Let’s just, you and me, have a dialogue amid a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. I won’t be the first, or last, to tell you that we find ourselves under an enormous amount of stress and uncertainty. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic! How else should we be feeling? And how can we cope with pandemic stress?
In case you may have lost track of the month due to our Groundhog Day-like existence, it’s April. Earth Day? Check. 4-20? Check. And for those of you who overlooked it, it’s stress awareness month! I feel like every month should be stress awareness month, but especially now when we are living through an all-consuming pandemic.
Now, there are many more individuals and resources you can look up that will give you effective coping mechanisms and effective ways to reduce stress. Those resources are critically important, and I don’t mean to diminish them in any way. But I have always found the most effective way to deal with stress and anxiety is to talk about it. No equivocation. No sugar coating. Put it all on display and to hell with those who judge you.
Below are my unscientific thoughts on helpful ways to cope during these deeply trying and uncertain times.
Be open and vulnerable with yourself and others.
Larry David is one of my all-time favorite writers and comedians. He’s responsible for Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and it doesn’t get much better than that. Whether you like him or not, Larry offers an interesting perspective on being totally open, honest and forthcoming, no matter how cringe-worthy the topic might be. Whether that’s Larry berating a woman for taking too many samples while getting ice cream, or George Costanza in Seinfeld telling a love interest that he’s unemployed and lives with his parents, we learn a thing or two about candor.
In the grand scheme of all of this, I’m very fortunate. My wife and daughter are healthy. We have a roof over our heads and can pay our bills. Others aren’t as lucky. And to my friends and other physicians, nurses and workers on the front lines, I am in awe of your courage and perseverance.
We are in a world of hurt right now. People we know are dying or hospitalized. People are getting laid off and furloughed. We can’t go anywhere. We’re confined. We’re socially isolated. I’d say we’re teetering on the edge right now. And you know what, I’d question our collective sanity if we weren’t extremely overwhelmed.
There’s no one-size-fits-all panacea that will address our anxiety, but what works best for me is raw honesty and vulnerability. It’s not easy to let people in, but man does it help. This applies to our personal and professional lives.
I’ll give you an example. My wife was recently notified that she had been furloughed. She joins the millions of other workers across the United States who are enduring similar circumstances. It sucks, but you know what really helped? I have a kick-ass boss, and we spent a good 30 minutes on Slack video talking about my concerns and frustrations. We spent little time talking about work. She gave me a listening ear and I took full advantage of it. It felt good and reassuring, a healthy way to cope with pandemic stress.
If your instinct is to retreat, resist that instinct and do the exact opposite. Open up the floodgates. I assure you, you will feel better.
Embrace the incongruity of digital social interactions.
A couple of weeks ago, my close friend asked me to join the newly designated CCHH – “corona cocktail happy hour” – digital style. I asked myself, “Do I really feel like seeing all these people on FaceTime right now? I’m just not up for it.”
I’m glad I didn’t trust that initial instinct. It was a blast. People got real creative with their cocktails. Some showed off their new cannabis devices. And talked about things that we hadn’t talked about in 15 years. Since then, I’ve talked to buddies with whom I hadn’t spoken regularly to in years.
These digital happy hours have become weekly events with close friends, colleagues, and family. At first, it seemed a bit awkward, but there’s a subtle and surprising normality that washes over you. The connections, bonding, and camaraderie are no less real. Oh sure, most will say that video chats will never replace in-person social interactions. I agree, to an extent. What I have seen is that no matter where or how you communicate with people, if you’re open and uninhibited, the humanity you feel is physically energizing and psychologically reassuring.
Nobody knows for certain when this pandemic will subside. We will continue to feel anxious. We will continue to face unimaginable heartache. Things may seem unbearable, but we will get through this. Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, to family, to colleagues, to counselors, to anybody who will lend a helpful ear. You may be pleasantly surprised to see that folks are eager to open up.
And until we can meet again in person, a virtual cheers to you all.