‘And the people stayed home’

Keeping your sanity while social distancing

By Barbara Pierce

Life as we know it is being transformed by COVID-19. This is a situation like no other. It’s extraordinary, history making.

The situation is fluid. Information changes rapidly, hour by hour. This is being written on March 18; before we go to press, much will change.

We’ve been advised that the best way to slow the flood is “social distancing.” This means reducing our rate of contact with one another to lower the chances of being exposed and to slow down the spread of the disease.

Our libraries are closed; our schools are closed; sporting events have been cancelled. Our senior centers are closed, as is the Department of Motor Vehicles, the zoo, and more and more businesses.

We’re advised to work at home, avoid people, don’t even get together with only a few friends, cancel play dates for our children, and get take-out instead of eating in restaurants.

For a while, life is not what it used to be. It’s a stressful time. It is painful, but hopefully for the short run and essential to saving lives.

Here is some information we offer to you as you get through this crisis.

• Limit your dose of news: This constant onslaught of disturbing news is not good for you. It fuels your anxiety and keeps your stress response on high. You’ll fare better not continually watching the news. Keep up with what’s going on, but only in limited doses.

Do not get news alerts on your phone and pass on those “important updates” about COVID-19.

• Stay connected: When we’re under stress, the most important thing we need is the support of others. With social distancing, we can’t get what we need in the ways we usually do.

But don’t be socially isolated. Find a way to connect with others. While you can’t replace the value of in-person interactions, be flexible and think creatively.

Reach out to your friends and family in virtual ways and by phone; keep in touch. If you have a smart phone, use the video; seeing someone face-to-face increases your feelings of connection.

“Stay connected during this time,” urged NBA star Kevin Love on NBC’s “The Today Show.”

“Call people and ask them to tell you their story and then tell them your story,” he said.

Can you speak to your neighbors from over a fence or across balconies? The image of people in Italy, leaning out their windows talking and singing the national anthem, is pure delight.

Dara Kapoor, online, gets it: “I’ve been on the phone more in the past week than all of last year.”

The Parkway Center in Utica gets it: “We’ve closed,” said Kelly Walters, the center’s executive director. “Social distancing is hard on everyone. However, we’re doing wellness phone calls to our members to check on their well being. We hope a friendly phone call helps until we’re able to re-open.”

Slow that stress

Do what helps slow your stress:

— Accept that it’s normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, or scared. Do what you need to slow your stress: deep breathing, exercise, meditation, yoga — whatever helps.

— Be knowledgeable, but in a “don’t panic, but prepare” frame of mind. Look at what you can control. Feeling in control reduces stress.

— Talk with others about how you feel, especially if you are in quarantine. But be aware that complaining only makes things worse.

— Keeping busy is the best way to keep from going stir crazy.

This poem by Kitty O’Meara, on Facebook, says it well:

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being …

“Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows …

“And when the danger passed, the people joined together again, as they had healed.”

— Keep up your exercise routine. Find a routine you like on YouTube. Moving elevates your mood.

I like to walk. My neighbors take trips on their bicycles. Another family explores in their recreational vehicles. Takes the edge off the edginess that erupts from time to time.

— Get outside; pull weeds in your garden, watch the birds.

— Learn something new from YouTube: how to salsa dance, knit, speak French, yoga, opera. Something wild you’d never thought you would do.

— If you’re a parent, teach your kids something useful: how to cook, do their laundry, or change the oil in the car. Let them have play dates via Skype. There are lots of ideas online about fun stuff to do.

— Play games as a family.

— Watch old movies on Turner Classic Movies, or old episodes of funny series like “Two and a Half Men” or “The Big Bang Theory.”

Write your life story. Take a virtual tour of museums through Google. Watch your favorite performers, like John Legend or Yo-Yo Ma, through #stars in the house.

— Be positive; find pleasure in small things — the flower outside your window, the smell of freshly brewed coffee, or a call from a friend.

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars,” an old Persian proverb, applies now.

— Stay calm and carry on. We’ll come through on the other side.