Staying Sane and Healthy in a Pandemic

I am delighted to introduce my first-ever guest blogger, Jeanne Hoopes!  Here is a brief bio of Jeanne, whom I met via my book club and who is now a member of Avon Lake UCC.

Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (Ohio State)
Master of Science in Nursing – Psychiatric/Mental Health Clinical Specialty (Kent State)
Licensure in School Counseling (Cleveland State)
Worked as an RN in Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Treatment facilities.

Worked in Lakewood City Schools 1983 -2013
Prevention Counselor – Safe & Drug-Free Schools Federal Grant
Guidance Counselor at elementary, middle and high school level.
Facilitator – Lakewood High School Guidance Department

From her personal point of view, with this professional background, Jeanne shares these words of wisdom:IMG_2175

This is certainly not how I thought I would be spending the first week of April when we drove to the Seattle area in December to spend a few months close to our daughter and baby granddaughter. And I bet, none of you, in your wildest dreams anticipated your current circumstances either. All of a sudden, our lives have been put on hold, our future plans are all uncertain and we don’t know how this pandemic is going to evolve. The TV news is bleak and the neighborhood outside our doors is eerily quiet. Sometimes, it is something little that shakes me up like realizing I didn’t bring any warm weather clothes on this trip and it is going to be sunny and warm tomorrow. In another moment, I am worrying about when I will actually catch this virus and will I be one of the people lying in an emergency room hallway competing for a ventilator? We are all on edge.

As a former psychiatric nurse, then a high school guidance counselor and now a grandmother, I have always identified as a helper. My first job out of nursing school was in an Emergency Room; I thrived on the energy and intense work in that environment. I found my work to be meaningful. But now since I celebrated my 65th birthday this year, I am told by the experts and my own kids that I am in the high risk category and need to focus on self isolation. So I am inside our townhouse, quiet, waiting, wondering what I can do to help.

The rush of emotions can feel so overwhelming as we try to manage our lives and expectations as everything has suddenly changed. When we are used to being active and involved, it is so difficult to know how we can still feel useful when our main job is to “stay at home”. I believe that it is okay to acknowledge that we are all doing something very important by following the guidelines to stay home, socially distance and flatten the curve. We are doing something meaningful when we check in with friends and use FaceTime to connect with precious grandchildren. We are being good citizens when we support our health care providers and first responders. And we are being patriotic when we self isolate for the common good.

Here are some ways I am trying to practice self care for my mental health:

Embrace the emotions:  This is real life so my emotional reactions are authentic whether I am anxious, bored, depressed, angry or even silly. We and others are grieving the loss of our freedom to move about, the loss of a loved one’s job, the loss of financial security, the cancelling of an event or trip….it goes on and on. Acknowledging one’s feelings is the first step in coping. Talking with a friend or writing in a journal can provide an outlet.

Stay on a routine:  Structure helps us manage emotions and stress. It helps me to stay on a consistent sleep schedule, have a morning shower, and get dressed as if I will have visitors. I like to have a short “to do” list although the experts are saying that our goal should be to survive the crisis, not have a competition of productivity.

Daily exercise and social contact:  I have a goal of walking each day, rain or shine for an hour a day. Not only does this help counteract the extra meals I seem to be cooking but it clears my thoughts and invigorates me. As my life has slowed down, it seems like I am noticing and appreciating more details in my environment. Focusing on others lifts the spirits and is a known strategy for decreasing anxiety. Waving to strangers and checking on friends reminds us that we are all in this together. Since I am physically not in Ohio right now, I enjoy “passing the peace” by texting with the women I often share a pew with at ALUCC.

Limit media and focus on what we have control over:  I value information and staying up to date but it can be overwhelming and energy sapping. I limit my news watching to several programs that have balanced reporting and also include stories of courage and inspiration. It is helpful for me to think about what I can do here, where I am right now to help. That may just be staying home and writing notes or calling people who live alone but it helps me feel needed.

A sense of gratitude:  Before we were dealing with the Coronavirus, I saw my physician for a exam. I mentioned to the doctor that I felt so fortunate to be in good health and have positive opportunities in my life. He responded that research has shown that a sense of gratitude is positively correlated with a strong immune system. Who knew that just a few months later, how much we would be focusing on our immune systems. As I sit on my couch, I only need to think of the overworked nurses in NYC, the children or spouses living in abusive homes, the laid off workers, or the people grieving terrible losses to be able to have a perspective on what’s important.

Lifeline:  If you or someone you know is feeling unsafe, even during this national crisis, help is available. Asking for help when needed is the ultimate form of self-care. The National Suicide Prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233

For most of us, these are temporary turbulent waters and often it is the small acts of kindness or the impromptu calls or texts that will be the reassurance we need. The times when we are challenged are when we grow and develop as caring humans. We are learning important lessons on how we will want to live differently once this crisis subsides. I hope you stay well and take care of those around you.

Jeanne Hoopes
April 3, 2020

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