In 1994, I built my house in a tiny little village in Georgia. Back then, a neighboring town not even 10 miles away counted as a long-distance telephone call. At the time, nearly all cell phone companies charged by the minute. My phone plan gave me 10 minutes a month for $60. There was no Skype, Zoom or videoconferencing, and the internet was still something that many people didn’t have in their homes. In fact, many people in 1994 didn’t have a computer in their homes.
In 2003, when I was in India, I paid over $80 for a 15-minute telephone call home. Today I could talk as long as I want for free. We could go back further in time, and some of you would remember hand-dug wells, outhouses, coal stoves and homes with no electricity. I can.
The point here is that we are so fortunate. We couldn’t have managed the coronavirus 20 years ago as easily as we are managing it today.
Things are not as bleak as they might seem in light of COVID-19. I think of this coronavirus event as “The Great Interruption.” I take it seriously, but at the same time, I don’t regard it as the end of the world.
Part of coping with stress is knowledge. Think of a traffic jam. It is frustrating if everyone is stopped on the highway and you don’t know why. But if you receive information that there is an accident ahead that will take 30 minutes to clear, that knowledge helps you manage your stress. You can now make plans, and you have a hint of control.
Here is what we know about the COVID-19 virus:
- It is one of many similar viruses that we have faced before; we will face others in the future.
- It is transmitted through the air and via contact. Isolation and physical distancing can help lower risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
- The time the virus can survive exposed to air varies depending on the type of surface it is on: metal (5 days), plastic (2-3 days), cardboard (only 24 hours — yeah Amazon.com).
- It is currently thought that 1 in 4 carriers may be asymptomatic. On average, people are contagious for 48 hours before symptoms appear, but that can extend up to 14 days.
- The fatality rate for COVID-19 remains a source of debate, but in general, the rate is low (about 2%). Vulnerability and age are significant factors. Among young people, the death rate is practically zero. Those 60 and older account for the majority of deaths (by far) from COVID-19, with those who are 80-plus the majority among that group.
I use this knowledge in hopes of putting this virus into perspective. It is very contagious, but so is the flu.
Nonstop news coverage of every new case, every celebrity and every athlete who has it, as well as the “experts” telling us all the terrible things that might happen, has created an impression of plague. One ridiculous teaser line I heard said, “Coming up next, an interview with an actual survivor!” Like approximately 98% of the people who get it?
We’ll get through this. Here are some ways we can manage our stress and that of our clients as we work through this pandemic.
First, we need to be aware that any stressful event magnifies pre-existing conditions — addictions, relationship troubles, anxiety, etc.
Second, self-monitor. I hate change, and this situation has caused me to change almost everything. Repeatedly throughout the week, I have to self-monitor, recognize my rising stress or frustrations, and manage them.
Third, don’t stop your daily routines unless you have to. If you shop for groceries on Fridays, shop for groceries on Fridays.
If you are a parent, keep an open dialogue with your children that is age appropriate. Help them manage their fears and anxieties.
Identify specific stressors of this isolation. I’m an extreme introvert. Staying home hasn’t caused me any stress, but for extroverts, the lack of socialization can be very stressful. Seeing people wearing masks everywhere can also subconsciously cause fear and anxiety.
Eat right, sleep right, and get plenty of exercise. If you are a regular reader of my work, you will recognize this as Moffatt’s Mantra.
Find the positive in the situation. We have lots of time with family or time to learn a new skill. Plus, no traffic and much less driving! I normally divide my time between three offices. This virus has returned to me almost 10 extra hours a week that I normally would have been on the road.
Finally, take it a day at a time and shut off the TV. We’ve had enough gloomy news.
Gregory K. Moffatt is a veteran counselor of more than 30 years and the dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Point University. His monthly Voice of Experience column for CT Online seeks to share theory, ethics and practice lessons learned from his diverse career, as well as inspiration for today’s counseling professionals, whether they are just starting out or have been practicing for many years. His experience includes three decades of work with children, trauma and abuse, as well as a variety of other experiences, including work with schools, businesses and law enforcement. Contact him at Greg.Moffatt@point.edu.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.