or it’s the loss of physical interaction with friends and family; or it’s the loss of innocence in the realization that home is not necessarily safe for all of us; or any number of losses that haven’t been mentioned here. We are mourning these losses, each in different ways. Then each day the media gives us more bad news about the effects of the pandemic that loom large over our future wellbeing. And media reports about what this virus can do to the human body can stimulate intense fear about getting it.

What is now sinking in is the recognition that we can’t go back to the way things were, probably until we have either “herd immunity” or a vaccine universally available. That will likely not happen until the fall of 2021 at the earliest. And that would-be record-breaking speed for vaccine development, testing and production. Until then, physical distancing and masks are going to be our new normal. The impacts of that are just beginning to be considered as we imagine how we can be together again.

All this is amplifying the stress we might have already been feeling. Those of us on the front lines in health care are experiencing that stress more immediately. Others of us at home may not be at risk right now but still have plenty to deal with in the confinement of the home environment maybe with children climbing the walls and furniture. Almost all of us are anxious about vulnerable elders and loved ones worrying for their safety and protection.

Therefore it is essential for us to be attending to our own self-care. If we want to care of others during this time, we need to take care of ourselves too.

First in self-care is care for our bodies. Eating mostly healthy, nutritious food regularly. Drinking beverages without a lot of sugar or alcohol in moderate quantities. Exercising daily whether a morning stretching and movement routine, going for a walk, or going up and down stairs – something to keep the muscles active and the joints lubricated. Getting enough rest is also critical for wellbeing. I’m sure this isn’t new to anyone – but the reminder may be helpful to stimulate change away from unhealthy habits.

One of the most helpful ways to deal with the stress of uncertainty is having a daily routine. Having a morning hygiene routine and morning meal and an evening routine before sleep can help start and end the day in a more centered and peaceful way.

As important for our wellbeing as physical health is our mental health. Overwhelming our emotional brain centers with endless media about the virus isn’t good for us. We should balance our media intake with more positive and comforting stimulation. The rebirth of spring in flower and leaf is a wonderful antidote to too many stories about suffering and death. The projection of our anxiety and fear into the future undermines our positive engagement with what is right in front of us. Breaking things into small steps that can be acted on immediately keeps us from obsessing about the “what ifs” that are endless.

Connect with your support network. We all need a sense of connection with others, be it neighbors, friends, co-workers, family and volunteer organizations. We need to gather people around us who are good listeners and supporters, people who will not react and judge. People who can be there for you if you do get sick.

That is one important role our congregation offers. And not just as a place to support us. It is also a place we can offer support. This kind of a network is a two-way street. It is validating to help others and it is necessary to get that support when we are in need. Our Caring Network is a place that offers that kind of comfort and support. Contact Todd Thomas, the coordinator, if you’d like to help out or are in need of help.

Finally, get a little more sleep that you need. Rest is critical to build our resiliency when we are under stress. Paradoxically the hardest time to sleep is when the stress hormones are coursing through our blood. A bedtime routine can be of great help. Turing screens off 1 hour before bed. Listening to enjoyable music. Reading pleasant light material. Writing someone a note of support and care. Listening to a meditation podcast. All these can make a difference.

I’m sad to say we are in for a long slog with this virus. We need to adapt our lifestyle for the duration. The new normal will be quite different from the old normal … but if it means fewer of us get sick, are permanently harmed or die, then let’s make the best of it.

Rev. Sam