Moving Forward with Strength

September 9, 2020 Tonja Dodd

Relatively speaking, it wasn’t long ago that many of us found our lives disrupted by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. I adapted. You adapted. We all did.

Now many of us are going out in public more – or continuing to stay home longer than anticipated – and we will continue to adapt. But how? How can we adapt and still manage feelings of stress? Anxiety? Depression? Isolation? Well, here’s my plan: Stick to the facts. Practice healthy habits. Avoid high-risk situations. Stay strong.

The facts

Experts have learned more about the virus – now called SARS-CoV-2 – causing them to affirm and add strategies for stopping the spread. It’s been confirmed that the primary spread is person to person. The more time you spend in close proximity to someone infected, the more likely you can be infected. It’s also been confirmed that some individuals who are infected can be asymptomatic and still spread the virus.

Enter the mask.  It’s shown that wearing a cloth mask helps reduce the spread. One professor who has been noted for making the science relevant and easy to comprehend, Professor Erin Bromage states, “It’s not a political issue. It’s a public health issue.” Wearing a mask is especially important for everyone to help protect those who are at high-risk. In fact, IHME reports that masks have the potential to reduce the risk of respiratory illness by one-third.

Moreover, social distancing recommendations stand: stay six feet away from those with whom you come in contact outside of your home. Avoid gatherings and crowds. Stay home when sick, avoid touching your face (including the outside of your mask) and diligently clean frequently touched surfaces — all stand as well.

Reporting on the disease shows that the risk for being infected and hospitalized goes up with age – and those with underlying medical conditions are also more vulnerable.

Strategies for what to do when we do convene have been created. As regions re-open, workplaces, businesses and communities are being asked to follow guidelines to help prevent the spread.

Practice healthy habits

Because there is limited treatment and no vaccine, our defense is to practice the healthy habits mentioned above including practicing physical distancing and hygiene measures. See this checklist for a quick reminder.  In addition, because we’ve all been affected by this pandemic in some way, taking care of our mental health is imperative. There are mental health self-care and healthy coping activities that can help you build your mental resilience. Exercise, meditate, practice deep breathing, listen to music, craft, bake, and home DIY are just a few. Avoid excess drinking or other harmful habits. When looking at people who regularly practice healthy habits, we see that for the most part, they are less likely to become severely ill. Personally, walking, hiking and working in the garden are my go-tos for stress relief and staying healthy.

Avoid high risk situations

As we’ve learned more about the spread, experts are offering more practical advice in leaving your home – for instance, the CDC continues to update its advice on Daily Life & Going Out. Another way to reduce your risk is by understanding what situations are riskier than others.  See this chart to guide you. As a rule, avoid the high-risk situations and if that’s not possible, limit them. Also, as much as possible stick to low-risk activities. When considering attending a social event or taking a road trip, there are some simple steps you can take as well.

Stay strong

Safeguards are in place. You’re being prudent. You’re practicing healthy habits. Now it’s time to stay strong.

This sounds cliché but do remember: You’re not alone. Across the globe, we’re all feeling mixed emotions and stressed. I can name (myself included) individual friends and family members who are stressed due to the following circumstances: meeting the demands of work, homeschooling, hybrid schooling, caretaking, working extra, working in a high-risk situation, out-of-work, among others. I too have close friends and family who have personally dealt with being infected and all the fears and ups and downs and rules around the illness, isolation and quarantining – and many of you likely do too. I know others who are feeling “stay-at-home” fatigue and just want this over and don’t want to bother with the rules anymore. Feelings of isolation and loneliness also continue to crop up as social interactions are limited. It’s a mixed bag.

Whatever you’re feeling, acknowledge it, and expect change. It’s safe to assume that the rules and guidelines will change as we learn more and as time goes on, so your feelings may change too. I find myself wavering on whether we should take a family trip or if I should allow my husband to travel out of state to visit family. These are tough choices. But, as you do start to phase-in and move forward, accept and grieve at the fact that our world won’t be how it used to be, and the future remains uncertain. I’ve found that maintaining a routine helps with the uncertainty while re-thinking your outlook helps with the grieving process.

As far as remaining strong, I remind myself that as local ordinances allow getting out and interacting with others is good for social and mental health. Even if you must wear a mask. (I know it can be annoying and can leave you feeling sheepish, but you get used to quick.) Engaging with others helps validate your own thoughts and feelings, gives you purpose and reminds you of the goodness of humanity.  Do stick to the public health guidelines (wear face coverings, maintain a six-foot distance, practice proper hygiene) and engage in lower-risk activities to protect yourself and others.

Be smart and stay strong, and just like we’ve adapted to being home, we can continue to adapt to the everchanging situation.

If you’re still feeling apprehensive, talk with others about your thoughts and feelings. You may also reach out for professional help if you find going out is overwhelming or you’re having trouble coping in general.

 


Tonja Dodd, MPH, is a Senior Health Strategy Analyst at Vitality Group where she translates clinical guidelines into risk appropriate health promotion strategies to engage members in healthy behaviors. Her background is in public health with 25 years of experience designing, developing and delivering health and wellness programs and products. Tonja finds her healthy place is being active outdoors and spending time with family, friends and pets.

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