Manage Your Anxiety

“During these uncertain times…”

I hear this phrase often.

Uncertainty. The great unknown. For some of us, that idea sounds like fun when it means venturing into a new city, in a new country, ready to explore and discover new things.

But when that new country is the land of coronavirus we are talking about something decidedly not fun.

If this is my new country, what does it look like after being here for one month?

In Stanislaus County, we have seen only four deaths at the time of this writing, so the medical aspect of the pandemic has not deeply affected the layperson on the street. It is the laws of the land that seem to govern our experience.

  • Everyone stays home except to buy groceries.
  • No one gets near each other.
  • No one shakes hands or hugs those outside their immediate family.
  • Food is delivered to our homes.
  • In this small town, people exhibit this look of relief at the sight of a new face and engage in 6-foot-apart chat.
  • Families go for walks.
  • Parents see their children.
  • Parents become the primary educators of their children.
  • We work from home.
  • We cook at home.
  • We entertain ourselves at home.
  • We spend less.
  • We become resourceful.

There is an opportunity here for good, the shutdown of the country becomes like a deep breath, a pause in our everyday lives.

Still, the uncertainty remains and when faced with an unknown danger

the natural response is fear or anxiety.

You know the feeling. Physically, muscles tense, breathing gets shallower, our heart rate increases. Mentally, we jump at new information, obsess or avoid information, we ruminate replaying ideas again and again. Relationally, we might snap at our loved ones, be more distracted than usual, more protective than usual.

Since the thing creating so much anxiety in our culture right now can be identified, let’s call it for what it is:


Ask Yourself This

Next ask, “what do I know about this?” It is important to check that what you know aligns with credible sources like WHO or the CDC. Avoid sensational titles and click-bait eager for your eyes to get them more advertising dollars.

“What don’t I know?” Perhaps there are some questions you need to get answered. There are still a lot of unknowns regarding this novel coronavirus, but sometimes, even when we are told information from a credible source, we still do not believe it.

Usually, there is a reason for this. When that happens the biggest question becomes, “what am I afraid of?” Name the fear.

Check your fears against what you know. Check it against what you do not know. Look for answers to the latter if answers are available.

Now, “what can I do?”

Do what you can. Handwashing, limiting outings to essential tasks, social distancing. Check. You have made a good defense.

Go on the offensive if you need to. Maybe you fear for your parents. Talk to them about a plan if they get sick. Maybe you fear for yourself. You can take steps to optimize your health now to make you stronger if you do get sick.

Is the fear related to finances and the future? See if you can order those ducks, access the help that is slowly becoming more available, write down your expenses and track your spending.

When you have done what you can, step away from it all. Distract yourself, practice gratitude, find an activity you can engage in that energizes you and benefits others. For me, writing, reading to my kids and gardening. They are the small things I can do in short spurts that keep me connected and keep me sane.

Make sure every day has some non-coronavirus thoughts and some non-coronavirus talk.

Then, finally, practice acceptance and letting go.

The thoughts will come to mind during your off-hours from corona-worrying. Address them with some mantra that helps refocus you. It could be the wisdom of the ages,

“this too shall pass”

or a right-now reassurance,

“I am doing all I can. It is enough.”

It may sound morbid, but what helps me is the phrase

“death comes to us all”

Having faced the death of my daughter to anencephaly three years ago, it helps me to remind myself that death is part of life. We should try to live long and well, but it is not so foreign as it feels. It is heartbreaking, but if I know that death of part of life, I know the grief will not be insurmountable.

And as the signs and t-shirts tell us,

we will get through this, together.

Your Pandemic Entertainment Here

Sure you could watch “Tiger King” on Netflix during the pandemic, but how about something a bit more medieval?

Kristin Lavransdatter

Book jacket of Kristin Lavransdatter. An Example of literature to read during a pandemic.

