TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management, 

What the heck? I just got used to working from home! Do you realize the adjustment that was? Do you think I can just switch everything up now and go back to the office? This disrupts all my family routines and we just got into a rhythm. Who knows if it’s even safe? Last time I checked, you aren’t the CDC. Plus, I can do the same thing at home that I do there. All I’d be missing is bad coffee. You guys seriously need to rethink this. This is so…

[Record Needle Scratch] 

TO: Management

FROM: John Daum

RE: Going back to work at the office

Dear Management,

I want to thank you for how you lead our company through a global pandemic. My family and I are grateful for the adjustments you made that allowed me to stay employed during such a chaotic time. I realize others were not so fortunate. Thank you for your flexibility and considering your people while other companies were only worried about profits.

I would like to say that working from home has been a great experience for me and my family. Additionally, I’d like to suggest that it has benefited the company as well. After the initial adjustment, I believe that my productivity and contribution to the company actually increased significantly. If it is at all possible, I would like to explore the possibility of continuing to work from home and coming in on certain days to touch base with the team.

Regardless of what you decide, I have already begun preparing myself and my family for how the transition back to working at the office will change some of our routines. I believe that some foresight and good communication is essential to make the transition as smooth as possible for my family and me. We’ve met as a family to discuss different scenarios and how we will navigate them—working from the office full-time or working from home on certain days and the office on others.

I’ve honestly wondered how I have been able to work so well from home and actually be more productive. It definitely seems counter-intuitive. There are some obvious reasons—my “creative zone” seems to be later at night after my kids have gone to bed. Also, I’m able to focus on work without distraction from early morning until lunchtime and have about five hours of solid work done before noon.

Beyond those obvious reasons, there have been a few that have come as a surprise to me. Integrating my work life and my family life has greatly reduced my stress about both. 

For instance, instead of the morning being a hectic time so I can beat the traffic into the office, I’ve been able to have a cup of coffee with my wife. Instead of a “working lunch” at my desk, I’ve been able to sit down and connect with my kids and talk about their day. Also, instead of worrying about my elderly mother-in-law who lives with us, I’ve been able to keep tabs on her and build my relationship with her. Instead of fighting traffic to get home, I’ve been able to have dinner ready for when my wife gets home and we eat more meals together as a family.

I know that this is a lot of family talk and not a lot of work talk, but it has become clear that having more family stability and connectedness has made me a happier person. That happiness translates into more energy and focus for work, more creativity, and less distracting stress and anxiety. I have the ability to work from my deck and be outside in an environment that keeps my mind clear. I have the ability to go for a walk around the block and think through a work assignment. Plus, I have the ability to work while I’m in “the zone” regardless of a time-clock. 

This kind of flexibility and efficiency has given me more margin to take care of myself and my family. A healthier, happier worker is a more productive worker.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter. Regardless of how my work situation plays out, my goal is to creatively and consistently keep these lessons learned as a regular part of my family life. I believe that if I do so, the company will benefit—no matter where I work from.

Was I the only one who was worried when COVID-19 forced me into endless hours at home to quarantine with my family? Was I the only one fearful about how this may affect my employment? Anxious about catching COVID-19? Uncertain about the potential damage to my bank account? Concerned about the impact on my children?

No. I’m not the only one. You know how I know? I went to the grocery store and I could feel the anxiety. I scrolled through social media, watched a little news, and talked to people. You could feel it. You could feel the tension and the uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus.

After a couple of weeks, some good advice from loved ones, some timely articles (some written by my co-workers), and prayer, I decided to not allow the outbreak to negatively affect my mental health. A good friend of mine’s words stuck in my mind, “Don’t waste this time.” 

As a leader of a family and within an organization, I needed to be my best self to lead those around me. COVID-19 highlighted my need to be “me” at my best. Being “me” at my best meant taking care of myself so that I could bring the best me into battle with those that are alongside me.

Instead of focusing on what’s been taken away because of the quarantine, I shifted to what needs to be in place for me to be my best. In other words, “self-care.”

Here are the ways the COVID-19 outbreak has improved my self-care. 

