Coping with COVID-19: Ten Tips to staying safe and sane while stuck at home

At Bewell, we always strive to be conscientious and intentional about what we communicate, suggest and forward but even more importantly so during these highly uncertain times. The news is filled with reports, many unconfirmed, misleading, or inaccurate, about how to deal with the spread of the disease. Politicians are putting on a brave face and trying to show leadership. The Contagion of fear is spreading faster than the virus. Images of shoppers hoarding toilet paper, health care workers pleading for masks and ventilators, economists predicting dire economic consequences, bars, restaurants, and other venues shutting down, families urged to stay at home, others separated from loved ones. Many of us worried about our income and job loss. The list is endless, and it is totally normal to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of this pandemic.

So, I would like to share with you ten tips that I use for myself and my patients to cope with this difficult period.

1. Put things in perspective—it is easy to fall into catastrophic thinking. We have gone through these things before, from 9/11 to SARS, and we survived by taking precautions. Nobody needs 400 rolls of toilet paper, unless diarrhea is one of the symptoms. Everyone is in the same boat. Panic buying is a symptom of fear, not sense. When we panic we lose our common sense. Take a deep breath and think, what can I do to manage my social, psychological, and physical needs… Be resourceful and creative about things. We are all in the same boat

2. Read only trusted news sources—there is an old saying “if it bleeds it leads”. Fear based media reporting is the norm. The Media (CBC, CNN, NYT) rely on sensational headlines to attract readers. For every story about an unexpected death, a stranded traveler, a new outbreak etc., there are dozens more of people recovering quickly with mild symptoms. Only read primary medical or scientific sources, and that includes the Federal and Provincial sites that are updated twice a day with information. The Ontario Medical Association has an excellent site on what to do if you are sick with other symptoms that are not COVID 19 as well as good advice on self-isolation and prevention .

The websites are as follows:

Limit your time on the news. I get updates at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm

3. Learn how to interpret the information you read to your own situation— You do not have to be a medical or statistical expert to understand that we in Canada and the U.S. are a couple of weeks behind China, Italy and Spain. It helps to know that while all age groups are affected the vast majority of deaths are in the elderly with pre-existing conditions or in younger patients with compromised immune systems or othercunderlying illnesses.. The virus is more contagious and spreads quicker than the flu, but many people experience only mild symptoms. Also, we are going to see an alarming increase in cases in Ontario due to more testing, but the hospitalization and death rate will likely going to go down to under 1% from 3.5% or more as testing increases. Also, many projections of the spread of the illness are based on mathematical models whose assumptions do not always match reality… The truth is that we do not really know how quickly the infection will slow or stop.. We are practicing social distancing in order to ‘flatten the curve” so that those who are at greater risk can access the health system

4. Leave the worrying to the experts— Canada is one of the leading health care centres in the world, and Toronto has world class health and medical practitioners, battle-hardened by their SARS experience in 2003. They know what they are doing– listen to them. They are on top of things. Trust their advice and follow it.

5. Look for the silver lining— see this as an opportunity to do things that you have been unable to do for lack of ‘time.” You can start to reevaluate what is really important to you.. You know longer have that long commute, your boss is not breathing down your neck, deadlines that were once so critical have been delayed, your house or condo is now cleaner than ever, you have more time to read, cook, chill, watch Netflix, but avoid disaster films. Also, gas prices and Hydro rates have fallen, tax filing and other bills have been deferred, and your own expenses may only include necessities

6. Stick to a routine— for many of us it is easy to slip into bad habits, sleeping in, staying in our pajamas all day, staying up too late, drinking or snacking too much… If we have to work from home then it is important to establish a dedicated work space, with strict hours, say 2 hours in the morning, 2 hours in the afternoon. It is amazing how productive you will be without distractions from co-workers etc. Also, try not to work in the kitchen if food is too tempting. take frequent breaks and stick your head outside for a breath of air

7. Create a What’s App support community— we all need social connection. It is part of being human. I have found that by checking into my social media community twice a day, it reduces the loneliness and isolation

8. Join free online courses and webinars— the list is endless from Universities to LinkedIn, and other interests. I am learning some piano tricks on YouTube and also learning some baking tips (banana bread, anyone?) and how to fix a leaky toilet (don’t ask). There are numerous online documentaries that exercise the mind and elevate the soul.

9. Call someone you don’t know very well— we all have lists of people we were thinking of calling but didn’t . Now is the time to reach out to them and see how they are doing. They will appreciate it.

10. Remember to love and be kind to yourself — it is easy to fall into self-blame and second guessing. Why did you go on that vacation. Why didn’t you prevent your parents from taking that cruise. Why did you drop your iPhone off at Apple to be repaired and now you can’t get it back? Why did you not have cases of Purell and Clorox wipes at home in anticipation of the pandemic. Why, Why, Why? Useless, Useless, Useless.

What we should be thinking about is how we will look back at this time in a few months after it’s over. Will we remember it as a time when we all pulled together as a community, where we argued less with our spouse because there was nowhere to go, where our kids were less stressed being out of school, and were even nicer to each other, where the dog was happier, where we got to spend more time together as a family. And for those of us who our on our own, will we be able to say we found new sources of inner strength, that we were alone but not lonely, that we had time to reflect on our lives, reorder our priorities and make positive changes without the demands of work, intrusive people, and the general pressures of everyday living.

Finally, this has not been an easy time for us, as practitioners, at BeWell. We are honoured to be able to work with our clients and be enriched by the close social contact we have come to cherish and expect. So much of our work together relies on the shared intimacy of just being in each others presence. We want everyone to know that we are here for you, and encourage you to reach out to us , especially during these times. We have arranged for confidential Zoom and/or telephone support and look forward to connecting with you. We are committed to your care and look forward to face to face contact in the near future.

Dr. Jack Muskat

Senior Psychologist

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