I’ve heard the term essential a lot during this COVID-19 crisis, mostly in the context of essential personnel. As the veteran of several hurricanes, I am used to being “essential” and I know the “essential” drill: Bring in a spare uniform and make sure you have everything you will need in case you are unable to be relieved. Be sure you have all your prescriptions, food, and water. Constantly monitor the news. But the shine wore off the title “essential” after the first go-round and this time I am much more of an observer. As an observer, I see first responders struggling to cope with this extra added layer of uncertainty brought on by COVID-19.
There is a plan for hurricanes, a more or less tried and true method updated, refined, and rolled out every spring. There is no play in the back of the book for a global pandemic. Furthermore, there is no end in sight; no relief; no rescue. Perhaps that is the most important difference. There is no safe place; nowhere outside of the storm’s path; where life is still continuing as normal. It is unnerving to know that there is no such place where folks are gathering for a happy hour or a birthday party. There is no “man, that looks horrible” comment as they casually glance to their phones for a sports update. These are unprecedented times that cause uneasiness and stress, even for those who don’t normally feel anxiety.
We all need to be able to off-gas. A friend of mine explained it very simply; he illustrated that we are all vessels, each capable of handling only so much liquid (stress.) Some of us are big gallon jugs and some of us are only shot glasses. We can only take on so much before we start to spill over. We all need to get some of that liquid out before we spill, and that process is off-gassing. As first responders, we are constantly pulled into strangers’ worst days and we all need to off-gas. Those calls are still coming in and we have fewer and fewer options in how to get rid of the stress that is building up. The happy hours, the squad “choir practices”, have all for the most part been cancelled. Those were not the healthiest of coping means anyways, but they were something that provided a sense of normalcy and community, something we all need right now.
So, what are we left with? We need healthy outlets. As a society, we are currently being told to isolate as much as possible, but isolation can lead you into a bad headspace. if you’re in a bad place already, being alone can make it much worse. You can always pick up that telephone and reach out to someone. There are also a variety of online platforms such as Zoom or Google Hangout that allow for face to face conversations. Talking about where you’re at mentally is a good way to let go of some of the stress. Set up a weekly chat with family and friends; just sharing where you are at helps relieve some of the burden. I have found that even going out of the house and picking up a to-go order from my favorite local restaurant helps provide a small sense of normalcy.
Physical exercise has been shown to help mental health and is the easiest way to combat depression and anxiety. If you’re reading this on SOFLETE, I don’t need to tell you there’s plenty of excellent programming available. If the physical exercise isn’t enough, if there’s still that sense of worry, that impending sense of doom, the fear of the uncertainty, there’s still other ways of getting out of your head.
I’ve been using the “Headspace” App for meditation for a few years on and off and there’s a noticeable difference in my demeanor when I’m consistently meditating and when I am not. There are plenty of different apps so feel free to try others or simply try and find a calm place to get into without distractions for at least 5-10 minutes a day; no tv, no kids, no work, nothing, just calm and relaxing headspace.
Another coping mechanism I’ve found that is helping me is coloring. I know, it sounds silly, but there’s something relaxing about it. Perhaps it’s because it harkens back to a much simpler stage of our lives when our only stress was having to keep our rooms clean. There’s even “grown up” coloring books and plenty of supplies you can still get off Amazon right now.
Similar to coloring, writing, drawing, photography, or reading can help ease your mind, as long as you’re not reading the news websites. Now is the perfect time to try a new book or crack open a personal favorite. Mine is “A Confederacy of Dunces.” You can try audiobooks while taking a walk through the neighborhood. Bring along a camera or just your phone and try and capture the beauty you’ve always been in too much of a hurry to notice.
We are all trying to cope and manage under a new “normal.” An extra layer of stress has been added to an already stressful job and as a friend of mine once explained- every person is a vessel. We each can take only so much stress before we need to off-gas. We may be big kegs, capable of handling much more stress than the average person, but that doesn’t mean we do not still have only so much we can take. Be cognizant of where you are and take honest stock, do not let the “tough guy” mentality blind you to the fact that we all still have our limits. It is essential that we either find ways to off-gas that are healthy and productive or we boil over.