I picked up the third book of Kristin Lavransdatter written by Sigrid Undset and published in 1920. I have read the entire trilogy a few times already, so this way I know I can get to those plague scenes. It happens at the very end of the book in a flash of action, people die, she stops some people from sacrificing a boy to try to appease whatever divine power they think is causing this and she risks her life to practice the corporal work of mercy, burying the dead. But before all that, this is a tragic and epic story of the fictional life a medieval Norwegian woman who marries a man.

Undset possesses the ability to impeccably draw characters in remarkable detail, demonstrating their personality strengths and weaknesses and how those bear out against the strengths and weaknesses of those around them. In relationship lies all the action, though the horses, axes and swords help too. The book has something for everyone but I find it resonates in particularly powerful ways with mothers.

The Betrothed

Book jacket of The Betrothed. An Example of literature to read during a pandemic.

Joseph Pearce, a literature scholar and Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote an online article about The Betrothed, an Italian pandemic story written by Alessandro Manzoni and published in 1827 in which one village learns that maybe they should have practiced a little more social distancing. I am sure it is about more than that, but that was what I gathered from this article.

The Seventh Seal

Movie poster for The Seventh Seal. An example of films to watch during a pandemic.

I am thinking of watching The Seventh Seal (Swedish, 1957) again. Another Black Plague setting. It is thoughtful and provocative, but undeniably silent, and after social distancing, staying-at-home, the slow pace of something visual and intellectual might just be what I need as I rock my three-month-old baby to sleep. It is a great movie for the artsy types, the types who want to check-off something iconic, and those who want to show off their cultural savviness during a Zoom chat.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Image for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. An example of films to watch during a pandemic.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (British, 1975) is more my husband’s style. It took a few weeks but I finally saw an online reference to the scene in which peasants are carting around bodies and yelling, “bring out you’re dead!” This is a movie for those who enjoy dry, dark humor.

Your Friend the Rat

Your Friend the Rat from Wikipedia. An example of films to watch during a pandemic.

If you have only eleven minutes, in 2007, Pixar and Walt Disney Studios released Your Friend the Rat. This offers a more educational take on the role rats played during the Plague.

Medieval Times

There are undoubtedly better lists out there, but this offers at least a passing survey across time and cultures. According to Merriam-Webster, a pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.

The Black Death was a global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. It changed the face of Europe and influenced art, literature and music for hundreds of years to come. It still stands out in our mind as a singular event.

And Now

Living now through the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic, we are experienced something that will also alter the course of history. Our economy has shut down and what once was an epidemic of loneliness in our country has become a government-mandated call to action to stay home and distance ourselves socially.

Things many Americans could take for granted, free access to education, online shopping, a postal and delivery network, 24-hour grocery stores, and abundance of food and paper products, easy and widespread mobility and transportation have become scarce, hard to come by, or risky.

This is a time to grieve. We will grieve the loss of life as we knew it. We will grieve relationships. We will grieve those who die.

But, as in all times of darkness, there is still hope. The projections are improving. As Queen Elizabeth II said in a rare public address on April 5, “Using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal, we will succeed, and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.”

So until then, read, watch and hope.

Previously published as part of “Here’s to the Good Life!” my weekly column in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

To read previous reflections on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic click here and here and here.

Are we Okay?

I am an extrovert.

On Social Media, introverts had the first laugh about social distancing, shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders being the things they prepared for all their lives.

Next came the writers and artists who necessarily do their meatiest work at home, often choosing self-isolation when deadlines loomed near.

Then, the extroverts called for help. “Introverts, you may want to check on your extrovert friends. We are not okay.”

We are told repeatedly online and in-person about the dire need to quarantine if you have symptoms and stay at home, limiting outings as much as possible. Aside from those you live with, handshakes, hugs, any contact within six feet is considered a risk, as so many of us might be carrying the coronavirus without realizing it.

It is devastating.

Cases in Stanislaus County are growing slowly, but by and large, it is still possible to not know anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Instead, we feel the pinch socially, emotionally and financially.

