“Y’all gonna make me lose my mind. Up in here. Up in here.”
I jammed to this DMX song at frat parties 21 years ago as beer spilled all over me and the random guy I was dancing with. I didn’t care. My life was all about having fun. My biggest worry was getting my GPA up so I could graduate college. Nowadays, I jam to this song in my Mom Mobile on my way home from a 12 hour shift at the hospital.
Life is different.
And now we’re living through a global pandemic. Where I live, in Northern Indiana, we went into quarantine on March 13. Within a matter of days our lives flipped completely upside down. Over 4 months later… without a break from family, work, or coronavirus… In fact, I am “gonna act a fool up in here!”
Even though we are opening back up, it is clear that we are gonna be living with the ‘rona for a minute. So how the hell are we gonna do this? I’m losing my mind and turning inward. Other than my weekly Zooms with my college friends and the short conversations with my colleagues at the hospital, I don’t feel much like interacting with others.
This recent change within myself has me wondering how everyone else is getting by. I’ve been observing behaviors that I have not personally been seen before. If I’m feeling all kinds of weird, I know others must be as well.
So, how are we doing this?
Too many changes within a short amount of time causes many people to feel out of control. Our brains just cannot process all of this change at once. Feeling completely whacked out is actually a pretty normal response to a shit show.
Naturally, we develop new strategies called coping mechanisms in response to changes in behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. These coping mechanisms help us adjust to stress. Our backgrounds, personalities, and the communities we live in influence the way we cope. On top of these, other factors like age differences, professions, mental health, and substance abuse problems all form effective (positive) or maladaptive (negative) coping mechanisms.
I mean honestly, it all makes sense. We are living in the most upside down time in our lives. Who isn’t losing their mind up in here?
Using Common Coping Mechanisms to Ease Pandemic Stress
Humor: From face masks with mustaches to funny social distancing Quote T-shirts, some people are making humorous statements to cope with our ever changing lives. Fashion has long-sense been a way to express ourselves, so why wouldn’t there be a T-shirt to commemorate the pandemic? Statement items can spark interactions with like-minded people on social media or in person, from a distance (of course).
Having a playful response to the absurdities of life can force our minds to develop a positive perspective. Making light of situations with humor helps with mentally distancing ourselves from stressful situations.
The pandemic is for sure an absurd situation. So rock on with your cat mouth face mask. We could all use a good laugh!
Support Seeking: When stress is out of our personal control, we typically turn to others for support. People need people… especially now. Not having normal interactions with others is frustrating. Video chats, texting, and social media can only work for so long. I’m craving time with my friends and I don’t know if it is safe.
I also see how lack of interaction is effecting my kids. They don’t say it often, but I know that they are getting tired of only playing with each other and their parents every single day. They need their friends too. Even at their young ages, social support is important for well-being. As much as I want to keep them (and their friends) safe by continuing to social distance, I have to let my guard down a little. I’m not the only one who needs to be with others outside of my immediate family.
In another way, I see how much the social distancing is effecting people who have to be sheltered from the outside world. The elderly, for example, are experiencing declines from lack of interaction. This realization was brought to light by a recent conversation with one of the managers at the memory care facility where my mom lives. He told me that he has seen many of the residents (who all have dementia or Alzheimer’s) advance in their disease. Since this population is a pretty controlled group (meaning the residents are all experiencing social distancing at the same level) it is clear that lack of in person interaction must be the cause of their mental decline.
These realizations decrease the anger and confusion I have been experiencing about re-opening during the pandemic.
Taking Care of Yourself: Being mindful of the basic necessities for healthy minds and bodies seems like a no-brainer. Getting enough rest, making healthy food choices, and engaging in physical activity is hard for a lot of people without a pandemic. We all know that we should do this and it’s even more important now. It is just so much easier to lay on the couch.
I have found myself spiraling down a hole of bad habits during the past 3 months. Staying up too late, binge watching Netflix and binge eating everything in the house has caused the scale to jump up 10lbs. I can’t keep going down this hole and must make a change.