  1. Getting outside.  Walks with my wife. Bike riding. Sitting outside while working. Quarantining has helped me be intentional about simply getting outside to work, play, decompress, or chat it up with a neighbor. The experts say that getting some sunshine relieves stress, boosts the immune system, sharpens your focus, improves mood, reduces anxiety and increases creativity. You know what? I concur. I can feel the difference. Sometimes just 15 minutes does the trick.
  1. Exploring my emotions. During COVID-19, we are inundated with information about mental health. Instead of getting annoyed with the information overload, I’ve intentionally identified and explored emotions that I’ve experienced. I’ve done this by talking, prioritizing some quiet time, prayer and writing. Some of those emotions are directly related to the pandemic while some may be a side effect. To identify and explore those emotions with people I trust has been helpful to prevent my emotions from controlling me. My emotions taught me a lot about myself. I should really keep this up.
  1. Connecting with family and friends. Do you know what happens when you’re not always running from one activity to the next? You actually have meaningful, substantive conversations with people you like. Who knew? Simple check-ins with friends, hours-long conversations about life and being held accountable for taking care of myself have all become the norm. Relationships really are what matters most.
  1. Prayer and/or Meditation. Remembering how to be still and be quiet has been beneficial, too. Finding quiet spaces to simply slow down and pray more regularly has helped me be aware of what’s important. Numerous studies show that prayer and/or meditation helps us respond better to trauma and crisis. And just as importantly, it has kept me from that land of fear which can be paralyzing.

Bonus: Watching Documentaries. I didn’t realize this was so helpful until recently. I have indulged in several documentaries including one by Ken Burns about New York and one he made about baseball. I’ve also checked out The Last Dance about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. It’s been a nice getaway from the mundane and a good chance to learn something new. 

These are all little things that have helped me stay in touch with myself. While working, my focus has been better. Thankfully it has helped me to have more patience with my kids (in other words, I haven’t blown up at them recently). Who knew that there would be positive side effects to being quarantined?

About four weeks into our quarantine, I told my husband, “I feel like I’m working harder than ever. At the end of my work day, I feel like I need a nap because I’m exhausted.” I really began to wonder if something was wrong with me.

Then I started hearing other people talk about how fatigued they felt. I decided to do a little research, and guess what? Quarantine fatigue is for real. Even with all the Zooming and FaceTiming going on, human beings don’t thrive in extended periods of social and physical isolation. If this pandemic has done anything positive, it has shined the light on the reality that just seeing people on a screen is not enough to satisfy the human longing to be in the physical presence of others or to experience a hug. The lack of that takes a toll on all of us, even the introverts of the world.

It is pretty unlikely we will return to what any of us considered a normal way of life anytime soon. This means we all need to be on guard for recognizing that we are at risk for experiencing quarantine fatigue.

Psychotherapist Paul Hokemeyer, Ph.D., author of Fragile Power, explains in a piece on Health.com that quarantine fatigue stems from that emotional exhaustion the pandemic has placed on our lives. “I’m hearing from all of my clients that they are exhausted from the sheltering in place rules. They feel unkempt. They’re bored. They’re broke. They want to divorce their partner and give away their children,” he says. “This pandemic has elevated the notion of powerlessness and uncertainty to a level we’ve never before experienced.”

Many can probably relate to this. I mean how many of us were planning to be the first in line for a haircut once barbershops and salons were allowed to open back up? Others were clamoring to get back to the gym, and should I even mention retail therapy? I spoke with someone who works at HomeGoods. She said the line to get in on their first day wrapped around the building. People waited two and a half hours to get in and apparently, the wait to check out wasn’t much better.

Since the experts say it is unlikely we will return to what we consider “normal” anytime in the near future, a big question remains. How can we cope with this quarantine fatigue without putting ourselves, our family members or others at risk?

What Can Help With the Fatigue?

  • One of the best things we can do to alleviate this type of fatigue is to move. Not locations, but get up and move your body. If you can’t get outside to walk, run or bike, find something else to do. Rearrange the furniture, do jumping jacks, run in place, clean, plant a garden—anything to break a sweat.
  • Do things to intentionally work your brain. Try things like jigsaw puzzles, crossword or word search, learning to knit or crochet, or learning a new language. Anything that will get your brain to think but in a way that is different from your norm is ideal. This will help with the brain fog you might be feeling.
  • If you have been in the same routine since you started quarantine, consider shaking it up a bit and trying something new. With children transitioning away from online classes and into summer mode for real, it’s a natural time to create a new schedule for them and you.
  • Remind yourself and those around you that things won’t be this way forever. It is for sure inconvenient and in some ways discouraging, but we have come through hard things before and we will again. Your mindset really does matter. If you constantly tell yourself and talk with others about how horrible this is, it will for sure make this time harder to navigate through.
  • Focus on what you can do. You can write letters to people. You can try to safely connect in person by practicing all the CDC social distancing recommendations, plan your next dream vacation or tackle a project you have been putting off because it was going to take too much time.
  • Stop giving yourself a hard time about what you aren’t doing. It’s highly likely that none of us are really functioning on all cylinders. This is difficult. Take each day as it comes. If yesterday wasn’t a great day, give yourself a pat on the back for getting through it even if it wasn’t pretty and then move through today one step at a time.

