As the global coronavirus pandemic continues to spread and escalate, it can be difficult to know what to do and how to cope.
By David Todd McCarty | Friday, March 27, 2020
By now, if you live in Cape May County, you have likely been either self-isolating in your home for the past week or two, or you have been on the front lines in a job deemed essential by the Governor. You might be a surgeon, a police officer or maybe even the mayor. You also might be stocking grocery shelves, pumping gas or repairing a bicycle. It’s amazing really what becomes essential when life essentially shuts down. Your accountant? Non-essential. The beer delivery guy? Essential.
While there are literally thousands of New Jerseyans heading to work each day as essential workers, most of us have confined ourselves to our homes and yards, with the possible exception of the brief walk on the bike trail when it’s not raining.
Perhaps the luckiest of us continue to work from home, while others are simply waiting to be told when it’s safe to go back to work and wondering how on earth the bills will be paid.
Congress, just today, passed a $2 trillion relief package that will certainly help some, and it probably won’t end there. Still, there remains a lot of uncertainty for those who work for hourly wages, have been laid off or relieved permanently, pay rent or deal with any number of other issues that lead to insecurity and instability. Hopefully there will be answers in the coming days and weeks.
In the meantime, let’s talk about some ways to keep from going stir crazy.
Keeping Your Monkey Brain In Check
Sometimes, the stress of worrying about a thing can feel nearly as bad as dealing with the actual thing. This is not to say that the cure is worse than the disease, as Donald Trump has claimed in error. Anyone who has recovered from the virus will definitely tell you differently. But that doesn’t mean that fear, boredom and stress can’t have seriously negative effects on your health and well-being. It’s important to stay physically as well as mentally healthy.
According to the American Institute of Stress, “Our brain can be separated into three sections – our lizard brain, our monkey brain, and our human brain. The “lizard brain” is found at the base of the brain, and contains the cerebellum and brain stem. Lizards only have these elements of the brain, which controls our most basic instincts. The next part of the brain, the “monkey brain” includes the majority of our tissue, and controls more complex tasks as well as emotions. Most mammals lead with their “monkey brain”, which is fueled by our most basic responses to fear and desire. The most advanced part of the brain is the “human brain”, which consists of the outer layer, surrounding the “monkey brain”. This area allows for logical, emotionless thought, as well as delayed gratification. It is by using our “human brain” that we are able to think through our responses, rather than just reacting. But, when we are faced with threats to our system, we don’t have time to stop and analyze what’s going on. During these times we are glad to have our “lizard” and “monkey” brains to get us to safety, through our fight or flight response.
“Because we have so many things going on at one time, when we multitask we can easily find ourselves using our “monkey brain”, making mindless decisions that may end up causing serious problems with important tasks, or even worse, with important relationships. Next time you find yourself trying to do a million things at once and getting irritable or grumpy with someone you care about, remind yourself that you’re using your “monkey brain”, and work on acting more like a human. (Although I’d caution against calling anyone else a monkey when they’re acting up, it might be a good code word for times when you feel like the other person isn’t giving you their full attention.)”
So here are some steps to control your monkey brain:
- Eliminate the noise. Turn away from your computer, turn off your phone (airplane mode works on the ground), and create an environment that is calming.
- Breathe. Bring awareness to your breath often throughout the day, and make sure that you’re getting what you need. A short, shallow breath rate triggers the stress response which results in “amygdala hijack” – monkey madness. Studies show a breathing pace of 6 breaths per minute (in to a count of 5, and out to a count of 5) is ideal for brainpower.
- Get out of the cage. Aim for physical activity at least every 90 minutes in order to keep circulation flowing and cortisol levels in balance.
Strategies For Avoiding Boredom
Everyone has their own way of coping with boredom and stress. The most important thing is to try to avoid the unhealthy ones such as eating and drinking to excess, and not to sit still and stressed. You need to keep busy, with your mind occupied and busy. It’s an added plus if you can be doing something you enjoy doing.
