During a global pandemic and national quarantine, it’s understandable to be a little stressed out. As my friend observed, it’s kind of like a snow day, but…not. It’s weird to know that all your neighbors are inside, kind of like a holiday, but…not. There is a sort of “we’re all in this together” feeling, kind of like the days immediately following 9/11, but…not.
During those tense times (remember how there were no planes in the sky for three days?) we were encouraged to go out, support businesses, be social. We were all stunned and worried and sad, but we had each other to lean on, emotionally and physically.
These are different days, however. We are stunned and worried and sad, and can lean on each other emotionally, virtually, but not physically.
What I can more accurately compare this to is a few years back when I was laid off from work. During a period of unemployment, there is fear, uncertainty, feelings of loneliness and isolation, rationing every dollar and every crumb. I get it.
I understand that we are all experiencing this unprecedented event differently. Some of you live with others; some of you must care for children, parents, or others. Some of you are working from home, while some of you are out of work, and other brave souls are on the front lines in the medical field, grocery stores, and gas stations. I can only speak from my own experience, as a person who lives alone (with fur babies) and has a history of depression and anxiety. If you are in a similar boat, here are some things I learned when I was out of work for months that kept me sane and healthy.
1. Give yourself a moment to digest what’s happening.
When you first receive life-changing news, it’s okay to react however you react! In my case, I was devastated, furious, terrified. I got really drunk. I sat on my couch and watched bad TV all day and ate chips. I urge you not to stay too long in this place.
2. Try your best to maintain a routine. Stick to your regular bedtime and aim to get up at your usual time.
When I was unemployed, my job was to look for work. Every day I got up, made coffee, fired up the computer, scoured job-hunting sites, and sent out resumes and cover letters.
If you are not working remotely during this time, what is your “job”? Create a schedule for yourself. Look at this as an opportunity to do things you haven’t had time to. Clean, organize, read, write, knit, make art. Really think about what you want to accomplish during this time and work toward that goal.
If there's a time of day you don't like--for me, it's 5 p.m.--have something planned during that time to stave off feelings of depression or anxiety.
3. Go outside at least once a day! Sunshine, fresh air, and exercise are vital to your physical and mental health.
As I write this, today is the first day of Spring! I was laid off four days after Christmas. On a Monday. Just back from a Christmas break. I was called into my boss’s office and given the fantastic news.
Hunkering down indoors during the cold and gloomy Pennsylvania winter added to my depression. Today, through my open window, I hear birds chirping, I see daffodils blooming, I smell Spring in the air.
On my best days, I went for a walk or a run, which allowed me to focus on the world around me, get out of my own head, and be worry-free for a while.
Some days, I could only bear to walk to the mailbox at the end of my long driveway. That’s okay. Give yourself a break.
4. Help others in need.
I found that another way to focus on something other than my worst-case scenario fears was to reach out to others who needed help. I began volunteering my time. It was a good way to meet others and feel good about completing a task.
In these times, we may not be able to assist others as usual, but we can reach out to see if there is anything we can do. We can make financial donations. We can donate canned goods. We can let people know we’re able to help in the future.
In fact, one of the first things I did after being laid off was begin making monthly donations to WHYY, my local NPR station, and WXPN, my local member-sustained radio station. I pledged the lowest donations possible, as my financial future was unknown, but I gave with the intention that I was making deposits into my karmic bank. I am happy to report that I remain a sustaining member to these organizations five years later, and that the combined $11 a month has not led to destitution.
Give with love, not with fear.
5. Focus on what you want, not your fear or what you lack.
Love is greater than fear. Be grateful for what you have in this moment. Take it day by day to avoid becoming overwhelmed. I highly recommend writing it down. Keep a journal of what you did today, how you felt. Release your fears on to the page. Once it’s out, you can let that go, and focus on something positive: How happy you’ll be when you can hug your friends again! How relieved you’ll be when you get back to work, or find a new job you’ll love! How grateful you are right now for…whatever you are grateful for. You can find one thing.
As an actress (which, by the way, I wouldn’t be if not for this layoff!), we often have periods of down time between gigs. One month it’s a downpour, the next it’s a drought.
During the droughts, we do not give up. We work behind the scenes, so to speak. Learn a new monologue, study a script, write a script, eat healthy, work out. Enjoy the emptier schedule because it will fill up again and you’ll wish you had some time!
Everything you do in the present is in preparation for the future. You are planting seeds that need time to grow before they can yield a harvest.
6. Strive for balance.
Are we going to be perfect during these times? Of course not. We’ll be hungover one day, we’ll eat the entire pint of ice cream, we’ll forget what day it is and when we last showered. We don’t have to strive for perfection, only balance.
One day is rotten, the next is better. Some of us will have gotten through this feeling accomplished and recharged. Some of us will feel like hangry bears waking up from hibernation. I assume most of us will feel a little bit of both.
When I was without work, I couldn’t afford to be social. I longed to get the heck out of my apartment, go out with friends, eat and drink and be able to pay my bill. I felt imprisoned; in isolation. What helped when I felt really down was reaching out. Just like how, if you’re lucky, your mommy always makes you feel better, sometimes you just need a word of encouragement. I am so blessed to have wonderful friends and family in my life.
I like to believe that the moral support I offer to my friends and family helps, just as theirs helped me.
We really are all in this together. Just six feet apart. We can get through it, survive, and thrive. Hang in there, friends.
Strange days indeed. Most peculiar, mama.