AFS Blog

Advice in the Time of the Virus

Advice in the Time of the Virus

As a counseling psychologist, I am co-leader of the Aging Rebels--an informal group of men and women at the Senior Friendship Centers in Sarasota, Florida. We meet weekly to discuss issues such as loneliness, intimacy, coping, relationships, grief, friendship, and more.

By definition of age, we are all at high-risk for the Coronavirus. Many of us have lost our closest attachments—friends, family, and neighbors on whom we depend for the social contact needed to maintain a positive spirit as we confront the challenges of aging. Now, isolated in our homes by COVID-19, many of the Rebels face an even greater threat of loneliness and depression.

To offer positivity in a very negative situation, I wrote them a letter with suggestions on how to get through this very challenging time, to find ways to maintain mental and physical health as we all confront the virus.

Dear Friends,
Social distancing is clearly a transition over which we have no control. It is ambiguous and has no clear timeline. We need to remember that even though we cannot control the virus, we can try to control our reactions and strategies for dealing with it. That is easier said than done, but not impossible.

There are three questions to ask when coping with any challenging transition:

  • Can I change the situation?
  • Can I change the way I see the situation?
  • Can I use relaxing strategies?

The answer to the first question is: "No, we cannot change the situation." We must live with restrictions on our daily life until we know that it's safe to give them up.

Since we can't change the situation, we need to ask ourselves the second question: "Can we change the way we view it?" The answer is yes. In my most recent book, "Too Young to be Old," I suggested one way to stay young and vibrant is to "keep your dance card full" of activities and social life. Ironically, due to social distancing, we cannot do this now. But there are other things we can do.

For example, we can use this time to learn something new. If you have the internet, you can look at Ted Talks, search for a YouTube video on almost any subject you can dream up, or watch your favorite movies or ones you have been meaning to watch. If you don't have internet, check the television schedule for your favorite shows, learn to cook a new recipe, or make a home repair you've been needing. To learn or enjoy something new, go back to your bookshelf and select a book that provides new insights into art or gardening or how to prepare nutritious meals.

Another way to change your view of the situation is to find ways to connect with others without touching or attending gatherings. Internet users can do this through messaging or chatting, FaceTime, or Skype. You can even create and attend internet "meetings."

One book club whose members are isolated in several states and Canada used meeting software to discuss their "book of the month." Some of the women attended the meeting wearing funny hats or were sitting next to bouquets of flowers from their gardens. For those without internet access or experience, phone connections can substitute. Don't just worry about your friends and family. Call them regularly to see how they are doing.

The final question is: "How can I relax and de-stress?" This answer is the easiest. One of the best solutions is to exercise daily, preferably outside. Walking can do wonders for the body and the psyche. Find a way to do so that will avoid close contact with others. Maybe it's just a few blocks walk from home or a few turns around a local park. If that is not possible, look on the internet for exercise videos you can follow. Other ways you can de-stress are to meditate or listen to music.

You may miss your coffee klatsches, bridge game, exercise class, or going to church or synagogue, but you can benefit by searching for other ways to build structure into your day. My daughter Karen has school-aged children at home. Her plan requires the kids to do at least one thing in each category every day:

  • Education/self-improvement — a challenge.
  • Immediate — good for the community, household, family—farm in our case—or even a friend on the phone.
  • De-stress by promoting personal joy, pursuing a creative endeavor, or otherwise enriching your own spirit.

These suggestions can apply to members of any age group. You can be your own best medicine. Being alone does not mean you have to be lonely or depressed. All you need to do is make the conscious decision that you will not allow it to happen.


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