Keeping it Together During Social Distancing

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy…”

Writer Jack Torrence wrote these words over and over in his novel, symbolizing his descent into madness from isolation in the 1980 horror film The Shining.  That’s how many of us feel during our fourth? fifth? twenty third? week of Covid-19 social distancing.  We’re stuck in our homes day in and day out.  Our normal routines, hobbies, and social interactions are put on indefinite hold. There’s no sports, weddings, funerals, Quinceañeras, movies in theaters, eating at restaurants, or even grabbing coffee with friends.  Oh yeah, and the health and livelihoods of our friends, loved ones, and our own are at risk due to this global pandemic.  Thankfully, relatively few of us are also being haunted in our isolation by evil ghosts like Jack Torrence.  But that doesn’t make this experience any less traumatic for the rest of us.  Who would have thought toilet paper and Clorox wipes would become more valuable than gold?

We’re all under a tremendous amount of stress.  We’re scared, depressed, angry, bored, and possibly unbathed.  It’s easy to underestimate how much these pressures are grinding away at our psyches.  Coronavirus is everywhere.  It dominates every discussion.  This virus is the news – ok maybe there’s a break for Cathy to talk about the weather, but there’s not much else going on. Even those fortunate enough to still be working have their workdays dominated by Covid-19.  Field hospitals and refrigerated trailers serving as morgues are not normal!  This all can have a negative effect on our mental health.

Thankfully there are things we can do to fight back and maintain a sense of sanity. Mental health professionals agree on a few simple things we can do to help keep our psychological well-being.  With all these stressors affecting our mental state, we have to take active measures to protect ourselves.  These are secular tips, intended supplement any strength gained through faith.

Spoiler alert – if you’re looking for a Psychologist-approved validation that binge-watching TV is the best way through these difficult times, stop reading now – you’ll be disappointed.  However, if you hang through to the end, I’ll have a few suggestions for TV shows you can feel good about escaping the crazy reality we’re in now.

With that out of the way, here are a few points in no particular order that you can do to help cope with these terrible times.

Limit Your News Intake

We watch the news to see what’s going on in the broader world.  These days, it’s a fire hose of bad news, particularly the cable news channels. Actually, cable news is a fire hose of bad news 7 days a week.  Now it’s a tsunami of Covid-19 dread.  A fire hose would be quaint.

Our brains are wired to pay more attention to danger, and the barrage of threats put forth by cable news forms the basis of their business model of selling ads for Toyotas and prescription drugs that may cause diarrhea. Nobody needs that – the bad news or the diarrhea!  We’re already inundated by stories of people sick and dying from this disease. A steady drip of Covid stories from our news channel of choice just adds another heapin’ helping of angst on top of an overflowing plate of anxiety.

The best way to limit the 24/7 news feed of negativity and teases for treatment is to restrict your news intake to a couple times a day.  Check in during your morning coffee to get the latest.  Cathy will tell you if it’s going to rain, and you can learn of any important Coronavirus updates.  Then, avoid the news throughout the day.  Seriously.  There’s nothing else going on.  There’s no sports and the political party that makes you angry is still doing things that will piss you off (or at least reported that way).  We want to soothe our worries by searching for a bit of good news, but cable news will just be serving another glass of anxiety.  Don’t drink it!

Wait until dinnertime or before bed and check back in.  Cathy will tell you if it’s going to rain tomorrow, and you can again see if there’s any important Coronavirus updates.  You’ll know what you need to know to fight the pandemic and you’ll be in a better mental place because of it.

Make Room For the Good and the Bad

This sucks.  This isn’t a ‘my gawd the Rockies need to turn it around or there’s no playoffs’ suck. This is big suck.  This is ‘my retirement accounts are draining like a bathtub’ suck.  This is ‘folks are losing their livelihoods’ suck.  This is ‘people are dying and I don’t know when its going to stop’ suck.  This sucks. Did I mention refrigerated trailers being converted into morgues?  It’s healthy to recognize that this much suck will bring us down.  Don’t feel like you have to wave it away or ‘stiff upper lip’ it. Recognize that the world is turned upside down and that will have an effect on us.  This much suck can lead to some depression, anger, or both.  Be at peace with that….

…But don’t wallow in it, because for as bad as things are, there’s still some good in all this.  Many fortunate enough to still be employed are working from home.  Their morning commute is from the bed to the computer with a stop in between at the coffee pot.  People still going into a place of business also benefit from an improved commute.  