If only I could stop scrolling through Tiktok and go to bed before midnight!
Decreasing Expectations: I’m not really sure if this is an effective or maladaptive coping mechanism. Either way, decreasing expectations (sadly) serves a purpose in this pandemic.
This makes me think about all of the graduating classes of 2020. Ending the school year (at least in person) before spring break, took away so many fun things that students expected to experience. That has led to a lot of disappointed people. Whether it’s the students missing out on memorable experiences or the parents who don’t get to witness them, that stupid virus has caused a lot of grief.
While the disappointment is strong, we’ve done our best to have alternative versions of missed life events. My family’s 2020 grad had his ceremonial graduation from preschool while in his booster seat, inside our car. We cheered and waved to the school director as my husband and I wiped our eyes. Not exactly the send-off that I had envisioned for him, but still a memorable moment that we won’t forget.
Decreasing expectations could actually be a good thing during this pandemic. As states open up, there’s bound to be a hiccup or two. Do we really know how this all will end? Could this be our way of life until we get a vaccine? Having high expectations for lives to return to normal, seems like a recipe for disaster. It’s kinda like that saying, “Expect the worst but hope for the best.”
Problem Solving: Well, since I am not employed by the CDC and I am not an infectious disease physician, I personally cannot solve the Corona-crisis. I can, however, utilize the problem solving coping mechanism by looking for strategic ways to influence my new everyday problems.
For example, as I mentioned before, a big problem of mine has been lack of care of my physical well-being. By making a change in my mindset, I am solving my own problem and making self-care a new coping mechanism. Since I have begun to eat better and increase my physical activity, I am starting to feel better mentally, which helps with the stress of the corona-madness.
Maintaining Composure: As the media continues to remind us, we are “all in this together.” Hand washing protocols, maintaining distance from others, and wearing face masks in public are individual ways that we can directly influence the way coronavirus spreads. Although somewhat stressful, following these guidelines with composure, helps us to adjust to this craziness.
Frontline medical professionals are using composure to get through hospital shifts. Taking care of COVID-19 patients has to be scary, stressful, and awkward. The required PPE takes a long time to put on correctly and it’s hot and uncomfortable to wear.
Maintaining composure amongst so much fear is necessary. A little humor also helps. I saw an incredible picture of a fellow hospital employee dressed in full COVID gear with the caption “I love it when you call me big PAPR” (instead of Big Poppa, for all y’all unfamiliar with the Notorious B.I.G.). The best was one of the hospitalists wearing a large laminated picture of herself pinned to her lab coat, for patients and staff to know who they are talking to. That gave me a nice big smile (under my mask).
I respect the hell out of the doctors, nurses, therapists, case managers, medical assistants, dietary and environmental services, and pharmacists that I work with at the hospital. We are dealing with a consistently inconsistent world of policies and procedures. Every shift, we strap on our masks and head into the hospital to care for people who need help. Bravo Healthcare Heroes!!! It’s not easy!
Distancing from stress: There are no ways around this. We cannot take vacations to get away from the corona-madness because it is literally everywhere.
Mindful distractions are the best things we have right now. Playing games, listening to my favorite music, gardening, and working on home projects have been the most distracting things for me. I’m also trying to spend time, in the moment, with my husband and kids. It’s amazing how I can be with them all day and night and feel like I haven’t really done anything with them. Because of this, I have to remember to ground myself in the moment and really enjoy their sweet faces.
Living With the ‘Rona
Let’s face it, we’re going to be living this kinda life for awhile. We’re doing our best to cope with a messed up situation.
We have no way to predict how the corona-madness will end. One thing is certain, the virus is calling all the shots. The only thing we have control over is our personal reaction. Developing healthy coping mechanisms will help us live with these absurd lifestyle changes.
How am I coping?
I’m mentally escaping back to a time in my life where I hadn’t a care in the world. With my hair in a bun and a mask on my face, I’m coping with the Covid one 90’s rap song at a time.