How to Cope with COVID-19: Keep Calm and Carry On

With many parts of the country on virtual lockdown due to coronavirus, rumors running rampant, and the media often at odds with what the experts are saying, things have gotten a bit frightening and more than a little confusing lately. Add to the mix the fear of looming job loss and reduced or even nonexistent income, and you have a recipe for psychological disaster.

So what can you do to cope during this trying time? How can you help yourself, your spouse, your loved ones come through this unprecedented upheaval in the best possible shape?

First of all, don’t panic.

No matter how the media may spin it, this isn’t the end of the world. It’s not even the end of the world as we know it.

Are we — both as a country and as individuals — in a tough situation? Of course we are. But it won’t go on forever, and while we may be in for a rough ride, we will get through this. So close your eyes, take a deep breath, roll your shoulders to loosen them up, and calm down. Then let’s talk about how best to cope in a world where it seems everything has changed overnight.

Don’t overdose on media

Sensationalist reporting is a problem at the best of times, but during a crisis it’s unforgivable. Unfortunately, the majority of coronavirus reporting — especially in mainstream media — has been, and continues to be, highly sensationalized.

So don’t be a news junkie — or at least take what you read with a grain of salt. This is especially true if you get most of your news from social media. Limit how often you check the news, and check the sources on everything before you get too stressed-out or share it with others.

In other words: get your coronavirus updates from the CDC rather than ABC. And if you really want to know what’s going on, follow the White House’s daily press briefings, where those leading the pandemic task force explain where we are and what’s happening right now in simple, non-sensational terms.

Accept that you can’t control what’s happening — but plan for the things you can

Right now, circumstances are largely out of our control. It’s a fact. There are things happening that neither you, nor I, nor our neighbors down the street can do anything about no matter how much we worry and stress.

Instead of fighting this fact, accept it. The reality is that worrying about things you have no control over does no good at all but can do a lot of harm. Here’s what you should do instead:

  • Sit down and make a list of the things that are worrying you. Think carefully about whether each issue is something you can do something about or something outside of your control.
  • Divide the issues into two separate lists: things you can control — or at least make a contingency plan for — and those you can’t. Put the list of things you simply can’t control aside. (And if you start feeling overwhelmed at any point, stop and come back to this project later. It’s something you do have control over, after all.)
  • Now look at the items on your remaining list. For each item, brainstorm all the possible solutions that you can. And don’t get stuck on the “ideal” solution — write them all down as they come to you and sift through them later.

When you’re done, pick one or two solutions for each possible problem and create a concrete plan of action. Then put it away and forget about it. When you find yourself worrying about these issues again, remind yourself that you do have a plan.

Take control in small ways

You may not be able to control how long this pandemic lasts, or how your community responds to it, or even whether you’re allowed to go to work. But there are plenty of smaller things that you can control. In stressful situations, having even a modicum of control can be very comforting. So take control of your life in whatever small ways you can.

Establish a routine and stick to it. Plan ahead wherever possible so that fewer things are left to chance. Get organized. Make to-do lists each day. And stay off social media unless you’re actually socializing. Take charge of the small things, and try not to worry about the big things that are out of your control.

You have the internet. Stay connected even if you’re quarantined

In the age of always-on, everywhere internet connection, there’s no reason that “social distancing” has to mean social isolation. Use your phone for its most basic purpose and call friends and family regularly. Use Skype or Google Hangouts to video chat, or even group chat.  

Take good care of yourself

One of the most important things you can do, both for your mental health and physical health is to eat well, drink plenty of water, and most of all get plenty of sleep. These three things help combat stress and anxiety and also support a healthy immune system — which is your first line of defense against illness including the coronavirus.

Practicing some stress reduction techniques right now is a very good idea; deep breathing exercises, visualization, and progressive relaxation may all be very helpful. And if you’ve ever thought about trying meditation, this might be the ideal time. At the very least, make sure you take time to do something you enjoy every day. Be kind to yourself.

What about your job?

It’s easy to say, “Don’t panic.” But what if you’ve lost your job (or worry that you’re about to)? If you’ve lost your job due to the coronavirus crisis, either temporarily or permanently, or if you’ve had your hours greatly reduced, here are a few helpful steps you can take:

  1. Apply for unemployment. The recent stimulus bill opened unemployment insurance up to people who were not eligible before (such as freelancers and Uber drivers), and dramatically increased the amount of benefits you can draw.
  2. If you have a mortgage, talk to your lender. If you have a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan, these entities have been instructed to allow borrowers to suspend payments for up to 12 months. Many other lenders have signaled that they also are willing to work with borrowers to get through the crisis. And if you’re renting, you still have some breathing room. President Trump ordered evictions to cease through mid-May, so reach out to your landlord in the meantime and see if he or she is open to negotiation.
  3. If you have student loans, ask for a forbearance. Financial hardship is a valid reason for suspending student loan payments temporarily. Call your loan servicer and explain your situation.
  4. Reach out to your bank. Banks are also working to ease the financial toll the virus response is taking.
  5. Contact your utility company. Many companies are holding off on shutoffs for the duration. Call your utility company and internet provider and ask them to make a deal.
  6. Seek out community assistance. There are many nonprofit organizations who may be able to help out, from food pantries to rental and utility assistance.

Once again, it’s important to remember that the current situation isn’t going to last forever. Many businesses will reopen their doors once the crisis is past, and many others will spring up to replace those who can’t weather the storm. And our government has taken unprecedented steps to support small businesses through the pandemic and give displaced employees — even freelancers, who usually fall through the cracks — a helping hand till the economy gets back on track.

Remember that you’re not alone in this

Finally, remember this: you are not alone. There are three-hundred and thirty million of us, and we’re all in this together. Together, we’ll get through it.