Welcome back. It has been another two weeks of Sheltering in Place. Another two weeks of quarantine and watching the numbers from the COVID-19 rise. Another two weeks of figuring the best ways of coping. I have seen a number of positive things of how people are coping and demonstrating the love important to us being in this together. In Part 1 of “Leaving Familiar Ground,” I invited your participation to offer your insights and experience about coping. Thank you for sharing.

Jesse, from Jacksonville, writes : “After thinking about it, I thought a fuller term might be normality, uniformity, continuance, stability or the like.  Yes, there has been some grabbing of items, TP being the most well-known example.  But there is not panic.  No strangers are wandering down my street looking, panhandling or the like or worse.  Carts are not overloaded at Winn-Dixie.  I still pay those bills by mailing a paper promissory note.

And like tomorrow, Tuesday, your local 1st Cav Chapter will meet at noon at Hooters at the San Jose/Baymeadows intersection to pick up our Chapter polo shirts.  Now that’s normality, faith in the present and future, and commitment to get on with life.  Sure, we may well greet at beyond a handshake distance but we can still say “welcome home and “keep on getting on.””

Jesse also reminded me that CS Lewis wrote a piece in 1948 about living with the Atomic Bomb: “In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in the atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, and age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accident, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madame, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by the atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds. “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays.”

Richard, from Indianapolis, writes: “I was reading your post and began to recall the work of Hans Selye (in the 1950s)… he identified and named the General Adaptation Syndrome (G.A.S. — I love the name)… He said that a stressor is neutral and each of us moves the stressor from being neutral to being ‘distress’ or ‘eustress.’  Distress triggers the flight-fight-freeze response and ‘Eustress’ triggers a response of ’embracing the opportunity’… the first depletes our energy and the second energizes our creative energies…  Some experience a stressor as a ‘threat’ and some experience the same as an ‘opportunity’ and some stressors are experienced in both ways… it seems to me that the C-virus is both a threat and an opportunity…  it is truly a threat in many ways and it also provides us many opportunities.  Coping involves discerning/engaging/ facing/embracing both the threats and the opportunities.”

One thing I learned from Jesse, Richard, and CS Lewis is that one of the ways we use to learn to cope is by providing context or perspective to our situation. I often start with the larger context (bigger picture) to try to gain some perspective that will help me create direction for my coping.

Here are a few things that I have learned to do over time in order to cope:

  • Write it down. Stay focused on what you ‘know’ versus what you ‘assume.’ This was a problem for me when I was younger. I tend to be a lot like my dad. I take in all the information about a situation and then evaluate what the issues, challenges, are (this can include my assumptions and biases). Writing it down helps me control my emotions better. “What am I really dealing with? What’s really ‘true’ about the situation? What’s likely to happen?”
  • Establish rhythms. Create some predictability – when do I do certain things each day. I heard the other day that many people were listening to the music that they grew up with – 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s. Undoubtedly, this helps them to be more comfortable, feel more secure.
  • Take Breaks. Every 90 minutes take a break from what you’re doing. If you’ve been sedentary, get up and take a walk.
  • Create boundaries. Boundaries are the toughest thing to manage. You either work too long or Netflix steals your time. Disconnect from your technology. It’s impossible to always be ‘on’ and thrive.
  • Control your environment. Eliminate as many distractions as possible. Wear headphones if you have to.
  • Find something different to focus on. Like changing the channel on the TV, change what you are doing. For example, rather than focus on the ‘catastrophic’ I got out my book on National Parks and got lost in the beauty of the pictures.
  • Keep in mind the big picture. I could get so far into the ‘weeds’ of a situation that I lost sight of the bigger picture. The big picture can help give you perspective on the true magnitude of the problem.
  • Turn to someone(s) I trust to share what I’m going through or dealing with. Talking through a situation with a trusted listener can help with clarifying what I’m really dealing with. This ‘sharing’ has helped me a lot when dealing with bigger issues (i.e., Coronavirus pandemic). I don’t feel so alone.
    • It’s helpful to know what you need from that other person(s): venting, collaborating on solutions, empathy, guidance, etc. You might even have more than one person depending on your needs.
  • Be aware of negative self-talk. This was huge for me when I was younger. I could make a situation so much worse just by the negativity I would generate from my self-talk; including negative self-talk towards me.
  • Walk away. It has been helpful for me to know the situations that I tend not to deal well with. Knowing that ahead of time is helpful in recognizing when do I need to walk away, knowing that nothing good will come of the situation if I remain in my current state. This one took me awhile.
  • Focus on what you can control. When it is a major situation (the recession of 2008/09) it has been important for me to focus on what I had control over. We get bombarded hourly by what’s ‘going wrong.’ While I may need an awareness of what is going on in order to have appropriate coping strategies, at a certain point we are on overload and additional information is not helpful to us coping better. Turn it off. Get away. It will still be there when you are ready. I find it helpful to obtain information from those that know. In this pandemic, it would be the CDC, medical practitioners, infectious disease people, etc. There is always a lot of misinformation that gets distributed at times like these.
  • Focus on the things in your life that give you energy. Renewal is a critical part of ‘maintaining our sanity.’ This includes diet, and exercise, as well as some meditative practice.

One of the things I’m reflecting on during this time is how do I want to be different in the world, to those around me? This offers a major reset. Will we take it? I hope we can be a less divisive country – that will require that we lay down our ‘weapons’ – our prejudices, our assumptions, our ego, our need to win, our unwillingness to seek compromise. There is, and will be, a lot of tragedy in this pandemic. From those ashes I hope we can become a better version of ourselves that is reflected in the shift in how we are as a country. This is not about ‘them.’ This is about us. I want to love better.

My thanks to Jesse and Richard for their collaboration. And to CS Lewis for reminding me that as a kid who grew up with the Atomic Bomb, that there are indeed countless ways that threaten to kill us prematurely, but in the meantime – LIVE!

To a better you…