By Caroline Platzman
Just a few months ago, I don’t think any of us could have imagined a world in which the city that never sleeps completely shut down. Restaurants, bars, stores, malls, gyms, salons, theaters – all closed indefinitely. As of only weeks ago, New York City is home to ⅓ of all COVID-19 cases in the country. As the state and country are urged to self-quarantine and practice social distancing due to this pandemic, people find themselves struggling to cope with the anxiety that comes along with it.
First of all…
We are dealing with a situation unlike one we’ve ever dealt with before, so anxiety during a time like this is normal. There are measures that each of us must take to effectively prevent the spread of COVID-19 – wash our hands, avoid touching the face with unclean hands, and stay at home to prevent interacting with and spreading germs to others unless absolutely necessary. Beyond taking these measures, try to accept that at the end of the day, COVID-19 is out of your control. However, this does not mean that life as we know it is coming to an end. Now more than ever, it’s important that we take care of ourselves and our mental health while we ride this out.
11 essential tips for finding calm in a world of COVID-19
- Slow down and be mindful
It is important to make conscious efforts to relax, reflect, and recharge during this period of pandemonia. Whether you’re stuck at home losing your damn mind or going into work everyday equally losing your damn mind, you must make tending to your mental health a priority right now. Practicing mindfulness, deep-breathing exercises, meditation and yoga are fantastic ways to help focus the mind, relieve anxiety, allow for deep introspection and work out tension in the body.
Try to be present in all that you’re doing and maintain a routine that keeps you sane – continue to telecommunicate with your therapist, if you have one, continue to focus on your spirituality or religion, continue to do your morning stretches. Do whatever you need to do to soothe your soul during this time and express gratitude both internally and externally. Now is a time to cherish what we have in our lives, and practicing mindfulness can help us do so in a way that fulfills us and lays a foundation for future gratitude and success.
- Stay connected
With the country in quarantine and institutions shutting down before our eyes, COVID-19 has hastily thrust us into a new way of living – one that prohibits socializing the way we’re used to. This presents quite the challenge to the naturally social and altruistic beings that we are. Relying on one another during a global pandemic through connection and communication forges a confident reminder that although we are not in the same room, we are still connected.
Maintaining the connections with the people we love is critical right now. In the midst of uncertainty, our friends and family can be excellent sources of companionship, comfort, and healing. Reach out to the people you love and tell them you love them – as COVID-19 unveils, you never know what can happen tomorrow. Play a board game with whoever is fortunate (?) enough to be quarantined with you. Cuddle with your pets, because Patches can’t give you COVID-19. Set up a Skype date or call your friend you haven’t heard from in a little while. This can be the perfect time to catch up and vent about how weird the world is. Or, if you want to distract yourselves, you can watch a movie or TV show together over the phone (Netflix Party actually allows you to watch Netflix with people virtually and easily) or even set up a virtual card game like Cards Against Humanity with your friends online!
- Amplify your skills
Right now, we’ve got nothing but time – use it. Master a new discipline. Brush up on old ones. Pick up your guitar and learn a new song. Paint something, anything, on a canvas. Write in a journal. Try out a new recipe. Hell, enroll in a virtual Jiu Jitsu class! Get really really good at that thing you want to be really really good at. You will inevitably make yourself proud. Accomplishing goals you set for yourself will ultimately boost your confidence, motivate you to do more, improve self-efficacy and most importantly, allow you to express yourself while building your skillset.
Thanks to COVID-19, you can learn practically anything new from the comfort of your own home. If you need some guidance, there are a ton of online classes to take advantage of, from at-home Pilates tutorials to free college courses. You might be excited to find out that Fender is offering three months of free guitar lessons for aspiring musicians stuck at home, and Nikon is similarly offering free online photography classes for all of April. Consider attending a live virtual pasta-making class hosted by a sweet old Italian woman, or learn web programming from Harvard University online for free! Enhance your creative writing skills, download a Hardcore History podcast, or channel your inner Yogi with apps like Down Dog. And if you really can’t be bothered doing anything but scrolling on Instagram, join an Instagram live stream – educators are giving talks, musical artists are performing free concerts, people are discussing the best things to do when you’re bored in quarantine, all through our screens.
