We are six days into the March break here in Ontario, a time when, in any other year, many families might have been lucky enough to visit places like Punta Cana or take the kids for one last ski break. But instead, due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, we’re literally living in a state of emergency.
It’s heartening that so many of us are following the public health recommendations of self-isolation and social distancing to “flatten the curve” and avoid overloading our healthcare system, but it basically feels like what I imagine life during the bubonic plague of the 1300s was like, combined with the early days of the Second World War in Europe, with food hoarding and the panic of uncertainty weighing heavily on everyone. In short, the perfect recipe for all-time-high-anxiety.
The first few days of school and work closures were not great for my family, for a variety of reasons. Our business, which is the sole source of our income, has dropped 70 percent in revenue in one week, and there is no way to foresee how long that will last or what the repercussions will be to our livelihood. (We run an office coffee-supply delivery service, and our orders have slowed because most of our corporate clients are now working from home.) Like many Canadians, we’re waiting to see what the emergency aid programs promised by the government will actually look like, and hoping it will get us through.
Meanwhile, the work of mothering doesn’t stop. My eight-month-old is simultaneously going through a growth spurt and cutting his first teeth. As I was putting my five-year-old to bed the other night after a particularly trying day of pretending to be a teacher who suddenly knows how to homeschool him, he told me that he wished he could move to another planet because “people are too angry on Earth.” Great.
I know we are certainly not alone in this boat, and that for many families, the ramifications of the past week are much, much worse. But still, it’s scary AF. Then I finally let go and had a good, ugly cry—something I haven’t had the time or the energy to do while operating in crisis mode. I wallowed in my fears, walked through every worse-case scenario with my husband, and then decided that I was not going to go through the days and weeks ahead in this state. Instead, I turned my mind and energy to things that have helped me cope with anxiety and fear in challenging times before.
1. Limiting social media and news consumption
News developments and government announcements are happening so quickly right now, so obviously we can’t tune out everything, and our phones are a lifeline when we’re so isolated from friends and extended family. But my love of scrolling through Instagram for a few minutes to see what’s up isn’t helping right now. Over the last few days, every time I looked on social media, there was another post or update from someone in my network about how they were stocking up on tuna and chickpeas to prepare for the inevitable apocalypse, or how they had just returned from the grocery store and the aisles were empty and people were arguing over the last pack of toilet paper, and it just got to be too much. By limiting my time on social media and only following people who are working to promote calm or provide reliable information, I significantly reduced the instantaneous sense of rising panic whenever I saw these posts. Same with the news. I am staying abreast of developments to keep informed, but I’m not being consumed by it. I know that right now as a parent to two little kids, my most important role is to be the calm in the storm. Being obsessed with the news serves no purpose and won’t help me or my family.
2. Sticking to a schedule—sorta
OK, I’m not talking about anything colour-coded or complex. But in a situation like a global freaking pandemic where there is so little I (or we) can control, finding things that you have agency over, I’ve found, helps reduce a sense of internal chaos. Because I have both children at home and my husband still has to work, some things have to change and be adjusted for, of course. But some things can stay the same: the time we eat lunch and dinner, the time my children and I go to bed, and the time I devote to exercise. By maintaining a sense of normalcy, and continuing to give myself the time to move my body and exert the excess energy brought on by the added stress of, well, EVERYTHING, I’m finding this helps me calm my nerves and maintain a sense of balance.
3. Making myself look decent
This may seem trivial, but honestly, just making sure I brush my hair and slap on a bit of concealer and blush does wonders. (This is something many moms stuck in the house on mat leave can relate to, even before coronavirus started spreading in our communities.) When I look good, I feel good. Or, at least, I feel decent.
4. Finding humour and lightness
This is not a time to be watching dark, dramatic movies and TV shows (unless, of course, that works for you). Now is the time to watch Curb Your Enthusiasm, Love is Blind, Love Island, Real Housewives or any movie by Judd Apatow. Podcasts are another great source of escapist entertainment. (Personally I love Juicy Scoop with Heather McDonald and Armchair Expert with Dax Sheppard, as well as anything on The Ringer podcast network.) If you’re looking for a book to pull you out of the present moment, I highly recommend Jessica Simpson’s new memoir Open Book, in audiobook format if you can, because it basically feels like she’s your best friend spilling alllll the tea. The one exception to my only-uplifting-media rule is watching something that reminds you that things could be much, much worse. The movie 1917, which we recently watched, did just that. Seeing young men fighting to survive in the trenches during the First World War does wonders to keep things in perspective—just saying.
5. Practising yoga and meditation
The benefits of yoga and meditation have been widely discussed and proven, so I don’t need to go into that here. But it goes back to the idea of working with what you can control versus what you can’t: yoga and meditation are tools that truly will have a positive impact on your physical and mental equilibrium. We’re stuck at home right now, and lots of yoga and mindfulness teachers are doing online tutorials for free, or pay-what-you-can. Even if you only have ten minutes after the kids have gone down, it’s possible to fit it in. (My go-tos are Yoga for Bedtime, Yoga to Calm Your Nerves and Yoga for Stress Release on the Yoga with Adriene YouTube channel.) You can even do yoga with your kids. (Check out Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube.)
6. Looking for moments of gratitude
When all of these tools and tricks don’t work—and sometimes they won’t, because, let’s be honest, there will be days when all the exercise, meditation and comedy in the world won’t make a dent in the anxiety or stress we’re dealing with right now—I know that practising gratitude will help to stave off the fear and panic. I take 30 seconds and make a list of everything I have to be grateful for in that moment. Sometimes it’s as basic as gratitude for my eyesight; gratitude that my hands can lift and hug my kids and make meals for them; gratitude for the ability for my legs to move. That we are healthy. Other times it’s thankfulness for the roof over my head that, for now, continues to be there. For my children’s smiles; for the fact that we do have money and enough food right now. For the fact that we have each other. Each time, I feel my heart rate slow, a sense of inner peace flow through me and a return to calm—even temporarily.
And if all else fails, I try to remember what my mom always tells me: This, too, shall pass.