by Debbie Zoller
JFS Executive Director
A couple of weeks ago, the word “Corona” was associated with a beer. Today, the mention of coronavirus or (COVID-19) produces a variety of responses from disbelief to panic and anxiety. The thought of this being a worldwide epidemic along with all the implications for the financial markets is enough to panic the person who felt secure. For the individuals and families who are already vulnerable, this virus represents slipping into a more delicate position in society. Not being a scientist, I truly value the expertise of professionals who advise us on what we can do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This article is about how we make sense of what we’re experiencing and how we remain emotionally healthy.
I have read and written numerous articles about the impact of social isolation, particularly on individuals who are aging or have chronic illnesses. Now, experts are telling us to socially distance ourselves from others. At Jewish Family Service, we have made a conscious decision to minimize risk by temporarily not visiting persons in their homes and having no office visits. Thriving programs that promote socialization now pose a risk. I struggle with the risks of social isolation versus the risks of the coronavirus. When JFS needs to use technology instead of face-to-face contact, it poses challenges. Not everyone owns or is proficient at handling current technology.
A foot bump instead of a hug, no hand shaking, the hunt for hand sanitizer and toilet paper—a new way of life. Am I washing my hands enough, or did I clean a door knob enough? Minimize travelling. No large groups. Our opportunities for being with others and stimulation are decreasing. Lifecycle events are being postponed. Schools are shutting down. Our healthcare system is more fragile. If you live in this world, it’s impossible to not feel overwhelmed, perhaps angry and disappointed. Daily responses to the ever-changing situation are frustrating and scary. If you watch or listen to the news too much, you will become more frazzled. It’s okay to be informed without totally immersing yourself with too much information. Watch comedies and find jokes. Laugh. Try to limit your media exposure.
I struggle with wanting to visit my 90-year-old mother who lives in New York City, but not wanting to put her at greater risk. I told her how badly I felt, and she gave me permission not to worry. She said that we would make up the time. My mom is very wise, and this concept of making up the time helped me cope with my fears, guilt and sadness. Time is precious, and it is also not the proximity of where we are that really matters if the feelings are there. How do you comfort your children who are feeling out of sorts and scared because their life has changed so drastically? Even with social distancing, we can hold the people we care about in our lives close. This is the time we need to be expressing our emotions—calling, texting, sending pictures, emailing. We need to express our love and affection verbally. Reaching out to our most vulnerable individuals is providing a lifeline.
Working remotely takes on new meaning. It does not mean we are remote, but it means that we have to find creative ways to reach out to each other. We have to find new ways to connect and believe that we will make up the time. Whatever strengthens you in the best of times, you may need to practice this during these challenging times.
Adverse experiences often transform our appreciation of life. During the past couple of days, I have been uplifted by acts of human kindness—hearing from people I’m not usually in touch with, the offer of volunteerism from those who want to make a difference and greater camaraderie. Somehow, nothing seems as important as how we choose to get through the day.
If you have ever had a life-threatening experience, you know that your experience is shaped by your attitude. Taking the higher ground and deciding to make each minute count decreases the feelings of helplessness and being overwhelmed. During this time of crisis, we must try to live in the moment, treasure the past and look forward to the future. This will take a lot of practice, but now is the time to start.