Dr. Paul on digging in for the long haul with COVID-19 life

Be prepared for the pandemic to continue into next year. The Spanish flu of 1918 was around for two.

By now, it’s pretty obvious that the coronavirus is not on summer break. Indeed, in some states, infection rates have surged and even surpassed the grim days of March. We’re all feeling discouraged.

It’s created more uncertainty. Should schools open in the fall? Should states lock down, step back or delay further opening? What will happen to small businesses? How will we manage? What should we do? What will happen to our jobs and the economy? How much and what kind of contact can we have with friends, family and co-workers? What will tomorrow bring?

The good news for Washingtonians is that the great Northwest’s waters, woods and mountains beckon. It’s easy to be outdoors, letting the breeze and clean air help us feel safe and sound. We can feel comfortable hiking, camping, fishing and boating. We can take a brief vacation from our fears and the routines of daily COVID life.

But then, it’s clear that we’re in this for the long haul. The 1918 flu pandemic lasted for the better part of two years. I take comfort in thinking that the smartest virologists, scientists and physicians around the world are looking for treatments and a vaccine. It makes me feel hopeful. But I don’t expect a quick fix. It takes time for scientists to test their theories.

In the meantime, we are counting on time-tested, public-health measures, such as social distancing and masking, to limit the community spread of COVID. But these approaches are especially difficult for young people, single people, older adults and families. It demands a form of social isolation that opposes our genetic and neurophysiologic makeup. Humans are social animals — we want to be part of our pack. We depend on non-verbal social information that our colorful masks hide. Masked faces make us uncomfortable and feel awkward.

So how do we dig in for the long haul?

Be prepared for the worst. Hope for the best and be ready for everything in between, as Maya Angelou said in her autobiography. It’s better to be prepared than have to pivot at the last minute. What will you do if schools don’t reopen? If infection rates continue to rise? If retail businesses can’t fully open? If we must shelter at home? If unemployment rates are high? Have a Plan A, B and C.

Find ways of keeping your peace. This is easier said than done. I rely on a 40-year-long meditation practice, a 10-year practice of Tai Chi Chuan, the joy of walking in nature, a three times a week exercise program, listening to opera and learning new things. Like legions of COVID-ers, I’m learning how to bake bread and make my own sourdough starter. And even so, I have my bad days, too. What helps you keep your peace?

Invent new social forms. My colleague organized a socially distant and COVID-safe baby shower for her best buddy. I attend regular zoom meetings with my family. I sit in my friend’s back yard, 6 feet away, drinking wine on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We are an amazingly creative and resourceful species. We can invent new ways of connecting using all of the resources at our disposal.

Make the best of every day. If we live one day at a time, we can be the best person we can be — the best husband, wife, partner, friend, father, mother, son or daughter. Sometimes the best is less than we would like. And sometimes we come home with a gold medal.

Don’t think too far ahead. Looking into the future while the present is uncertain and discouraging can be a recipe for suffering. Let’s focus on making today the best day we can — sprinkled with love, kindness and peace.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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