I’m thankful to be around my kids all day.  My teenaged daughter probably ranks this as ‘I’ve got to spend every day all day with my family’ suck, but I love spending time with that grumpy girl.  I’ve also got more time to catch up on TV, both highbrow and mindless shows alike!

For all the bad that’s happening in the world now, there are absolutely nuggets of goodness!  Every night at 8pm, people are opening their windows or going onto their porches to howl at the moon.  On the face of it, we do this to support those on the front line fighting the Covid-19 epidemic.  That’s cool by itself, but it’s also a bit of shared humanity that we wouldn’t have without this disease.

Whether it’s spending time with family, getting away with working half the day in pajamas, or being able to step back and reflect on what’s really important, there is some good that has come out of Covid-19.  In the same way it’s okay to be brought down by this disease, it’s healthy to savor some of the high points.

Stay Connected To Friends & Family

Loneliness is real for introverts and extroverts alike.  Social isolation deprives us from the interpersonal contact that humans need (admittedly some more than others).  It is easy to sit at home with contact limited to a spouse or coworkers via tele-meetings.  But, our sense of isolation will build over time.  We have to actively fight back  against this loneliness.  

Thankfully technology is providing free tools to make it easier.  Check in with at least one other person daily.  This helps reduce their sense of solitude as well as your own. These effects are improved the closer you get to actual face-to-face interaction.  Texting is good, phone calls are better, and video chats are best – unless you’re able to talk to a neighbor in an adjacent porch or window, then do that!

Our smart phones generally have video call apps – Facetime for iPhones, Google Duo for Android, and Skypeworks on both platforms.  And yes, it is possible to do a video call between Apple and Android devices!  Facebook Messenger has a video chat function.  Videoconferencing platform Zoom even has no cost options.  You can do virtual get-togethers – Happy Hours, book clubs, or even watch parties can help maintain our family ties, friendships, and sanity during these crazy times.   On the other side of this, we’re going to have some great ‘Did you hear a click’ stories and videos! 

The global pandemic gives us a great excuse to reach out to friends or even people we’ve lost touch with.  Who wouldn’t want to hear “Hey I was wondering how you were doing and thought I would reach out to check in” in this time of social distancing?

In Summary

We’re in a tough spot these days.   We’re starting to see a few promising developments in fighting the coronavirus, but we have a long ways to go.  Social distancing will likely go on in some form for months, and there will likely be some permanent changes to society.  The reality of our situation can wreak havoc on our mental health, but we don’t need to turn into Jack Torrence.  There are a few things we should do to maintain our mental health…and maybe make sure there’s no axes laying around.

  • Limit Your News Intake – The 24 hour news cycle doesn’t produce 24 hours worth of valuable information.  Check the news once or twice per day and don’t subject your brain to the non-stop flow of ‘urgent’ information.
  • Make Room For the Good and Bad – The global health and economic impacts of this pandemic will get to you.  This is normal, but don’t fixate on it.  There are some good things brought by Covid-19 and it’s healthy to acknowledge and appreciate them as well.
  • Stay Connected to Friends and Family – Though we’re physically isolated, we can maintain the benefits that human interactions has on our mental health.  Maintain these relationships.  You and those you reach out to will be better because of it

Binge-Watching!

Finally, one of the upsides of social distancing is more time being available to watch TV.  Some of the best television ever has been made over the past few years.  Marked by smart story telling, solid acting, and brilliant production values, there are plenty of options for binge-worthy television packed with artistic merit.  TV, movies, books, podcasts, or even YouTube are all great ways to escape the monotony of daily life during Covid-19 social distancing.  Here are a few suggestions from my couch to yours!

The Good Place 

ABC’s clever comedy about Heaven and Hell is very smart and laugh out loud funny over 4 seasons.

The Wire

This epic HBO series looks at Baltimore’s drug trade from the perspectives of the criminals and law enforcement over the course of 5 seasons.  This one isn’t for the kids!

Stranger Things

Netflix has a teen-friendly supernatural thriller wrapped in an homage to the 1980s.  There’s 3 seasons to catch up on before it starts again in 2021.

The Expanse 

Amazon has picked up one of the best science fiction shows ever produced (some say taking the mantle from the 2006 Battlestar Galactica reboot).  Set in a future in which humans have colonized our solar system, we see predictable human responses when they’re exposed to an alien technology.  The story spans 4 seasons that require you to pay attention.

There’s also some highly entertaining mindless TV out there.  What shows or movies are helping you escape from our coronavirus reality?  What strategies are you using to keep your sanity?  Let everyone know in the comments!

 

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