- Do something to get your mind off of the madness
While it is important to maintain a routine in order to keep yourself grounded, it is very possible to get burnt out in this current climate. A lot of us could benefit from shaking things up a little bit, and trying something new or different. Even though there is seemingly plenty of time to become a guitar-playing, photo-taking, pasta-making, Harvard-educated Master Yogi, don’t knock yourself if you don’t get around to it. Instead, take this time to pursue your passions and focus your energy into doing the things you love. Do something solely for you, and for the sake of pleasure.
Put your all into your hobbies right now. Take a bath, listen to music, read a good book, do a puzzle… Binge-watch some Netflix – it’s okay. If you have gotten to a point where all that is left to watch on Netflix is Tiger King for the fifth time, HBO is offering free, no-subscription-needed streaming of iconic series like The Sopranos and The Wire. Need more culture in your life right now? The Metropolitan Opera is streaming free operas in HD every night or, if you’re into spooky stuff like me, perhaps you might want to go on a virtual tour of the famous Paris Catacombs.
And, most importantly, you now have the option to donate or purchase Girl Scout cookies from the comfort of your own home! What better way to distract yourself than with cookies?
- Get outside!
It can be so easy to stay in your pajamas all day binge-watching Netflix in bed. I am guilty of this, but I have to admit I have felt much better on the days I’ve forced myself to get out of bed and take a walk outside, a hike in the woods, or even just to sit and play guitar in my backyard. This is because being outside actually boosts your mood and makes you feel happier! Just be sure to maintain ample distance from others, especially while biking or jogging. However you choose to do it, soak up some sun and enjoy some of that sweet serotonin you may have been missing during the wintertime.
- Take care of your body
Now is a critical time to maintain your health and practice self-care. Sure, all the gyms are closed. But were you ever going to get to one really? This is the time to start that workout routine you’ve been saying you’d start for months. Engaging in regular exercise can help relieve stress, help you sleep and feel better, and obviously boost your immune system and contribute to your overall health. You don’t need any special equipment to get started at home either; take a walk out in nature, just to get some sun. Do some stretching. Throw on some music and dance around a little bit. Look up a pilates class on YouTube. In conjunction, maintain a healthy diet and a regular sleep schedule. Take your vitamins and get plenty of Vitamin C. If you are taking care of yourself, your body will be more fit to fight off the virus.
- Indulge a little bit
Maybe now is the perfect time to crack open that special bottle of whiskey you brought home from Croatia two years ago that’s been collecting dust on your nightstand. After all, alcohol exists to take the edge off – and right now, there’s some serious edge. Just remember, everything in moderation! Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean every night is Friday night. But when the weekend does roll around, do me a favor and test out these wine float recipes one evening for dessert. Report back please.
While those who are immunocompromised should definitely avoid smoking anything during this health crisis, the use of cannabis in other forms can be a powerful stress reducer. Edibles or vaping is suggested in order to maintain optimum respiratory health. Those who choose to smoke during this time should maintain social distancing and refrain from sharing products with others. Light one up for the essential homies, on God.
- Continue planning for the future
Confidence and adaptability are essential right now. Just because the world is at a standstill does not mean you have to give up on all of your long-term goals. Rather than dwell on what you can’t do right now, focus on solutions and alternatives to enable you to accomplish your goals later on. Plan for a future that is post-COVID-19. Examine what you hope to achieve when all of this is over, and take the steps to ensure you achieve them. Consider the words of Confucius: “It does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop”. You are able to control yourself and the moves you are going to make. Be bold and take action, in whatever facets of your life need it.
