Was it just four months ago when this all started? Since January, I have acquired a whole new dictionary of acronyms: PPE, SARS, COVID, WHO, SIP. And, I have increased my store of knowledge on virology, epidemiology, Constitutional law, hospital staffing, and world distribution of supplies, including oil, toilet paper, and pork. I had no idea I would be taking a graduate course in 21st century economics, biology, and disease transmission.
I enrolled, unknowingly, in this course back in March. I thought I was taking a vacation. Instead, unknowingly, I became a test subject in a pandemic. I thought I was just traveling to Australia and New Zealand. Instead, unknowingly, I acquired a deadly virus. I thought I had allergies and lost my sense of smell (but just for a day). Instead, unknowingly, my body successfully dealt with COVID-19.
What has really happened in this time? From my vantage point, it seems that the things that I once thought were predictable and dependable aren’t. It seems that, with enough reminding, I can keep my hands from my face. I can remember to wash tops and bottoms and in between my fingers. It seems I can drive with a mask. It seems I can relax more. It seems I can change my shopping habits and decrease the number of trips to the store. It seems I can learn new technology and get together with folks I know using video platforms. It seems I am sleeping better, exercising more, and only occasionally eating things that I shouldn’t.
There is absolutely no way I could have predicted these things five months ago.
In such circumstances, entire populations are finding ways to change how they earn a living, interact, and get along with one another. For some, this is a welcome relief; for others, this is life and sadly, death.
People are finding out that many institutions that appeared solid and predictable are made of sand. Accessing services and obtaining needed supplies, well-established distribution chains, unquestioned next-day delivery of whatever you ordered online, are all undergoing changes with impacts felt differently by different cohorts.
Those who either have poor access to technology or do not have the skills associated with it are left out altogether, finding stores empty and information limited to hearsay. Many older adults, even though they may have technology and skills, are experiencing a different kind of social distancing, as gathering spots such as Senior Centers, libraries, churches, and stores are either closed or limiting assembly.
Right now we are in a period of shock. The full impact of COVID-19 hasn’t been felt. What typically happens after the shock wears off are moments of shame, anger, resentment, and looking for someone or something to blame. Some people get through this and find their footing and start re-building. Others may experience deep grief over loss of people and pets, as well as loss of status, and familiar routines. Frequently people turn to substances for relief. While this may help in the short term, the long-term consequences are often debilitating.
Certain populations will feel these emotions more keenly. Interestingly, as a group, older adults seem to be more resilient and, given adequate food, shelter, and access to health care, many older adults will weather this pandemic.
There are elders who are particularly at risk, especially those who depend on food distribution from community resources, who are marginalized by language, color and economic issues, and who may be targeted by scammers. While age alone does not increase vulnerability, poor health and chronic conditions do.
Not all who experience grief, loss, and distress will regain their footing. Some will need additional support for days, weeks, or months. Many of us will experience a sense of hopelessness and helplessness when faced with a longer return to “normal” than what we anticipated. Adapting to the new normal will take effort. There are effective strategies for navigating these waters.
Basically, there are five areas of focus that, if you attend to each daily, will provide you with a sense of competency as this pandemic unfolds:
First, it is vital that we stay connected with each other. Loneliness and isolation negatively impact our immune systems. In COVID times, it is important to stay connected to those who are supportive, and perhaps disconnect from those who are not. Ideally, we all have family and friends who are loving and supportive, but this may not always be the case.
Secondly, it is important to create a routine that can be followed so you can feel productive. Before COVID, many of us filled our days with work and/or volunteering. This gave us structure and a sense of having accomplished something. The best way to achieve this while we shelter in place is having a daily routine. It will lower anxiety, improve sleep, and help to regulate the uncertainty that we are living with. Ideally, your daily routine will include some physical activity, some study, specific times for meals, and set times for getting up and going to bed. Weekly routines might include tasks such as laundry, cleaning, bathing, and shopping. Monthly routines may include bill paying.
Third, we need to nourish ourselves. This isn’t limited to food! We can also nourish ourselves by helping each other. Of the many inspirational things that have come out of this pandemic are all the ways people are finding to make their communities better. Offering to shop for folks who can’t get out, making masks, setting up get-togethers on social media, tutoring, organizing neighbors to go outside to sing (or howl), dressing up to take out the garbage are just some of the creative ways people are releasing their energy and nourishing themselves.
Fourth, finding those moments in the day where we can focus and calm that anxious interior voice that keeps asking “What if ????” is essential. This can be accomplished by having some structured activity during the day that stimulates your mind, calms your body, and allows you to release the tensions that build up. This might include listening to music, reading an inspirational book, doing yoga or Tai Chi or other focused movement.
Finally, gratitude is finding and appreciating what is so. Right now, look around and find something of beauty that inspires you. Think of someone or something that has touched you deeply and allow that memory to fill you with good feelings. Express thanks and gratitude for having what you do have. These are valuable assets that will sustain you as we navigate the days ahead.
Thanks for reading!