We still need to be careful and considerate of others, and self-care is actually a vital component of that. Walking around feeling like your brain is numb or that you are in a dense fog doesn’t feel very good. Putting some of these things into play can help. Notice I didn’t say, putting all of these things into practice. The goal is not to overwhelm yourself, but to do some things differently with the intent of keeping things fresh when everything feels stale or boring. In other words, we all might benefit from hitting the refresh button to help ourselves get through this.

The freeway is a terrible place for my emotional health. 

Perhaps like you, the chance to leave the house for something essential is a bit of a treat these days. A couple of days ago, we needed bread. So, I joyfully hopped in the car to head to my favorite locally-owned bakery with thoughts of fresh sourdough on my mind. 

Joy quickly turned to temper as I entered the on-ramp and encountered other—I’ll call them “drivers”—on the road. Let’s just say that those around did not have the same philosophy of operating a motor vehicle as me. They were either too slow, too fast, or just too unlike me in how I preferred them to drive. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it: choice words flew, and the stink-eye was given from the driver’s seat on several different occasions. I mean, I was irate, irked, ill-tempered. Don’t these people know when a loaf of sourdough is on the line?

I’ve yet to understand what it is about the freeway that can turn my elation into exasperation, my peace into petulance. And maybe for you, it feels like the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all the quarantining, working from home, homeschooling, and mask-wearing, have been escalating trips on the freeway of fury. You may be asking yourself, why is COVID-19 making me so dadgum angry? 

Here’s the Situation

We get angry because there’s an unresolved issue somewhere. Many times that issue is buried more deeply in our psyche than we think. Even though I haven’t figured out my deal with freeway driving, I’m pretty sure it’s not the drivers around me that have me boiling. Even if they really are terrible drivers, they’re just the triggers, the spark that sets off the gasoline-doused woodpile already set up in my mind. 

And the COVID-19 crisis has provided us with lots of potential for things to go up in the flames of anger. Consider the situation we’re in: 

  1. The threshold of our tolerance is at an all-time low due to the stress and anxiety that is so common during this time. Most of us are basically on a short fuse. Times are uncertain. Uncertainty begets a sense of lack of control, which begets negative emotions, which begets anger. Pile up the wood and pour on the gas…
  1. Things going on around us are magnified at an all-time high. We’re home and around the people we live with so… much… more. You notice things you never saw before—little, annoying, nit-picky, normally-inconsequential things—which now drive you absolutely bananas. You know what I’m talking about. He leaves his shoes in the living room all the time. She won’t stop texting me while I’m trying to work. The kids are loud, hungry, bored, tired, whiney. One little match on the pile… kaboom.

The Problem With the Kaboom

When we allow the pile to build and the match to drop, it puts a terrible strain on our emotional health and our relationships. When the kaboom occurs, stress hormones flood the brain. Those hormones override the part that handles impulse control, consideration of the consequences of your actions, and the ability to use logic and process empathy, compassion and guilt. We basically lose the ability to govern these higher-order thinking skills in order to compensate for surviving what we perceive as a threat. We go into a “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. 

And this is when people tend to react, give stink-eyes from driver’s seats, fly off the handle, go off on someone, lose their everloving stuff. It’s bad for your emotional health, and it’s bad for your relationships with the people around you. 

Strategies for Dealing With Anger

Below I’d like to offer some strategies for preventing our anger from flaming up. Before jumping in, however, it’s important to acknowledge one thought: anger is normal. In and of itself, it’s a neutral emotion. Heck, countless social justice movements were successfully launched because someone was angry with a legitimate issue. So give yourself some grace. Know that your anger is okay; it’s all in how you manage your anger, what you do with it. 