Socially, obvious enough. If we knew we needed relationships before or in contact with others outside the home, that need is so much more clear now. Conversation, physical touch, face-to-face interactions cannot be replaced by social media. Not even video chats can quite compare to the pleasure of, as Arnold Lobel described Frog and Toad, “They sat there, feeling happy together.”

Digital communication generally requires us to talk about something or perform in some way. In-person, we can stare at the same sky, observe the same people, feel the same breeze.

There is a loss.

Which leads me to ask, emotionally, how are you?

I mean, really, how are you?

If you are an extrovert or surrounded by children, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If you are home taking in the news and following the COVID-19 threads, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If your income is about to take a hit because your employer cannot provide paid time off or because you’re in the commission-only business or you have to lay off your employees because if you cannot pay rent you will lose your business, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If you are part of or caring for someone or love someone who is part of the identified vulnerable population, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

What does all this say about the world? Where is this all leading? Where are our social buffers? Where is our spiritual comfort?

In times like these, with our usual supports out of alignment, you might even be feeling a little bit depressed.

There is a crisis taking place in the world, and unfortunately, the effort to slow down the spread, to flatten the curve, so hospitals do not become overloaded as we saw in Italy, has its own costs.

I want to ask you to take an honest look at what those costs are in your own life. Maybe right now means Netflix and sleeping in. Or maybe it means something much harder.

Somehow, I think some good is going to come out of these dark times.

Yesterday, overwhelmed with the anxiety of caring for my needy newborn, of working from home at the same time, of uncertain income, I got on my bike for the first time in a year.

The streets are clear because more people are at home. I rode as fast as my legs could carry me.

Home again, I got out a book, the book that brought me back to reading four years ago.

And the baby got a pacifier for the first time.

Then that very night, she slept for six hours.

In the morning, I drank coffee with my husband.

Somehow, some good will come, even if it feels a long time getting there.

If you can, try to find meaning in the moments, in the little goods that crop up here and there. Begin that gratitude journal again. Watch the rain. Draw in chalk on your sidewalk. Reach out for a telephone session with a therapist if anxiety or depressive symptoms are starting to interfere with your daily duties.

Have daily duties.

And somehow, we will get through this, together.

Photo by Ronny Sison on Unsplash

The Changes We Can Make Amid COVID-19

Throughout the public sector

non-essential operations have been suspended during this health emergency. The libraries have canceled programming and are open only for the pick-up and drop-off of books. Public schools are now closed. Religious and private schools are closed. Most public religious services are suspended.

And while cancellation after cancellation pours in while shelves continue to empty out, more goes on beneath the surface of anxiety and pantry stocking. Dollar General has begun an hour reserved for senior citizens to shop from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. every morning.

City employees continue to work and carry out their essential functions such as public safety, water and sewer, customer service and more. 

Addressing the needs of the private sector

the Lions Club, a recent addition to the Hughson landscape, seeks to help the elderly men and women of our community by picking up supplies from the store. Those in need can contact them through the Hughson Lions Facebook page or a member of the club with a name, phone number, and address of the seniors in need.

Social media, often considered the source of manufactured rage or fake news, becomes a hub where concerned citizens have offered grocery runs to neighbors or to help with supplies when possible. 

Facebook groups like Hughson Moms and Catholic Moms of the Central Valley offer online social opportunities and outreach to each other. Parents who find themselves suddenly required to homeschool their children share moments of solidarity and humor online, while already-homeschooling parents offer their tried-and-true experiences. Some stay-at-home-mothers make offers to watch children whose families are unable to find childcare.

What about the personal sector? 

There is a choice to be made, now more than ever. How will we face the current crisis? Some question its gravity. Others are in a panic. What we can control is right in front of us. I can decide to stay-at-home with my family.

I can decide whether or not to be filled with fear or to mitigate that fear by asking myself, “what am I afraid of?” and get to the heart of it. Because fear looms large when it is not identified. When it is named, only then can it be tamed.

I have to discern the right words to share with my children. I have to discern when my thoughts circle too strong around one point. Name the point. And move on. 