- Gain an understanding of your role in all of this
This is a frustrating time for all of us. Many of us are not in the position we had originally anticipated we would be in right now. Most of us had something cancelled or postponed or worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it can be hard not to dwell on such misfortune of the present. This pandemic is unprecedented, albeit humbling; it has shown us exactly what is important and what is worth letting go of.
You are in charge of your actions, and your actions only. Do your part and own it – this will allow you to feel peace of mind in knowing you are doing all you can to help. It can be easy to blame or take our frustration out on others, but ultimately this does nothing but divide and harm us. Try to refrain from blaming others for what is going on, and try to refrain from putting too much pressure on yourself as well. Instead, recognize what you can do to be dependable and build self-awareness. A global pandemic exposes peoples’ true colors… while some are getting into fist fights at the grocery store over toilet paper, others are acting more like leaders in this situation – vigilant, level-headed, and calm.
- Help others
Helping others will always make you feel better. The best way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others is by maintaining social distancing. If you are able to stay at home, do it. Otherwise, continue to take the necessary precautions, avoid public transportation when traveling if possible and maintain distance from others.
Support local businesses by ordering takeout or purchasing gift certificates for later use in order to keep them afloat. If you are able, offer to pick up groceries, medications, and other essential items for your elderly parents or neighbors. Utilize Facebook and other social media platforms to find ways to donate or reach out to people in your community who you may be of service to.
Healthcare professionals are in dire need right now in order to continue fighting on the frontlines of this pandemic, and many are doing so with limited numbers of beds, supplies, and staff. In fact, the major reason we are being urged to practice social distancing is to reduce the spread of the virus so as to not overwhelm our hospitals. Unfortunately, this is already happening – as cases rise, New York City hospitals have become so overflowed that the Javits Center is now a makeshift hospital.
If you or your company has any substantial supply of personal protective equipment (gloves, N-95 masks, gowns, sanitizing products, etc.), I strongly urge you to donate them to your local hospitals or neighbors who work in the field. You can view a list of local hospitals in need and steps on how to donate equipment and financial aid at #GetUsPPE and #Findthemasks.
Consider donating to help get COVID-19 responders into Airbnbs, and if you’re an Airbnb host, maybe even offering your space to host COVID-19 responders.
If you are healthy and able, consider donating blood to those who need it right now.
Another important way to help is to report your health status as often as possible to COVID Near You, a website that utilizes crowdsourced data to identify hotspots of the virus by visualizing and tracking the pandemic on a map.
If you want to donate to help feed New Yorkers in need during this health crisis, please do so at Foodbanknyc.org. Help undocumented immigrants of New York City by contributing to NICE (New Immigrant Community Empowerment). For more information on volunteering your time, resources, and finances in the city, view guidelines on New York City’s website here.
You may not need the services, but others may need the extra support. Consider passing along information about companies like UHaul, which is offering 30 days of free self-storage to college students who were unexpectedly forced to move out of their dorms, and Comcast is offering 60 days of free internet to low-income families living in their service areas. In addition, websites like AskUmbrella are designed to assist ederly people place deliveries who are in need of essential items.
To support your local musicians, consider pointing them in the direction of Busking Down the House, an impressive Facebook initiative designed to help musicians from all over the country connect and earn a living by distributing and performing their music remotely.
We need each other now more than ever. We are still able to slow the spread, but we need to maintain social distancing and take every necessary precaution.
- Read up on what is going on, learn the facts, and end it there
I cannot stress enough how important it is to stay updated and informed. Living in ignorance has never done anyone any good. It can be easy to avoid COVID-19 news when you know it will stress you out, but understand that having all of the relevant information can actually ease long-term panic and help put this whole thing into perspective. Learn the facts but end it there – do NOT let your anxiety get you into a two-hour YouTube rabbit hole about COVID-19 and it’s supposed connection to 5G towers and government conspiracies. Hearing about it repeatedly will only cause more anxiety and stress. Gather the pertinent information you need to prepare from a reliable source and grasp an understanding of what your part in this needs to be.