Here are some things to think about: 

  • When you’re triggered, take a timeout so the spark can burn out. Marriage researcher and relationship expert Dr. John Gottman found out that it typically takes at least 20 minutes of “self-soothing” for the brain transition out of “fight, flight, or freeze” and to get back to normal working order. For you fellow “manly-men” out there reading this, self-soothing sounds a little… tame. However, this is your best ally to keep the woodpile from blowing up and saying or doing something you’ll regret. Take a walk, shoot some hoops, play an instrument, weed the garden, bake a cake—whatever it takes to take the heat out of the spark. 
  • Explore your anger. This might sound a little psycho-babblish, but the idea is to consider what’s really going on inside that’s making the anger build. Sure, something your spouse or kids (or the drivers on the road) did trigger something; but ask, what’s the real issue here? Is it the stress of this pandemic? Is it the unknown, the uncertainty? Are you missing people you normally see in person? Are there ways you’ve typically coped that aren’t available right now? And are you getting enough exercise, rest, clean food, or connection with the people you love? Exploring these ideas is akin to disassembling the giant gas-laden woodpile that’s been building in your mind so that the next time something lights a spark, the tendency for a kaboom is much less. 
  • Recognize the things that are giving you joy during this time. Has there been an upside to being at home more? Has there been more opportunity to hang with your spouse and the kids? Or maybe to learn a new hobby or rekindle an old one? Have you been given the margin to read more, exercise more, watch more movies, complete home projects, or just enjoy the outside? Recognizing the joys that are coming out of this situation is essential to handling your anger so that the anger doesn’t handle you. Acknowledge these joys on a daily basis and adopt a sense of gratitude for those things. When you do, you’ll notice the positive shift in your attitude in no time. 

Anger is a normal emotion. Understand how it affects you physically and mentally, have a plan for it, and learn from it as you focus on the positive things in your life!

I miss my friends. I really do. Though overall, I have to admit I have enjoyed what quarantine has done for my relationship with my husband. (Check out my blog here.) I don’t like that keeping up with my friends on social media looks like scrolling through Instagram rather than making plans to hang out in person. 

As much as you love seeing what’s going on in your friends’ lives, it can become a little overwhelming. When someone is on social media, they aren’t just seeing friends’ posts. They are also exposing themselves to the negativity filling the spaces amidst the photos and posts from friends. Time spent on social media has increased by 20% during COVID-19 lockdowns, according to SocialMediaToday. Forbes also confirms that social media is full of misinformation.

It’s been rock bottom for a lot of people and an uphill battle for the world. Thousands of people are heartbroken over the deaths from COVID-19, hardships, job losses, divorces, families separated from loved ones in the hospitals, and the list goes on.

However, I really do believe there are silver linings for every dark cloud. We have seen the world set aside its differences and make trade agreements. People are sharing intellectual property for the good of humanity, not just the people in their country. We’ve seen volunteers come out of the woodwork to help deliver food to students and families who needed it. Artists share their skill and their specialty and teach people online. Musicians do in-home concerts and athletes provide free at-home training. 

I think we want to see the good—to keep up with what’s happening in our friends’ lives nearby and around the world. We also want to filter out the negative.

Here are some ways to help you keep up and stay positive:

  1. Limit your time on social media. As soon as you feel yourself start to scroll for the habit of it or because you’re bored, find something else to do. Once you’ve seen your friends’ posts and gone through their stories, shut the app. It’s when we get through the relevant posts that we start seeing the suggested videos, photos, or news.
  1. If you know someone or an entity you follow is negative each time you come across them, unfollow or block them for a bit. On Facebook, you can prioritize who you see when you click News Feed Preferences. Put your close friends and family as a priority. Help yourself keep tabs only on who you want to keep up with right now.
  1. If you have an iPhone, you can set daily limits on social networking in your settings or download an app to help you monitor your time. Android phones have apps that do this as well. Not only does putting a cap on your time help you create boundaries, but you are taking a step to protect your mental health. Substantial amounts of research from The US National Library of Medicine—National Institutes of Health have found associations between heavy technology use and poor mental health outcomes among adolescents and young adults.  
  1. If keeping up with your friends is your main concern, try setting aside time to FaceTime or have a Zoom call with them instead.

This will take keeping up with each other up to a more personal level. It’s way more personal than a text or even a phone call.

It’s been a time of transition for everyone. Be patient with yourself as you adjust and be patient with your friends as they navigate their new normal. Some people use the comment section on social media to vent, but that doesn’t mean you have to engage with it. Hopefully, this helps you to keep up with your friends more and negativity less!

There’s a lot I’m going to miss about quarantine, but let me start off by saying… 

Yes, I’m an introvert.

No, I do not have kids.

Yes, I have been able to work from home.