Watch a classic
This probably goes without saying and is something everyone is already doing, but here are a few classics that maybe you’ve forgotten about. It’s time to revisit them.
- The Godfather I & II
- Taxi Driver
- Steel Magnolias
- Shawshank Redemption
- Lawrence of Arabia
- Frankie and Johnny
- Twelve Angry Men
- Some Like It Hot
- To Kill A Mockingbird
- Star Wars IV-VI
- Raiders Of The Lost Ark
- The Shining
- Pulp Fiction
- The Unbearable Lightness of Being
- All The President’s Men
- Almost Famous
- Groundhog Day
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- When Harry Met Sally
- The Princess Bride
- One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest
- Blade Runner
- Apocalypse Now
- Schindler’s List
- And finally, the opening montage sequence in the animated movie Up!
Puzzles and Board Games
It’s amazing how much time and energy can be put into brain teasers such as puzzles and various board games. They can give you something to do as a group or a pair, and keep you busy. You can even listen to music while you do it.
Even if you don’t normally think of yourself as artistic, everyone can enjoy making something with their hands. Whether you can draw freehand, paint or sculpt, or simply enjoy the satisfaction of coloring with crayons or colored pencils. Get some clay and make abstract shapes. Scrapbook. Doodle. Make paper snowflakes. YouTube is chock full of ideas. Take a gamble. Learn to knit, crochet or needlepoint. Get outside and whittle a stick.
You don’t have to be Hemingway or David Sedaris to enjoy keeping a journal. Everyone is capable of writing down their thoughts and it can be a good way to deal with your feelings of fear and stress. Write down how you’re feeling. Express your hopes and dreams for the future. Jot down memories from your youth. Describe the what summer vacation was like when you were kid. Write a poem.
Now is your chance to make something you haven’t made before. Learn to bake bread. Perfect that pizza crust. Make homemade pasta and make your own sauce. Watch videos on YouTube and get inspiration from Pinterest. Work on new sauces. Sear steaks on the grill and boil lobster in a pot. Make lasagna, tortellini and stuffed shells. Make your own flavored butters. It’s all an adventure and at the end, you eat it.
With platforms like Facebook and Zoom, it’s easier than every to host a virtual game night. Play social games, invent drinking games. Invited friends and family and one night a week get together online and have some fun.
Call your mom. Call your dad. Teach grandma and grandpa how to Facetime or some other form of video calling. Have a conference call once a week with family. Let the chaos reign. Allow at least ten minutes for the children to get on as well. You’ll most likely spend a lot of time laughing. Avoid politics or talking about the pandemic. Just tell funny stories.
You really don’t have an excuse not to exercise. Sure it’s spring and it’s been typically wet, but when it’s not raining, go for a walk or a run. Do lunges. Situps. Pushups. Leg lifts. Planks. Burpees. Don’t know what a burpee is? Google it. They’re super easy, don’t require any equipment and you’ll hate them more than anything in life. But they’re effective.
Been meaning to tackle that one room, paint the bathroom, retile the laundry room? Well, now is your chance. With the exception of possibly needing a trip to a home improvement store, you have the time on your hands and it will keep you busy. Plus you’ll love the sense of accomplishment it brings. Just be careful. Now is not the time to go the emergency room.
Read A Book
For some people, this is already what they’ve been doing, but for others, reading can feel like a chore. Something you have to do instead of something you get to do. Now that you have the time, turn off your screens and tuck yourself into a good novel. Here are few to start with. They are easy reads and with enthrall you. If you’re feeling romantic, take turns reading aloud to your partner. If you have children, choose a long story they will like and have nightly story time. Read one chapter a night. They will be waiting eagerly for story time after a new nights, and begging you to read more.