With that said…
The facts (CDC, 2020): What we currently know about COVID-19
According to the CDC (2020), symptoms can vary but may include:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath/trouble breathing
- Persistent chest pain or tightness
- Body aches
- Bluish lips or face
- Lack of smell/taste
It is recommended that you seek medical attention if you are experiencing any of these symptoms severely that will not go away.
COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets from person-to-person. If you are within close quarters (about 6ft) of someone who is infected, you are at a high risk for exposure.
While COVID-19 can survive on surfaces like plastic and for days (in a lab environment), this is not the main cause of spread. Continue to wipe down and disinfect your surfaces frequently, in order to ease anxiety and eliminate germs just in case.
The CDC recommends:
- Wash your hands with soap and water often (for at least 20 seconds)
- Disinfect using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
- Avoid touching your face with unclean hands
- Stay home if you can and practice social distancing, don’t have visitors
- Avoid close contact and groups of people over 10
- Stay at least 6ft away from someone who is sick/shows symptoms
If you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19:
- Call your doctor immediately if you begin to experience symptoms such as fever, body aches, dry cough, chest pains or trouble breathing
- If you are well enough to avoid the hospital, self-quarantine for at least two weeks if you believe you may have been exposed to the virus in order to further prevent the spread
- Do not leave the house until you are symptom free for 48 hours (however as the days go on, more and more citizens are urged to stay home unless ABSOLUTELY necessary!)
More resources available to YOU!
General information about COVID-19:
- Assistance for individuals in New York City, including employment resources, financial assistance, health and medical assistance, and emotional support
- Comprehensive compilation of resources to help service undocumented residents put together by New York State Youth Leadership Council
- New Jersey COVID-19 Jobs and Hiring Portal
- New Jersey COVID-19 Information Hub
Mental health specific:
- National Alliance on Mental Illness Resource Guide
- Mental Health America COVID-19 Information and Resources
- CDC: Manage Anxiety & Stress
- Leafly’s guide to dispensary openings and closings by state (updated twice daily)
- Leafly’s guide to curbside pickup
- Leafly’s guide on how to use legal cannabis delivery services
- Order your medicine for pickup using Leafly Pickup
- A State-by-State Resource Guide for Music Professionals Who Need Help During Coronavirus Crisis (Updating)
- Application for Artist Relief grant of $5,000 for artists 21+ in dire financial emergencies
Extra links to help ease anxiety:
Right now, it is crucial to listen to healthcare professionals, take the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and do your best to make peace with what is going on.
I am only 25, just starting my life, but it feels like I’ve been watching the world burn for quite some time now. I am essential personnel – when applying to counsel in a secluded, tiny group home for mentally ill adults last year, I could have never foreseen this.
There are tons of ways to fill this time, although it’s important to understand that the country and the world are going through trauma together. While you may hear others pushing you to be productive during this time, don’t feel bad if you come out on the other side and you aren’t a guitar guru or a self-care queen. If you need to rest, then rest. Maintaining your mental health during a traumatic transition period is critical. Not everyone has the privilege to be in a position in which they can focus on anything besides surviving.
Ultimately, this pandemic has already proven to be an inevitable catalyst for fundamental change with regards to some of the United States’ major institutions. Perhaps post-COVID-19, this country will have a newfound respect for all of the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, grocery store workers, food industry workers, truck drivers, and long-term care facility workers who are battling this virus on the frontlines.
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Wiest, Brianna. (2020, March 26). How This Neuropsychologist Trains 7-Figure Earning Entrepreneurs To Succeed In Uncertain Times. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/briannawiest/2020/03/26/how-to-rewire-your-brain-to-succeed-during-uncertain-times/#27e1619b3b6f
About Caroline Platzman
Caroline Platzman is a Behavioral Health Counselor working with adults diagnosed with schizophrenia. She is passionate about mental health, journalism, nonprofit advocacy, and public relations. Caroline is also a dedicated guitarist and artist in her free time.
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