And yes, I am incredibly grateful for all of the above right now.

But before you roll your eyes and exit out of this blog, hear this: Even if we’re all in a similar situation, remember that everyone faces their own set of challenges. 

Maybe you have young kids that are driving you crazy. 

Maybe you’re single and are feeling extremely lonely. 

Perhaps you and your spouse can’t seem to get on the same page. 

Maybe you’re a medical professional and the responsibility on your shoulders overwhelms you. 

Maybe you’ve lost your job and you fear the future.

Or maybe your environment is great, but you’re struggling to process all of the emotion, fear and transition.

All of us have been going through changes, whether good or bad. And no matter who you are, there have been a whole lot of obstacles in the past two months. I’m not here to ignore that fact! But all of us have also had the opportunity to reflect on our lives, make needed changes, and grow closer to our family and friends. And that’s just one thing I’m going to miss about quarantine.

I am going to miss the empty calendar. I love keeping busy, and I used to add unnecessary tasks on my calendar just to have something to fill it. So I’ll be the first to admit, all these slow-paced evenings stressed me out at first. But over time, it’s forced me to use my imagination, be intentional about connecting with others, and learn how to lean into boredom and use it to my advantage.

I am going to miss the days of soaking in some sunshine while I work. There’s no rushing from meeting to meeting. There’s not a pile of tasks that I can’t seem to focus on. But there is something about the birds chirping, the neighbors mowing their lawn, and cars driving by that provides a better stress-free soundtrack than I could ever make on Spotify. 

I am going to miss connecting with loved ones. The Zoom dinner parties. The family game nights. The quiet evenings to cuddle on the couch with my spouse and a good book… All of these have provided a sense of normalcy in a time of chaos.

I am going to miss the forced self-reflection. I am not one to enjoy self-reflection. It can be uncomfortable to feel so vulnerable and open. And don’t get me started about implementing change for self-growth… But over the past two months, I’ve learned to enjoy pushing myself to grow in ways I never would have seen without this time to reflect.

I am going to miss the creativity needed to figure out what to do next. Hear me out. Yes, it is stressful in the unknown. That will never change. But coming up with creative solutions to difficult problems is something to be proud of. It’s given me confidence in myself and my family to withstand hard things. I know that we will be okay as long as we’re willing to come together.

Now, you may be thinking, “Okay, but I am NOT going to miss having everyone cooped up day after day; I am NOT going to miss trying to figure out how to work; I’m NOT going to miss only being able to see people digitally; I am NOT going to miss all of these extreme emotions, and I am NOT going to miss having to sit in the unknown.”

And I hear you. It’s so easy to get stuck in this mindset of all the hard things, all the painful things, all the things we wish were different. But my challenge is this: Today, choose to find one thing that you will miss about quarantine and then choose to never let it stop.

None of these things have to end once the quarantine is over. There are 24 hours in every day, and we choose how to spend those hours.

We might have more things on the calendar, but we can say “no” when it’s getting too full.

Work might resume as normal, but that doesn’t mean we can’t spend the evenings off our phones, listening to the birds chirping, enjoying the company of the people around us.

When we’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, we can prioritize self-care.

And when we’re facing hard times, we will get through them together. 

Remember: Just because we may get back to some sort of “normal” does not mean that things have to go back to how they used to be.

Bringing hostess gifts, preparing a side dish, pulling up a makeshift chair to a coffee table for dinner are all things I love to do. I’m all about surrounding myself with friends and family, hugging each other’s necks, and seeing each other whenever we want. The pre-quarantine life seemed perfect for my extroverted self.

Unexpectedly, however, as we seem to be moving back toward “business as usual,” I’ve noticed I’ve changed. I’ve found myself already grieving the loss of what some people may call too much time with their spouse, too much time to think, and too much time to spare. I don’t want to downplay the lives COVID-19 has claimed too early and the hardship it’s caused for many families. However, I do want to reflect on the silver linings I discovered in quarantine.

Just like some of you are surprised by people who are dying to return to normalcy, I’m just as surprised reading that someone isn’t looking forward to it. But, my life during COVID has been simplified, which has been exactly the change of pace I didn’t know I needed. My life has always danced on the fine line between chaotic and the perfect storm. 

The majority of the almost 7 years we dated, my husband Tyler and I were on different schedules. If I was in class, he was out. If he wanted to have a date night, I had other responsibilities to the high schoolers I was mentoring. I would go into work as he was getting off. Goodness, even during our engagement we only saw each other once a week. (Which let’s be honest, was probably spent on wedding planning.)