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
- Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
- High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
- Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
- A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
- Where The Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
- A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L’Engle
- The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
- Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
- Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
- Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
- A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas
- A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
- The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London
One of the truly odd things about being stuck in your house without a natural weather calamity is that it can be a beautiful day. So, it’s time to get cracking on that yard and the garden. Start seeds indoors. Clean out those beds or start new ones. Order seeds online. Plan your garden.
When it comes to avoiding getting sick, most of you have most likely heard these warnings ad nauseam, but here they are again, just in case. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the best way to stay healthy is to follow these steps:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after being in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow or sleeve, not your hands.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, computers, phones, keyboards, sinks, toilets, faucets and countertops.
- If surfaces are dirty, clean them – use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection. Find full information on how to disinfect here.
- Wear a facemask if you are sick. You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office.
Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19
Community practices such as social distancing, closures and canceling large gatherings can help slow the spread of this virus. Here’s how you can help:
- Listen to and follow the directions of your state and local authorities.
- Stay home if you can and avoid any non-essential travel.
- Avoid social gatherings of more than ten people.
- Practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from others if you must go out in public.
- Avoid eating or drinking in bars, restaurants, and food courts. Use drive-thru, pickup or delivery options.
- Avoid visiting nursing homes, retirement or long-term care facilities.
Precautions for Those at Higher Risk
According to the CDC, early information shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. This includes older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or a serious long-term health problem, it is extra important for you to take actions to avoid getting sick.
- Stay home and avoid crowds as much as possible. Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
- When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
- Talk with your doctor about any additional steps you may be able to take to protect yourself.
- Stock up on supplies:
- Contact your healthcare provider to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community and you need to stay home for a prolonged period of time. If you cannot get extra medications, consider using a mail-order option.
- Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
- Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.
Coping With Stress During COVID-19
For many of us, COVID-19 has disrupted our routines and made everyday activities, such as work and caring for loved ones, challenging. These changes, on top of the general uncertainty around this pandemic, can create feelings of stress, fear and nervousness. These feelings are normal, and people typically bounce back after difficult times.
The following information can help you cope with stress and support others during this emergency. It’s normal for people to have these types of feelings right now:
- Fear about running out of essential supplies.
- Anxiety, particularly about being separated from loved ones.
- Uncertainty about how long you will need to shelter at home.
- Concerns for your physical safety and that of others.
- Fear of getting sick.
- Guilt about not being able to fulfill responsibilities, such as work, parenting or caring for dependents.
- Boredom or isolation.
- Thoughts of blame, worry or fear.
- Worry about loss of income.
- Fear of being stigmatized or labeled if you become sick.
- Stay connected with loved ones through video calls, phone calls, texts or social media.
- Remain informed with accurate, reliable information. Avoid social media accounts and news outlets that promote fear or rumors.
- Monitor your physical health needs and those of your loved ones. Eat healthy foods, and drink plenty of water.
- Unless you are showing signs of illness or have tested positive for COVID-19, going outside to exercise and walk pets is okay. But don’t forget to practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away from others.
- Hold an image in your mind of the best possible outcome. Make a list of your personal strengths and use these to help both yourself and others stay emotionally strong.
- If you are religious or spiritual, follow practices at home that provide you with comfort and emotional strength.
- Reach out to older adults or people with chronic health conditions and offer to help. For example, offer to pick up groceries, medications and other essential supplies. Check in with them regularly but practice social distancing by keeping at least six feet away when you deliver essential items.
- Talk to your children and explain why this is happening and how long it might last. Use language that is normal and consistent with how you usually communicate. Be creative and think of fun activities that will occupy their time. Keep a schedule, set appropriate limits and maintain usual rules when possible.
- Take care of your pets, which can be an essential part of your support system. Like people, pets react to changes in their environment and routine, so their behaviors may change, as well. Keep track of their well-being and take care of their needs as best you can.
- Show kindness to people who may not have a support system or are isolated. There may be limits to what you can do in reaching out, but a little kindness may be just what someone needs.
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