Before we get started today, I need to confess a few things:
- I’ve worked mostly from home for a quarter of a century (despite being only 36. Do NOT try to do the math here). So I am less freaked out by the idea of sheltering in place than many of you.
- I do NOT have human children, although my three dachshunds are constantly underfoot as I make yet another trip to the bathroom (thanks, Overactive Bladder Syndrome!) or barking when I’m trying to sound professional on the phone.
- I have a degree in public health, took many courses in epidemiology and teach organizations (and disorganizations) how to manage stress, anxiety, and change-based panic using humor (because despite my degree, I faint at the sight or even the suggestion of bodily fluids and had to find a different career trajectory).
Okay, now that we’ve cleared a few things up, let’s talk about pandemic anxiety. Chances are you’re feeling more anxious and stressed than you were, say, a few weeks ago. Maybe you lie awake worrying about whether you’ll have a job when this Coronavirus/economic disaster is over. Or perhaps the stress of having kids and/or spouse at home is driving you to Google “Is it dangerous to put wine in an IV drip?” Perhaps you can’t focus at all because one minute your brain is yelling, “We’re all gonna die!” and the next it’s telling you that “little black Hazmat suit” could make you a fortune.
Whatever the specific forms your stress and anxiety take, there are some ways to feel calmer and less stabby that don’t involve meditation (which never works for me and my three barking fur-children) or medication. Here are some suggestions:
- Limit your time with people who make you feel panicky. Studies show that we catch the mood of the people we spend the most time with. Those people don’t have to be in the same room with you (and if they are, they should be way on the other side of the sofa) in order to affect your emotional well-being.If you’re checking in online several times a day for pandemic briefings or glued to news programs in which grown people yell at each other over whose fault this is, your anxiety is likely much higher than someone who spends her time playing games, laughing with friends on Zoom or Facetime, dressing their kids in fancy clothing and pretending to be on the red carpet at the Grammy Awards, etc.
- Try to stop catastrophizing. Yes, COVID-19 (which still sounds to me like a new movie rating; You must be 19 and codependent to watch this movie) is a catastrophe. But if you spend all your time creating worst-case scenarios, your body will react as if those scenarios are actually playing out in real time. Thinking “What if I run out of wine and chocolate?” makes your body think you’re actually out and I don’t know about you, but that’s going to make me have an anxiety attack.Do a quick experiment on yourself. Get on Twitter or watch MSNBC for 5 minutes. Now ask yourself, “Self, how do I feel? Is my blood pressure up? Is my stomach in so many knots, I can display it as a macramé wall hanging over my fireplace? Will I have to replace my computer/TV because I’ve thrown crock pot through it?” Now go to YouTube and watch babies laugh or goats in pajamas or donkeys in hammocks (whatever floats your boat) for 5 minutes and ask the same questions. You don’t have to be a social scientist to know what’s better for your body and mind.
- Bookend your day with laughter. Regular *laughter can reduce your blood pressure, create endorphins, relax your muscles, and boost your immune system. It can also help you feel less anxious and more creative and positive. Make it a routine (both during your isolation and beyond) to perform a morning ritual that makes you laugh. Simply looking in the mirror at my bedhead can do that for me, but I usually go an extra step and make up funny songs about my dogs while they try to see who can shut me up fastest by licking my face.Starting your day with laughter helps set a lighter tone and directs your brain expect fun and funny things to happen. And at night, you want to be able to sleep deeply and well, to recharge your batteries and rejuvenate. That’s not going to happen if you’re sleeping with the weight of the world (and besides, who has a bed big enough for that?) So before hitting the hay, do something that makes you laugh – watch a funny TV show, play a game like Cranium or Pictionary with family members, or simply make a list in your head of all the funny things that have happened during the day. *Things that DO NOT count as laughter: Thinking something is funny or typing LOL without actually laughing out loud. If your stomach isn’t involved in your laughing, you’re not going to get the benefits.
- Make a Note of Your Funny Thoughts. A lot of folks are creating one-liners and memes online to share the humorous musings that go through their minds as they pass the time away from their usual routines. If you don’t think yours are funny enough for public consumption, write them down somewhere else. Every few days, revisit them to remind yourself to look for the funny not the tragic.
- Do the Math. I know, I just made you even more anxious by saying the word “math,” but this isn’t two trains traveling in opposite directions kind of brain-busting. Simple math: The more time you spend doing things that are fun and distracting, the less time that will be left in the day to feel anxious and stressed. This means you should plan every day to include as much fun as possible, with the intention of limiting your worry time.
We can’t predict exactly when our lives will return to some semblance of normal, but we can use our senses of humor to maximize the amount of joy we experience every day.