Once we married and moved in together, I started a new job. He had one year of teaching under his belt when all of the standards changed, which by the way, only change once every six years. So as I was navigating my new normal, he was redoing all of his lesson plans from the year prior. As a result, our time together wasn’t exactly quality. My dad died unexpectedly. Someone wrecked into Tyler’s car. Both of our cars needed repairs. We went to small groups on different nights of the week. I had work events on the weekend… our life was nonstop

We felt like we couldn’t catch a break. And if we got a break, it didn’t feel like we had the time to take it. We spent our evenings preparing for the next day. 

Now vs. Then

Fast forward to now. I’ve spent more quality time, not just time, with my sweetheart. It’s been more intentional, romantic, purpose-driven time than we’ve known what to do with. We kiss leaving the room, catch up on how we are doing during meals, cuddle more and nag less. 

We’re like two best friends who are co-workers for different jobs but under the same roof. We have worked so well together and kept each other motivated. The thought of returning to work and “business as usual” under different roofs just makes me want to… be a little dramatic and shed a tear. (Notice, I did only say a little dramatic.) 

I don’t want to give up any of this unprecedented, long cravedfor quality time. 

I feel like I’m in a period of transition and growth, and I never thought my social-butterfly self would be sad about giving up alone time. Prior to this quarantine, the thought of not having someone to see or someplace to go on my schedule made me feel like I was doing something wrong. 

Now, I’ve redefined “busyness” as exhausting instead of a measure of my importance. (I have used my busyness to measure how valuable I am as a person since high school.)

I’ve been learning to love Tyler better and how my extroverted-self needed permission to be “selfish.” Now I use the energy I normally over-poured into others for myself and for Tyler.

As I sit here typing on my couch in practically pajamas, I know with a slight turn of my head, I can catch a smile from Tyler and that I’m a few steps in my pink fuzzy slippers away from a kiss.

I’m treasuring this. I want to hold onto what I’ve learned about myself and how my life has changed for the positive because of this standstill.

I think the question we will all ask ourselves as our country pulls up its bootstraps and heads back to work is, “Will I change the way I live my life, or will I snap back into the place I was?” 

We are all wading in unknown waters, but one thing is for certain: We have the choice to sink or swim. To choose what gives us life or choose what drains it. I want to choose what gives me life.

“So first let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself… nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” —Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address

So there I was… hanging off the edge, behind-first, staring down into a hole in the ground about as wide as my house. My heels dug into the earthen ledge as I felt the tension of the rope pulling at my waist and holding me in place. We were on a spelunking (caving) adventure. Ropes were strategically fastened to trees, harnesses fastened to ropes, and my body strapped in a harness. I had been rappelling since my high school years, but never into a 150-foot vertical cave in the middle of the Tennessee wilderness. 

All facts pointed to the assurance of safety, security and success: the friends I was with were trained to do this in the military; all knots, harnesses and other gear were checked and rechecked; and my buddy was at the bottom of the cave below me hanging on to my rope, ready to cinch it down and “catch” me should I slip. (And besides—he made it down safely; certainly I would, too… right?)

And yet, there were still the nagging what ifs in my mind. What if that rope snaps? What if a knot comes undone? And even, what if a squirrel leapt from out of nowhere, landed on my harness and chewed the straps away, causing me to fall into nothingness? 

And it was the what ifs that kept me stuck, paralyzed, on the edge of that cave for what seemed like hours (really, it was a few minutes), petrified to take that first step to descend into the cave. 

Fear has a funny way of making a person think the most irrational thoughts. And as the COVID-19 pandemic has caused life to slam on its brakes, fear has certainly done a real number for many people. What happens when the pandemic has you so afraid that you can’t seem to leave the house? 

Good Fear and Bad Fear

Fear isn’t always bad. There is a good kind of fear. Good fear protects us; it’s rational, valuable, and tells us how to accurately assess a risk. Good fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Better be sure your rope is tied correctly, your gear is checked, and your buddy down there has your back (er… rather, your rope).” 

Bad fear does not help us. It jumps straight to the worse-case scenario based on irrational conclusions. Bad fear says, “Hey, that’s a deep hole in the ground. Your rope will probably snap and your buddy below has probably taken off to grab a burger. It’s best if you go home, lock the door, hide in your room and never ever think about caves again…

Bad fear started out as good fear, but quickly turned irrational, dysfunctional, petrifying and therefore valueless. It’s junk fear—good fear gone bad, like a mild-mannered comic book scientist turned supervillain. 

