There are huge psychological and physical challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. My experience as a psychotherapist for over 25 years has led me to believe that we need to implement what I call The Big Three to break out of the resultant stress response. Right now we are in the “Messy Middle”. This article will define the three overarching themes and concrete steps you can take to make your life better.
1: Predictability, Schedule, and Sameness
Humans need schedule and pace in their lives. Most pilots are uniquely goal and reward driven. When the goal or reward has been removed/postponed, mental and emotional health can suffer. Go to bed and get up on time. Take a shower and get dressed in your real clothes. If you normally go out for Taco Tuesday or Friday night pizza, still keep the schedule. Order take-out from one of your local restaurants [who could use the support] or create some new cooking at home traditions.
Get sweaty 30 minutes a day: exercise, dancing, walking. There are many online resources for movement [yoga, strength, cardio, meditation]. If you can get out of the house safely, bundle up and get out. Use your balcony or backyard as a tool for fresh air and perspective.
2: Light at the end of the Tunnel, Positivity, Optimism
We are by nature social creatures. We need our tribe. The second theme is to look for light at the end of the tunnel and focus on small positive changes that are happening right now.
Social Connections : One of the benefits of slowing down the pace of life is the ability to now reach out and connect with those we love around the world.
Make sure to maintain your social connections using telephone, Facetime, Skype, WhatsApp, or Zoom. If you are a grandparent, aunt or uncle consider using technology to teach a video homeschool lesson to your grandchild, niece or nephew. Most likely you will get a lot of gratitude from the parent, and the child will get the benefit of having a fresh “teacher” on the other end of the video camera.
Goals: Pick a new goal and work actively towards it. Daily small moves will help you meet your goal and give you forward momentum. If your goal is aviation-related, there are many online schools offering deep discounts, or perhaps even free courses.
Sense of humor/Benefit of the doubt: Try to maintain a good sense of humor during these times. We are all living and operating in some uncharted territory, which might give rise to increased anxiety and irritability. Give your partner, kids or work mates the benefit of the doubt, that they aren’t doing what they are doing just to upset you.
Expect boundary testing and behavior problems with children. Try to meet those challenges with grace and a sense of humor.
Many folks are experiencing a grief reaction in this crisis. Since it is hard to really know what is going on for someone else, either give him or her grace or ask.
3: Personal Control over your Environment
Make sure that you are paying attention to each of the five senses daily in a way that is healthy. Eat the best food you can. Make sure to drink enough fluids. Avoid over-drinking. One of my clients admitted to getting pretty drunk at an online “Virtual Cocktail” party. She said that drinks were free, there was no social pressure about how many cocktails she had, and before you know it she woke up with a big hangover.
For years I have suggested creating a Comfort Kit. Pick any sort of container for your kit, the more mobile the better. Consider each of your senses and load up your kit with your favorite taste, smell, feeling, sound, movement, touch and sight. Think about making one for your kids or grandkids. When we control our environment and use a comfort kit, we are more likely to feel a sense of flexibility, relaxation and calm.
Space: Space has been a subject of interest with many of my clients. One suggestion is that each person in the home has some sort of personal private space. We are social creatures, but we do need time to be ourselves. Sometimes you might have to be a little creative, like taking yourself for a drive in your car.
Morning and Evening Brief: Check your trusted media sources on COVID-19 in the morning and again in the evening. Do not saturate yourself with 24/7 news exposure. It is also a good idea to keep your children’s exposure to media to a minimum. It might be helpful to look for positive stories in the media.
Volunteer: Find a way to contribute to the greater good through helping others. There are many non-contact ways to help your community. Perhaps you could use your airplane to fly PPE or blood products. Consider a Pilots n Paws flight to get a cat or pup to their forever home.
Spiritual and Mental Health: Reach out to your faith or mental health community to get added support during the isolation.
If you feel like your mood, sleep, appetite or energy are on a downward spiral more days than not, it is time to reach out to your local licensed mental health counselors.
Many years ago I wrote an article for AOPA Pilot about mental wellbeing. Take a moment to read it and do some self-assessment.
We will all get through this together. I am looking forward to the day where we get back to a sense of “normal”. Using the tips listed every day will help us survive these challenging times. We will come out stronger and healthier than we went in.