Finding Balance Under Pressure

Perspective by Abby Brill

When I think back to the early days of the Covid shutdown, I remember thinking I would have so much time to learn a new skill. Friends on Facebook all shared goals of learning a new language or mastering the art of sourdough baking. I knit a sweater in March, which I hadn’t done for many years. While we knew the threat of getting the virus was serious, the prospect of a temporary quarantine didn’t seem like such a hardship, at least to those wothe the privilege to be able to be home without losing their jobs.

Now we are nine months into our new Covid reality and, while we are no longer experiencing a general shutdown, many of us are more stressed than ever. How can we practice this “self-care” we read about, to garner the strength we need to keep going in this new Covid world?

We still need to keep ourselves isolated from others, which includes conducting nearly all meetings online, which we now know is likely to continue indefinitely. We miss seeing other humans in person, feel anxious being anywhere outside our homes. and worry about the upcoming election. Our faith in our elected leaders to guide us through tough times, especially the pandemic, is diminished, leaving us feeling powerless and demoralized. Many have lost jobs, may lose homes, and have children at home who need supervision and support in their new online school reality. The stress level is through the roof.

Many have become bored or even depressed. We crave stimulation to feel alive, and when we're bored we seek stimulation. But we can look at our own discomfort and seek ways through it. What can we do on our own initiative to make our days, and ourselves, more interesting and bring more meaning into our actions?

Here is where self-care can really make a difference. It may sound alittle woo-woo, but paying attention to your own mental and physical health benefits not only you, but also those who depend on you. While you may not feel safe going to a gym where everyone is breathing hard and spreading who-knows-what germs around in an enclosed space, exercising is still important and will boost your energy and self-esteem. There are oodles of online workout programs and yoga classes, many of them free. You can build a schedule including regular exercise. Living in Prescott is a huge bonus for those of us who love to hike. We have countless trails that are seldom crowded, and parking is usually free. Take your dog with you, he will love you for it! Now the weather is getting cooler, and we’ll have months of perfect hiking days.

I consider seeing friends part of self-care. Granted, some introverts don’t feel the need for others so much, but for myself and my husband, we thrive on spending time with people we love and sharing good food and conversation with them. This summer we have spent many evenings visiting with friends out on our deck. We sit farther apart than usual and try to spend as little time as possible inside. We don’t go to restaurants or activities on the Square, but we have created a sort of Covid “pod” consisting of a few regulars, all of whom are very isolated and safe the rest of the week, but come together one evening a week for a great meal and good fellowship. We all share a similar risk-tolerance. (More on that later.) These Dear Ones are keeping me sane.

Many people have found strength and comfort during this time in the practice of meditation and mindfulness. I can say little about meditation, except that there are many types and you can explore resources on this subject online. Mindfulness is a type of inner daily practice, often associated with Buddhism, which many westerners find helpful in navigating their lives. A friend spoke recently to us about a mindfulness group he attends (online) through the Veterans Administration. He is a Vietnam veteran and knows many vets who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who are benefiting greatly from this practice. He said that this work has also helped him deal with the stress he experiences from the pandemic restrictions and world turmoil. Again, you can find resources for mindfulness practices on the web.

This article is not meant to be at all political, but it seems everyone I know is horrified by how frighteningly polarized we have become in our country. There are very real forces at work stoking fear in us — fear that someone is going to take something from us, fear of The Other. I would stress that working to counter this fear is essential for our own health and that of our community. What we fill our minds with determines how we see the world, so pay attention to where you get your news. If you rely on Facebook or Twitter for news, I strongly suggest you complement this by following news outlets deemed centrist and not subject to the algorithmic tug of your own “likes.” Here is a chart showing where various commonly visited news outlets fall on the political spectrum. You'll find cooler heads and less Us vs. Them jargon in these sources.

For me the most meaningful thing to do during this time of isolation and fear is reach out to others who are more at risk, more in need than myself. There is no greater antidote to self-pity than knowing that others are suffering so much more than you. I am so fortunate to live with family members (whom I actually really love being with!), but there are so many who do not have this in their lives. Many elderly people live alone and are at risk of dying should they get Covid. You can check in on them regularly, drop off a meal, visit with them out on the lawn, offer to shop for them. Meals on Wheels and People Who Care are both slammed at present, because they not only serve this at-risk population, which is growing due to fear of Covid, but they also have fewer volunteers because most are older, retired and also afraid of Covid exposure. So look around you to see if a neighbor might need a little human contact or help with the shopping. It will do your own heart some good, as well.

Earlier I mentioned risk-tolerance. This is the level of risk you are comfortable with in living your everyday life. Until recently, risk of life-threatening infection was something we didn’t have to think about much, because antibiotics, antivirals and vaccines keep us mostly safe. Death from infectious disease hasn’t been something we’ve had to worry about until now. So our fear of the formerly unthinkable is huge, and therefore our risk-tolerance for exposure to Covid is very low. This is new territory and we have to navigate it thoughtfully and bravely.

Some say they're waiting for a vaccine to make them feel more secure. The appearance and availability of a vaccine will not immediately eliminate our risk. Even if an effective one is approved, production and availability will take a long time. Also, for the FDA to approve a vaccine it has to protect only half of the people who get it from infection. So we will be living with risk for the foreseeable future.

We cannot simply shut everything down to keep everyone safe, but we also cannot safely just live our lives as before and spread this virus around till we have a catastrophic crisis on our hands. We are constantly learning more details about this Son-of-SARS virus, and with the benefit of science we can adjust our behavior to manage risk.

Now that businesses, schools and churches are again open, we all need to assess our risk-tolerance and push our boundaries a little at a time. Of course essential workers and those who cannot afford not to work don’t have the luxury of assessing risk-tolerance. But through our behavior we can act in a way that protects them as well.

When you enter a building or are in close proximity to others, wear a mask. Research has found that by far the most effective are KN95 masks, available on Ebay for $.40 each and reusable. My husband, a physician and public-health expert, has been called to federal jury duty. He wrote the judge requesting that everyone in the courtroom be given a KN95 mask to ensure everyone’s safety. We can be indoors if we all take precautions. If all businesses, churches and schools insisted on masks, our collective risk would be so much less.

Covid-19 is a really bad bug to get, but it’s not the plague that decimated Europe’s population in the 14th century. We are getting closer to a vaccine, until then we can rely on science to help us navigate the coming days. More information about Covid is coming every day, and we have so many resources to draw from to find ways to actively engage our minds in healthy, productive directions. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to and protect those around you. Don’t be stuck in place. Move forward in your life!

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