My husband’s places of work are all closed. It is the same for many others. I was already swimming in the sea of social media and news updates. The more chaotic the world seems, the more, I think, maybe a schedule will help.

Mornings: a ten-minute meditation while I nurse the baby to quiet my thoughts and prepare my heart for the day.

I can read the news and do my work in the mornings while assisting my children with their schoolwork. We set in place work-from-home hours for my husband for the remote teaching put in place by his employers. Those hours include a break midday for me when he holds the baby.

We will eat meals together. I will set my computer aside in the afternoons. 

We will pray together and read together in the evenings. It interrupts the free-falling action of the day that sometimes occurs with spring-fevered children at home without access to their usual playmates and favorite librarians.

It is still Lent.

Photo by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash

And in the reflection of what these sacrifices mean, I call into question how I am receiving the present suffering. Do I remember that the world is a bigger place than my little home, that it has a past that goes far back beyond me and a future that will stretch far beyond this moment? Connecting to a sense of the transcendent puts into perspective this moment. 

As does finding meaning. These hard times, from wherever the hardship comes, brings into focus the things that matter most to our hearts and if they might, perhaps, need some reordering.

With hope and humility, I am going to try.


Have you gone down the rabbit hole of news information lately?

For weeks, I kept abreast of the news, tired already of election news, an open ear to the Coronavirus situation in China. Then it ballooned and has now been declared a pandemic. A length clip from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (language warning) helped distill the information around me. 80% of the cases are mild. 20% are not. 2% mortality rate is 20 times higher than the .1% rate of influenza, from which many are vaccinated and many still suffer.

Before going to bed last night I saw the numbers of dead in Italy headlined. At the time of this printing, it is hard to imagine what the numbers will be and what things will be like in Stanislaus County. I am already struggling to find hand sanitizer for us to use for our son’s at-home medical procedures.

The numbers are alarming and our society is showing the effects.

I find a few elements necessary to draw on for myself.

First, stay updated, but it is okay to step away from the news.

Our society is inundated with news. At my friend’s newlywed new home, Alexa sits on the countertop showing off headlines as they appear. An alert pops on my screen for the Modesto Bee doing likewise. I have a clip habit to check notifications on Facebook and scroll down to see what is happening in the groups I follow. Click on one, then another, check over on a news aggregate site, type in the WHO website and CDC to confirm if what I am reading is accurate or overblown. And so on. It can take hours away from the day if we let it. Or we could ignore it all and go about our lives. But neither choice is prudent.

Second, about #faithnotfear

On social media, there is the faith sector, promoting faith over fear and for it, they even utilize a hashtag. Should those who hold onto a particular creed expect that creed to protect them from all evil, those evils natural and supernatural? But faith does not prevent suffering. Those who adopt a “power of positive thinking” mindset will be hard-pressed to prove their case when enough years have passed. The world is a hard place and our bodies, though influenced by our mental and emotional state, are not guaranteed to never suffer or fall ill. It is part of life and part of growth and often the role faith plays is to transform the current suffering into a source of meaning and growth, not escape from it.

Sometimes, we should be afraid, even if we have faith.

in the middle lies virtue

Stay calm, focused, and continue to live your life to the best of your ability. I write this as a mother of a newborn with a gaggle of kids at home, rather than a citizen of a country waiting to see what the next headline about coronavirus tells me.

Now is a great time to review hand-washing techniques and stick to them.

It might not be a bad idea to make sure we have the important things we need, like diaper wipes, rather than letting the well-run dry.

So rather than deciding to join the panic, I will use this as an opportunity to check into the efficiency of our home, our pantry, our medicine cabinet, and decide accordingly.

I will quiet that rebellious American spirit that scoffs at an effort to quarantine, should the occasion arise.

I will practice kindness towards those who are afraid and those who brush off the situation.

And I will keep before me the maxim, “in medio stat virtus,” in the middle lies virtue knowing that the most prudent course is usually between the two extremes of too much or too little.