A Guidebook for Maintaining Well-being During a Pandemic

Experts weigh in on how to stay well and find connection in our new normal.

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We used to think that life’s hardest challenges meant dealing with the illness or death of a loved one or with a separation or divorce. Now, we need to add living during a pandemic to that list. And what is unique about it, is that it is a state of crisis that we are all dealing with collectively. Coronavirus, lockdown, shelter-in-place: words and concepts that were foreign to all of us and now seem familiar and commonplace, but in no way easier to bear. They say misery loves company, and for once, we are all in very good company. 

Now that we are in Week one, two, three… 12, depending on where in the world you live, the novelty is certainly wearing off (or worn off completely) and a whole set of new stressors are creeping in. Far too many people are grieving the loss of a loved one that this virus has taken from them or are waiting and hoping that someone they love will soon recover and all of us are collectively worried for those we love, particularly those most vulnerable.

Everyone is turning to the internet (thank goodness for the internet!) and offering advice, resources, community and support online. For my own part, I thought it might be useful to compile a short guidebook for maintaining wellness at this time, with advice from some highly regarded professionals in my own network. It is my hope that some of what follows will prove helpful during this uniquely challenging period.

Work Productivity and Mental Health and Well-being

Set yourself a schedule that you can work to and be strict about keeping to it. Don’t allow yourself to dip in and out of work, reassuring yourself that you are being as productive because you are working at night too.

Set up a space that is your designated workplace. Set up systems to help you maintain connections with colleagues and direct reports and communicate effectively and efficiently with your clients.

Eat breakfast and lunch and take time out to do so, have virtual coffee breaks with colleagues, and find time for exercise.

Jennie Malloy, Workplace Wellness Innovator and founder of Lights Camera Kale, advises that “from a cognitive perspective, working out increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and gives it time to rewire and organize all the sensory input from your morning. By taking time in the middle of the day to walk or exercise, you’ll actually increase your level of focus, clarity, and productivity for the rest of the day. The main issue is, people have a hard time giving themselves permission to “take a break”. It can feel like you are moving backward with your productivity, but you’ll actually be improving it.”

Keep boundaries between work and personal life where possible. Do your personal admin during non-working hours, and your work during working hours.

If you are juggling caring for your children too, again, try to create a schedule that allows for set work times. Perhaps working early in the morning, over nap times or, if your child is older, create a schedule for them that allows you to work at the times they are engaged. Whether that is a schooling schedule or organizing activities that capture toddlers. As a mother of a three and one year old, I appreciate how challenging this is and have found play-doh, online yoga, music and ballet classes to be a life saver at this time.

Remember to be more conscious than ever of equality in your home. Take turns and share the parenting of your children.

This is a worrying time for everyone. Our fears are amplified– for ourselves and our loved ones’ health, and for our financial security.  We need to be mindful of these fears and focus on the fact that this is a temporary state, even though it may not feel like it. All the more reason to find time for oneself and to exercise or meditate.

Whilst everyone is required to “social distance”, this is a physical boundary only. We can still socialize with our colleagues, family and friends virtually, and we need it more than ever. Take advantage of the technology platforms available like Zoom, Facetime, WhatsApp and House Party and have virtual dinners, drinks, walks or exercise classes with the people that you love.

Wayforward.io warns against obsessing over the news. They suggest “Staying informed so that you can best understand the situation of you and your loved ones” during this uncertain time, but also ensuring that this does “not come at the price of your mental health”. They add that “If you’re having difficulty with managing your stress or worries, we recommend setting a schedule for checking updates that works for your situation and won’t lead to a negative worry cycle”.

Financial Wellness

The current economic uncertainty is incredibly challenging for everyone. With huge volatility in markets and unprecedented numbers of unemployment, everyone is understandably particularly anxious about their financial health.

Barbara Bilello private wealth advisor at RegentAtlantic advises that “Patience and Humility are the bookends to navigating good and bad times, including the ups and downs of the markets. We must have the patience to know that opportunity doesn’t always arrive exactly when desired and the humility to recognize we can only control our own actions.”

Try to use budgeting tools to get a true handle on your finances and use this time (if you have it) to build a holistic picture of your or your family’s financial picture. Take time to learn about the federal stimulus and apply for relief if it is available to you. Many people are also using this time as a good opportunity to review their insurance policies, investment strategies and/or estate planning. Many of these policies and documents can be put in place remotely but do be conscious of the tools and resources you chose to use at this time.

Kara Rademacher Trust and Estates attorney at Douglass Rademacher warns that “people are now becoming acutely aware of their estate planning — or lack thereof — and rightly so. In their urgency to make a Will or to update existing documents, many are turning to online estate planning services, such as Legal Zoom, but these services are not recommended because they often lead to improperly drafted and executed documents. These documents can result in an estate plan that does not do what the individual intended, or that are wholly ineffective.” 

Many trusts and estates law firms, such as Kara’s, are adapting by offering virtual consultations and executions so that their clients can still receive quality advice from professionals despite the current social distancing requirements.

Another anxiety is whether or not life insurance will pay out at this time, or whether it is possible to put in place such policies at this time. Erin Ardleigh, founder of Dynama Insurance, has recently been reassuring her clients by confirming that “if you have life insurance, you are covered. There are no exclusions for global threats like COVID-19” and if you don’t have life insurance, or don’t have enough… thankfully, there is more good news: healthy people can apply for life insurance without an exam, without the need to physically interact with anyone. Many insurers have Accelerated Underwriting programs, which are essentially virtual applications, where healthy people can complete a phone interview in lieu of a traditional exam. Both term and permanent insurance policies are available, typically for up to $1M in coverage, although many insurers are now offering higher amounts.”