And just like any true villain, bad fear doesn’t help us at all. It hinders us from a more fulfilling life. And at its worst, fear can be so irrational that it can cause us to react in ways that are actually harmful to us. 

Irrational Is the Key Word

★ The difference between good fear and bad fear is the weight of the information each is based on. ★

Good fear is based on good, solid facts from credible sources. It seeks the right amount of precautions to take while still being able to function. And so you have to know who you’re listening to. Health and safety precautions taken from the CDC are much weightier than from fake-news outlets or crazy Uncle Joe who’s stockpiled ammo and canned beans in his backyard bunker. 

Bad fear is based on the irrational, the sensational and the worst-case scenario (refer to Uncle Joe above). Bad fear makes us believe we have all the information we need in order to anticipate a future full of dread and terror. 

What Bad Fear Does to Us

Fear works in a way that, when we sense a threat, our body releases hormones that shut down the functions not needed for survival. It sharpens the functions that might help us survive, such as increased heart rate and more blood flow to the muscles (so that we can, for example, heighten our awareness or run faster). 

This is great for single, isolated incidents of threat, such as seeing a snake or standing on a high ledge. However, prolonged, chronic fear wreaks havoc on our body and brain.  

Research has shown us that it weakens our immune system, leaving us more susceptible to sickness. (Think about the irony here: Irrational anxiety and fear of the COVID-19 virus could actually increase our chances of catching it.) Bad fear can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems, and can lead to accelerated aging and even premature death. 

Bad fear also hijacks our brain processes that help us regulate our emotions, read non-verbal cues and think before we act. Therefore, it can have a very negative impact on our relationships. 

When fear is based on irrational assumptions, it tends to keep churning out the dread. It can also have some nasty consequences for our health. 

Fear Gone Bad Back to Good 

Knowing the dangers of bad fear is a good start to turning bad fear around. Here are some other tips: 

  • Listen to credible sources for information. Be picky about who you listen to. There is a lot of sensationalism, and armchair COVID-19 experts abound out there. Ignore these voices and pay attention to the advice of experts such as the CDC, physicians and scientists. Be careful how much time you spend immersing yourself in information-digging. An unhealthy preoccupation in fact-finding can feed fear rather than alleviate it. 
  • Carefully assess what you see, experience and feel. Irrational fear can make us question every little sniffle, sneeze or cough we notice in ourselves and others, sending us down a spiral of unneeded worry. Pay attention to the symptoms and warning signs given by the experts, as well as the level of risk for your age group. And if you have a logical concern, refer to your physician
  • Practice self-care. Be sure you are doing intentional things to keep your mind and body healthy. Being physically active, practicing mindfulness and getting enough rest helps alleviate anxiety and boost the feel-good hormones in our brains. This helps us to think more clearly when weighing reason against irrationality. 
  • Know that this is a process. Overcoming any kind of fear takes time, and it’s often done in small steps. Give yourself patience and grace. Over time, reason will trump the irrational.
  • If you find that your fear is causing you to move toward harmful behaviors such as drinking or using drugs, or that it’s moving you away from basic necessary functions such as eating, personal hygiene or getting basic work done, consider seeking help. There are many professionals who are offering remote counseling services. 

By the way… I made it down into the cave safe and sound. Knots stayed tied and no strap-gnawing squirrels appeared. Why? Because that was just unreasonable. Bad fear does not have to prevent you from diving into a fulfilling life, even in the midst of a pandemic. 

I’ll admit that I’m kind of a news junkie. I want to hear the latest about COVID-19 as well as everything else that is going on. I hear the numbers, listen to interviews with Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx and others. I see the never-ending lines of cars waiting to pick up food at food banks, I hear about job loss, farmers throwing out crops because they have nowhere to send them, people who are quarantining by themselves and are lonely, marriages and families struggling because they are spending so much time together and more.

Day after day I am filling my mind with all of this and I realize, the intensity of this is impacting me in so many ways and we are nowhere near the end. Honestly, it’s straight-up depressing and I am mentally feeling the impact of it all.

Honestly, it’s hard for any of us to go through the level of emotional, social and financial trauma we are experiencing and not be impacted. The environmental and adjustment stress we are all feeling can be overwhelming, so much so that some of us may find ourselves in a place we’ve never been before when it comes to our mental health. 

