As our quarantine orders transition from days to weeks, and maybe even weeks to months, this situation has begun to resemble a medieval castle under siege. The enemy (COVID-19) outside the castle walls, has us surrounded. We do our best to stay safely behind the fortress walls but it is necessary for us to occasionally foray out, with great risk, to forage for “essentials.” Meanwhile, we better hope the court jester has an unending hysterical stand-up routine.
In the midst of this dilemma, a recent FaceTime session with my clients (a married couple) revealed that they had spent more time together in the first week of this epidemic than the entire 40 years of their marriage. They were completely unprepared for this much togetherness. Similarly, I see parents with young children scheduling appointments just so they can have 50 minutes to themselves. For those home alone, togetherness is made possible via their internet and smartphones. The head of Match.com stated that this is a particularly rich time for Internet dating because potential couples have lots of time to get to know each other. A “virtual date” on-line solves for a lot of unknowns such as physical contact, and who pays the dinner bill.
While some of us are thriving within the walls of our castles, others may be having more difficulty. Let’s take a look at eight behaviors that people who are adapting well to quarantine exhibit.
- Attitude is everything. Successful people seem to have the right perspective when it comes to the three psychological “U’s”- Unpredictable, Uncontrollable, and Unending. People that are adapting well to this crisis appear to be better able to either accept that these three things are just part of our current situation. They reinforce this attitude by saying things like ”yes its unpredictable but I am listening to experts who are searching for the answers and I trust in them,” or “I can only do my best to control my environment, and I believe that staying at home is a form of taking an action,” or finally, “this will come to an end. We can’t be sure exactly what it will look like but it will end.”
- People who are planning activities are doing better. For instance, planning an outing with the kids, a board game with the family, or even a virtual happy hour with friends can all boost attitude and mood. Planning an activity, however simple, gives you something to look forward to and structure to build your day around. Similarly, those households that have introduced routine and structure seem to be fairing better. When parents set up an hour-to-hour schedule including bedtime and wake time, the kids appear to thrive.
- Adopting a siege mentality may be the most adaptive attitude to help you calmly maintain yourself over the long haul of life under siege. See if you can find yourself going through the five stages of grief that Kubler-Ross identifies as you are dealing with this pandemic. Denial– “This can’t be as bad as they say”, It will be over in a few weeks.” Anger– “Why is this happening to us?” “Can’t we blame someone for this getting started?” Bargaining– “If we just do everything asked then we’ll be okay.” Depression– “I can’t bear going through this,” Acceptance– “We’re in this for the long haul and we need to do everything we can and ride this out.”
- Sharing how you feel with others by beginning a sentence with emotion words like “I feel angry,” or It frightens me that,” is very different then recounting what the news states, with a phrase like “I heard that the virus.” Research has shown that talking about how you feel provides a kind of clarity and release. Similarly checking in on how others feel, especially children, may have a lasting effect on them.
- One easy way to put your feelings in perspective is to create a daily log or journal. Journaling gives you a concrete sense of accomplishment in keeping track of the days, and (borrowing from number 4) provides you with a record of the evolution of your feelings. Journaling has also been found to enhance your state of well-being, boost mood, and is a helpful tool during and post trauma.
- One of the things that couples are finding helpful is creating separate time and space. One couple I work with is currently sequestered in a one-room loft in DTLA. They have cleverly rearranged the loft so that each person has their own space. They call or text each other when they want to have lunch or talk, just like they normally would sans quarantine. Having one parent be in charge of the offspring while the other takes some personal time is another great example.
- Separate your life at home from the pandemic. There is only one way to do this – limit your exposure to media! This allows you to differentiate your life from the vicissitudes of what is happening in the world. Having the television on all day long not only keeps you connected to doom and gloom, but also increases the anxiety and worry (which is not great for your relationship, or your immune system).
- Research has shown that connecting with others is beneficial in so many ways. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Those who were walled in the castle under siege had no way to communicate with those outside of the dark and damp castle walls like we do. There is power in connecting. Smile, or wave hello to your neighbor, or a stranger on the street. Call an old friend to set up a virtual happy hour.
Researchers tell us there is often a powerful bonding that occurs when you go through a major cataclysmic event with others. Remember to appreciate, value, entertain, connect and give them space but hold them close. When the siege is finally over and the gates to the castle swing open you may find that, if you haven’t killed each other first, you love the one you’re with even more.
Dr. Jay Wagener is a Clinical Psychologist in practice in Pasadena for 35 years. He has worked with all ages of people going through trauma and crisis situations.