Relationship and Family Well-being

Be conscious of the way you are communicating at home. We are now each other’s friends and colleagues, as well as partners. We have never needed each other so intensely before. We need to try to be present for our partners and ensure that we are giving them our full time and attention.

My mother recently shared this quote with me: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply” —Stephen R Covey. I know that I am often guilty of selective listening and then responding with something unhelpful, related to myself or, worse, I cut my partner off while he is still speaking, not allowing him to really get to his point. We need to ensure that we are actively and empathetically listening to those with whom we are sharing our space, connecting with them on an emotional and intellectual level, so that we can ensure we are engaging with them at the level that they need. This is especially important right now when peoples’ thoughts may be especially impacted by how they are feeling during this time of intense uncertainty.

Figuring out how to work and live together day in, day out, also requires difficult conversations, boundaries and putting in place systems and routines.

Co-parenting through this crisis creates particular challenges. Eve Rodsky’s book (and online tips) Fair Play offers tremendous insights for how to have the conversation and to develop a viable plan. In addition to task assignments, Mollie Eliasof, a Psychotherapist and couples’ therapist and founder of ME Therapy advises that we need to “take time for turn taking. In expression of your emotions and needs as well as in your turn leading the pack. It’s so important that parents develop an on-going game plan for when they need to tap out for self-care and reenergizing”.

Try to take the time to appreciate each other, stay positive and use the time together productively and have those conversations that are so often sidelined. In the event that you are having difficulty communicating, consider accessing help by way of virtual therapy, either with a couples or family therapist or a co-parenting specialist.

Separation and Divorce

If it becomes clear to you during this time that separation or divorce is inevitable, seek counsel now with practitioners who are experienced at operating remotely and use the time at home to get prepared and organized, at a reduced cost.

As Storey Jones, Founder of dtour.life says, “During times of financial and emotional distress, everyone should be mindful of spending valuable dollars on a legal process when there are a myriad of tools experts and strategies available that can significantly reduce the cost and change the experience. Divorce, by definition, doesn’t have to break the bank. It is the conflict and misguided belief that an expensive attorney is a requirement that results in excessive expense and stress. Families should focus on developing a viable plan moving forward rather than looking backwards with a desire to punish. Smart use of technology, emotional support, non-litigious venues such as mediation, and the agreement to put the children above all self-interest, as hard as that is, will help families make better decisions and keep the money in the family.”

If you are already separating, separated or going through a divorce, try to recognize the fact that these are unprecedented times and work together to ensure that your children’s health and well-being is always at the forefront. Rosalie Farnsworth Founder of The Co-Parenting Collective advises that “co-parents are no strangers to sacrifice and swift adaptation, surely no parent is. Still, dealing with the paralyzing government mandates created by a global health emergency can seem like too much, too fast, and it absolutely is. That doesn’t mean we abandon the guiding principles that have helped us in the past. Now is the time to turn up the volume on communication, common sense, compassion, and compromise—there are no referees; the courts are closed.

It is also important to bear in mind the words of Justice Sunshine in his recent editorial for the New York Law Journal; “Those who think that there is a lack of consequences to not conducting themselves appropriately during this crisis are wrong… How they conduct themselves at parenting during a time of a pandemic crisis, one of which we have never before seen, will shape their relationship with each other as divorced parents in the future, the relationship they have with their children and most importantly the relationship that their children have with them.”

If you are in the middle of a divorce, consider taking the time to utilize alternative methods of dispute resolution. Use this as a time to settle. Stay calm and, again, always put your children first, however challenging this may make decisions regarding with whom the children will currently spend time.

Helene Bernstein, a highly regarded mediator in New York explains that “mediation does not require resolution through the court system which is currently closed in N.Y.C. with the exception of emergency situations [and]focuses on the well-being and safety of the children which is of utmost importance when co-parenting and discussing access schedules which may need to modified as a result of local rules regarding quarantines, social distancing and first responder parents who place additional stressors on the family paradigm.”

Moving forward, the big question on everyone’s mind seems to be — when, if ever, will life return to “normal”? Children will, I hope, eventually return to school. We will all, I hope, work in offices and shared workspaces and dine and drink in public together again. But, it seems inevitable that some part of the way we used to interact may change (at least in the short term) as the memory of this time will stay and the fear of a resurgence will linger.

We will now all have read about the anticipated spike in divorce and breakups as well as a post COVID-19 baby boom. As for the former, I think it is important to recognize, once again, that this state of isolation is temporary, and you and your partner will not always be spending as much time together as now, nor will our anxiety about our collective health and well-being continue to be so heightened.

Evan Schein, New York matrimonial attorney, comments that “During this time, everyone is experiencing a tremendous amount of stress — both emotional and financial. Unhappy couples in already strained marriages are stuck living together in confined spaces — they now have to be side-by-side while working remotely and caring for their children, who are home from school. All these issues combined are a recipe that will make for high levels of marital stress and relationship discord. I fully expect there will be a large increase in divorce fillings when the courts reopen. For those individuals who were on the fence and contemplating the idea of divorce, the current situation and this new way of life, may very well push them over the edge. While some couples may get through this period with a new appreciation for their relationship and all their spouses do, for many, their so-called ‘happy’ bubble, will continue to fill with stress and anxiety, and may, eventually pop.

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