A doctor’s perspective on coping with COVID-19

Feeling exhausted by the news, chaos, constant sanitizing, working or schooling from home, and everything related to COVID-19? It is overwhelming for the best of us, and so I want to offer some comforting thoughts and core tips to help you through this time.

Do your best in the now

Focus fully on each activity and task in your day to give your mind a respite from fear and worry. Whether it’s washing your hands for the nth time today, cooking from the pantry, doing your best to homeschool, or hustling to deliver much-needed services in industries that are still fully active, focusing on your now is a key way to maintain your balance. By taking a break from fretting about the future, you’ll be more calm and capable when you do indeed need to spend some focused time planning ahead.

Establish routines

Social distancing isn’t new to many groups: monks, farmers, authors, freelancers, and more all know that the key to coping with little social interaction is maintaining a set routine. In fact, it’s even more important when times are anything but routine to follow a set schedule.

Routine provides a sense of structure to life. It can help you wake up with a sense of purpose and order, in addition to helping ensure good habits (exercise) and bad habits (binge-watching) each have their respective place and limits. The American Academy of Pediatrics emphasizes the importance of routine for children, but the same holds true for all of us.

You might try to match your pre-COVID routine for the sake of continuity or use this time to establish new and healthy routines. Whatever you do, stick to it. That said, yes, you can still have weekends to stay up late and sleep in a bit!

Moderate alcohol consumption

Quarantinis may be the de rigueur drink of March 2020, but I want to offer a gentle reminder that overuse of alcohol is associated with depression, not to mention hangovers. Per the Clinical and Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo, “alcohol causes lasting effects in the brain. The misfiring of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, is directly related to clinical depression.” It’s best to establish a limit for yourself or simply have a dry March. You’ll even sleep better.

Exercise daily

No matter how simple or little it is, incorporate daily exercise in your schedule. This may even become a silver lining for those of you who haven’t established an exercise routine in the past. Did you know as little as 20 minutes a day of walking can boost immune function and benefit your mental and physical health?

If you are stuck in a place where you can’t walk or go for a run, take advantage of online yoga classes or dive into YouTube for fitness videos. You might even find yourself entertained at the same time: try checking out vintage 80s workouts or dance to some favorite tunes with your kids!

Reach out to friends

This is a golden opportunity to reconnect with friends, whether it’s through Facetime, by phone, or via good old-fashioned snail mail. Commiserating and connecting is good for the soul! You might even incorporate a daily outreach to a close friend or family member into your routine. Just be sure to limit contact with people you find draining or challenging if you are already feeling overwhelmed.

Take breaks from the news

News is important right now, but most of us don’t need to check the latest COVID counts every hour. Build a set time into your routine to digest the latest news, then give it a break until the next time. If the news outlet you currently rely on seems to fan your anxiety, consider exploring other options. You might switch from watching news on TV to reading updates online or exploring different trusted news sources.

I hope these ideas help support you through these challenging times.