Pandemic got you down? 10 tips to reframe it!

Covid-19 infections have been rising alarmingly for the past several weeks, prompting more than a third of US governors to beg the public to take virus-protection matters seriously, while governors of at least three states—California, Oregon, and Washington—have issued new restrictions. Meanwhile, hospitals in some regions are reaching capacity; some cities have had to set up mobile morgues; infection rates are setting appalling records daily, as are death rates from the disease.

No one is happy about this state of affairs, of course. Healthy people are upset about proposed or enacted restrictions on public gatherings—just as the holidays approach. Many are also concerned about the impact of restrictions on their ability to earn a living—again, just as the holidays approach.

The growing number of infected people probably have a different perspective, however. They are more likely to understand the reason for the health warnings and to hope their fellow citizens comply. After all, it was our haphazard compliance up to this point—combined with the return of cold weather—that have enabled a viral resurgence. And those who have lost loved ones are in their own state of grief and mourning.

But to those of us who are healthy so far and discouraged at the return of restrictions on our activities, I advise us to do what resilient people always do: reframe! After all, there are two kinds of stress: distress and eustress. While distress is debilitating, eustress is the kind of stress you welcome because it makes you stronger. It’s the reason athletes train to be stronger and faster, and it’s why we welcome activities that challenge us to grow—like learning a new skill, or sport, or craft. Reframing unexpected challenges as eustress, rather than distress, can help us make the best of them. After all, challenges are often the catalyst for innovation and accomplishment. They’re like the irritant in the oyster that prompts it to make a pearl.

Here are my thoughts on Covid-19 restrictions:

Yes, they may be annoying; however in the larger scheme of things they’re really not that burdensome. Generations past have endured much worse: wars, bombings, food rationings, shortages of goods and services, forced relocations, environmental disasters, and much, much more. Compared against other hardships, Covid-19 restrictions are minor. So, stay home as much as possible; wear a mask when you go out; keep at least six feet between yourself and others; wash your hands frequently; and avoid touching your face. None of this makes you a “sheeple,” any more than complying with a stop sign does. Nor does it involve “living in fear,” unless the same can be said for wearing a seatbelt or a bicycle helmet. Rather, these are simple, common sense precautions that, in fact, enable us to live our lives more fearlessly.

Here are some tips that may help:

  1. Find a mask that’s comfortable. Unless you’re a healthcare worker, you’re not required to wear an N-95 mask that fits tightly around your face. Although medical-grade masks obviously provide more protection, if you’re not facing a prolonged exposure you can wear a cloth mask that fits you comfortably. It will even provide additional warmth as temperatures drop.
  2. Wash your mask after each use. Cloth masks can be washed in the machine using regular detergent, a touch of bleach, and the warmest water recommended for the fabric type. If hand-washing, soak the mask for five minutes in a solution containing 4 teaspoons of household bleach per quart of water, rinse thoroughly with water, and allow the mask to air-dry. Also wash your hands before and after handling your mask to avoid contaminating yourself.
  3. Invest in an assortment of masks and keep an extra one or two in your coat, purse, or car, so that you’re not caught without one unexpectedly. There are now many fashionable mask styles available, so have fun with your collection.
  4. Think of Covid precautions as a gesture of kindness to your fellow citizens and your community. Like holding the door for another shopper, smiling at strangers, saying please and thank-you, or letting the other driver cross the intersection ahead of you, wearing a mask is a courtesy we extend to others to protect the more vulnerable and guard against spreading infection when we don’t know we’re contagious.
  5. Practice conscientious self-care. Give yourself a facial, a pedicure, or a bubble bath. Brew yourself a cup of tea. Light a scented candle. Read a book by the fire. Create a daily or weekly ritual that nurtures YOU.
  6. Consider the sacrifices that others have made. In the course of human history, mask-wearing, hand-washing, and social distancing do not rank as onerous. Mass deaths are far worse. More than 200,000 Americans have already died from the Covid-19—more than the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf combined. According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), Covid-19 is now the second-leading cause of death in the US, just after heart disease. The same researchers project almost 180,000 additional Covid-19 deaths by January 1. Unless, of course, we follow the recommended safety precautions. According to the IHME, “Increasing mask use to 95% can save nearly 115,000 lives, reducing that projected number of deaths by 62.7%.”
  7. Don’t get mad; get creative. Isaac Newton made some of his most important discoveries–including the theory of gravity–while in quarantine from the bubonic plague of the 1660s. William Shakespeare became unemployed as an actor when London theaters shut down during the bubonic plague of 1606–and ended up writing some of his most famous plays during that time. Getting angry is counter-productive. Although most Americans distinctly dislike being told what to do–and we’re particularly unhappy about not being able to gather with our friends and family members during the holidays–getting angry at the public officials who are making these recommendations to protect us is like getting angry at the mechanic who tells you need new brakes, or your doctor because you hate the chemo or radiation treatments she advises.
  8. Adversity builds character. The thrill of accomplishment is greatest when the journey has been the most challenging. Surviving—even thriving!—through difficult times builds emotional muscle, just as lifting heavy weights builds physical muscle. So though we’re disappointed that the virus is surging and we have to restrict our activities, remind yourself that we can do this.
  9. Think outside the box when it comes to re-inventing your holiday celebrations. If the weather permits and your location allows it, consider dining outside, setting a separate table for each household. Or if you must restrict your celebration to indoors with no guests, find other ways to share: Drop off a favorite dish at a friend’s, enjoy dessert and coffee together via Zoom, call friends and family members and express your gratitude for them, or spend the day playing board games with your household, writing holiday cards, or making gifts for December giving.
  10. Remember: the coronavirus won’t last forever and neither will these restrictions. As the saying goes, tough times don’t last but tough people do. Vaccines are coming with record-breaking speed and, as we learn more about the disease, its death rate is dropping. These are good indicators. So take a deep breath, call upon the strength of your ancestors—all of whom survived tough times or you wouldn’t be here—and think about how much more we’re going to enjoy future celebrations when Covid-19 is behind us and we haven’t lost any more of our loved ones.
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