What’s Going On?

College graduations, weddings, and major sporting events canceled. Dreams deferred or no longer possible. The COVID-19 pandemic reminds me of a far-fetched science fiction, not our current reality.

Are you questioning your previously-held beliefs about the way the world is supposed to work? Do you fear for your personal safety and health of your family? Perhaps you feel ill-equipped to handle the steep challenges ahead.

These waves of uncertainty, fear, and vulnerability are understandable.

According to Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.” We need to acknowledge our emotions and be gentle and compassionate with ourselves.

How could we not be unnerved? We have never lived through a pandemic that has quite literally shut down our lives and created a sense of collective grief over our now limited freedom and social opportunities.

Grief is not just about death

In the aftermath of my daughter Laura’s death and then my brain surgery three years later, my family and community provided us with invaluable physical and emotional support. Their presence helped lessen our grief when nothing else would.

I’ve since learned that grief doesn’t only apply to the death of a loved one. Shock, despair, and loneliness often surface from all types of loss, such as a chronic medical diagnosis, a divorce, or loss of a job.

Death and loss will not stop because of the pandemic, but neither will the need to comfort and be comforted. Whatever the hardship, we all crave and depend upon social support. And yet these healing interactions will become more difficult to provide during this isolating time. We will need to rise to the challenge and come up with creative and compassionate ways to be there for the people that we care about.

In normal times we are often hesitant and awkward about offering help and accepting it ourselves. Now, for our collective mental health, we must nurture and practice these skills.

Ways to Help Yourself and Others

  • Pick up the phone and surprise a friend or family member who you haven’t talked to in a while. Don’t worry about bothering them. If they have caller i.d., they can choose to answer or call you back. Video chat, text, or email with children or older folks. With the ease of social media, there are no excuses for not reaching out in some way.
  • You could be bold and mail a handwritten letter. Imagine the smile of the person as they sift through their bills.
  • Keep yourself grounded through mindfulness apps, music, and exercise. I use the Calm app, listen to Ed Sheeran, and take daily walks around my neighborhood. Your mindset influences the mood of everyone around you.
  • When reaching out to friends and family, ask open-ended questions that allow for meaningful conversations. And remember to listen closely to how they respond. We’re now in a marathon, not a sprint, so let’s focus on one day at a time. Instead of posing the ambiguous question, “How are you?”, encourage a more genuine answer by asking “How are you doing today?”

Long after this current virus has run its course and our lives have returned to a new normal, I believe that many of us will emerge resilient and more comfortable supporting our family and friends when they need us the most. We will be more skilled at developing and nurturing social interactions we might otherwise have taken for granted. That’s a contagion worth catching.