Staying connected in the time of Coronavirus: It’s a change, but it’s not the end.
Do you think this concern about Coronavirus is a load of hooey? Then you aren’t going to like what I am going to say, and I am probably not the therapist for you.
Before I get into that, let me apologize for this post being a week late. I was out of town, and then I got mildly sick, which delayed things. Thankfully, I’m better now. All of this coincided with the unfolding news about Coronavirus, aka, COVID-19, which has been disruptive to most, lethal to some, and very annoying to virtually everyone.
Depending on where you live or where you (or people you know) have visited, you might be rethinking vacation plans, festival outings, public transportation. It’s calling into question how, exactly, we are willing and reasonably able to stay connected right now.
Mainly, right now, most people seem to be in a low-grade anxious, watchful waiting pattern. A lot of people feel, if not like rats that are trapped, at least like ones that being blocked and poked at, not sure which way to turn, or exactly what to do. We are told that the virus is mostly mild, but we are told to take important steps. We are told it is spreading and we can’t test everyone who wants or needs it, but containment is a goal. We should practice social distancing, but we aren’t sure for how long, or exactly how. Do we want to cancel that ball game, this work meeting, or that outing? Is it worth the lost opportunity, lost pay/professional gain? How do we decide?
To date, those of us in Virginia have not received definitive, clear guidelines from community or national leaders on how to proceed. Without official quarantines, work and school closures or even widely available testing, next steps have been left largely up to individuals. For better or worse, that’s the reality right now.
Are you in the defiance camp, determined not to change anything about your routine? Or are you panicking, afraid to go outside at all?
For most of us, we are somewhere in the middle. We don’t like what is happening, and we know we need to do something. I am speaking to the second and third group.
Those in the first group will not like what I have to say. In fact, I would advise caution in being in physical proximity to those in the first group. If such people live with you, I know it’s tough, but keep reading anyway.
For a lot of us who are caregivers or professional providers to elderly people and/or to people with underlying health issues, we know it’s not just about us. We are worried about them. Yes, for MOST people, the virus has cause mild to moderate symptoms. But there are some vulnerable groups, mainly, adults over 60 and/or those with underlying health issues, for whom this virus may be life threatening.
We may also have young children, so we are trying to balance their needs, too.
And let’s face it. The other issues in our lives are still there. It’s not like those issues are going away. So, what do we do?
I’m not a doctor, and the situation and knowledge about the virus is changing daily, so I’m going to list what my personal and professional takeaways are right now.
How you can proceed:
This is very different from reacting, which is purely emotional. Responding is done with some level of reflection and intent.
Regarding COVID-19: Get the facts, not the opinions that are circling around online. Stay in touch with health departments, medical doctors, and yours or your family’s specialists on their guidelines and recommendations.
The best take on this issue that I have found to date is this article (scientific American) on what to do, and why. If you read nothing else, though, read this article .*
Practice mindful hygiene, especially around vulnerable people. Wearing a basic mask may not protect us much, but evidence suggests that it helps reduce the chances of infecting them. They may need to stay quarantined for a time, and definitely, social distancing, avoiding crowds, busy places. Washing hands thoroughly is important, especially just before you come in contact with them. Have others in their environment do the same thing, especially other caregivers with close contact. In fact, this is a good practice right now in any environment.
What if you have defiant types in your home? I’m thinking stubborn teens, partners, or other housemates. Now may be the time to practice some logical consequences, such as saying, “If you want me to make that dinner or watch that show with you, please wash your hands first with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.” If they have a respected friend, online resource who can back up what you say to them, it may help to ask that person to rally and talk to them, or to read up on that resource. I repeat, you do what you can. Or show them this article and let them know that I am telling them, please don’t be a jerk. Let Cleopatra be the only Queen of Denial, and do your part to help out.
Remember that, for the most part, this flu has not impacted children too badly, for the most part. So we keep them practicing the good hygiene, such as washing hands, especially at home and near their vulnerable loved ones. With positive reinforcement and encouragement, of course.
Stay in touch with your friends as you are reasonably able or willing. Your supports are still important, but for now, modify how you interact with them. Use telecommunications like Facetime, texting or phone, keep interactions one-one on or smaller groups, stand farther apart. If your friends are in the first group that I mentioned above (that is, determined not to change anything, even hygiene habits), now is not the time to worry that you are offending them by social distancing. Minimize or avoid contact with them in person if you can, calmly explaining your need to do so. Did I mention, wash your hands?
Change your greeting style: Try A “Namaste” greeting, fist- or elbow-bump instead of handshakes and kisses, especially at work or for the vulnerable folks in your life.
Take advantage of the outdoors. Are you or your family going stir-crazy? Go outside. At least the weather in the DMV area is getting milder. Whether you walk around the block, go up a driveway, or walk in a park, the green space will definitely help your mind reset. If you work late, take a stroll around the block or stare at the sky before turning in for the night.
How I will proceed:
As you probably know by now, I specialize in working with anxiety, trauma, and caregiver issues in adults. This means that I work with many caregivers and some immuno-suppressed people, so I will be regularly cleaning my office and washing my hands. If you have special health concerns, I will wear a (basic paper) mask or sit at least six feet from you during sessions. I do this out of care and concern for us both. Mama don’t play, as they say.
If I am feeling ill, I’ll let you know, and I will not come into the office. It would be really, really helpful if you do the same thing. We can talk about other options during this time period. For people I have met at least once in person, we can look at teletherapy options. It may delay our work, but it will be better in the long run.
Keeping things in perspective:
Many things are being shaken up right now, but this too, shall pass. Not as quickly or as predictably as we want it to, but it will, hopefully with minimal impact.
If you want to stay connected, contact me. I am here to help you process whatever is on your mind and in your life. And while gave advice to you here, I don’t give opinions or interpretations for the most part, in session. That work is about you, and that’s what a therapist is for.
So do what you need, and remember, even now, you don’t have to be alone. Stay connected in the ways that you can.
Fairfax County Health Department
World Health Organization
Center for Disease Control
Sawbone, a podcast about health issues.
Talking to kids about Coronavirus