You may also be feeling a bit different these days and wondering what in the heck is going on. Maybe it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning, your energy level is non-existent, you aren’t hungry or you eat all the time, your nerves seem frazzled or it’s hard to think clearly because your brain feels like it’s in a fog. Believe it or not, all of these things are normal responses to a severe crisis, which is what we are in the middle of. The thing we have to ask ourselves is, what can I do to feel better? 

How about trying these things out?

9 Tips to Improve Your Well-Being

  • Go for a walk or get some other type of exercise for self-care. Doing some sort of physical activity on a daily basis can make a major difference in the way you feel and function. There are lots of free workout apps and online options.
  • Spend time in the sun soaking in vitamin D. This is one of the most powerful ways to boost your mood. The fresh air will be good for you, too.
  • Get yourself on a schedule. Even though you may not be working or leaving the house, staying on your normal sleep schedule, getting up in the morning, taking a shower, getting dressed, eating at consistent times and then doing something constructive can help your brain function better. 
  • Phone a friend. While we need to physically distance ourselves from others, socially isolating ourselves is not a good thing. Technology allows us to connect with the ones we love face to face. Talking with neighbors across the fence or street can also be helpful. We are made for relationships and need them to thrive.
  • Watch movies or shows that are funny and make you laugh. Believe it or not, laughter can actually protect you from the damaging effects of stress and help you feel better. Humor helps us release anger, have hope, and be more focused and alert.
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Do your best to eat balanced meals. Try to avoid overeating or not eating enough. That can be difficult given the circumstances, but fresh/frozen fruit and vegetables are great choices if you can buy them. Drinking water has tons of health benefits, too.
  • Limit your alcohol, sugar, caffeine, and news intake. If you are struggling with feelings of depression and anxiety, these things can make you feel worse.
  • Make time to journal. Writing down your feelings, fears, thoughts and emotions can help you take control of all that is running through your head. Sometimes what appears overwhelming in your mind, doesn’t seem so much so when you actually look at it on paper.
  • Ask for help.* Don’t let pride or fear keep you from seeking help to get past this moment in time. What we are going through is hard. If you are having trouble navigating through this time, ask for what you need. Plenty of doctors and counselors are seeing people through Zoom and other ways. 

This Is Not Easy! It’s normal for all of us to be feeling some ways about this COVID-19 thing. It is highly likely that none of us will come through this unscathed in some way. If you get to a place or you are already in a place where how you are feeling is impacting your ability to function and accomplish simple daily tasks, that’s when you know it’s time to get some help. 

*Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Hotline: 800-662-HELP (4357); National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures on social media. Brother and sister have been fighting all day. Mom has had enough. Mom gets one of dad’s t-shirts and makes brother and sister wear it—at the same time. 

Brother and sister look thrilled.

Some have called this a “Get-Along Shirt.” The funny thing is, while this may be a great deterrent for kids to stop fighting (“If you two don’t stop it, I’m getting out THE SHIRT!”), I’m not sure it does much to help brother and sister get along while they’re in the shirt. In my opinion, quite the reverse: It just makes them want to fight more. 

This is how I picture being in quarantine with a spouse that you don’t particularly like. You feel glued at the hip, but you can’t get away. 

THE SITUATION

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us all to change our way of life. And if there has already been tension in your marriage before this whole mess began, then right now you might be wondering, how the heck do I get out of this giant shirt? 

Let’s think about this situation. Chances are, back in the “old days” (pre-pandemic) one or both of you spent at least some of your day apart, possibly at work. Point is, your regular routine gave you time apart so that when you came back together, your relationship was more manageable. Life provided some ways to cope with the tension.

Not so at the moment. There is no coming back together because there’s no time apart. Together is your reality right now. If there was tension in the marriage before, the coping mechanisms you used back then aren’t there anymore. 

And whatever differences were coming between you back then, now they are magnified. You see the differences more. You are in difference-overload. And so the tension builds.

THE CHOICE

Your situation gives you a couple of choices: 

  • You can choose to avoid the issue, be miserable in your Get-Along shirt, and live in increasing conflict, tension, stress, and anxiety

Sounds fun. (See picture above.)

  • Or, you can dig in your heels, be intentional, and decide to do what you can to lessen the tension and improve the situation with your spouse 

Disclaimer★ What I’m about to share with you is helpful, but it’s going to take intentionality and humility. When two people don’t get along, things only get better when pride is put aside. And yes, both people in the marriage need to make the effort, but it takes one person to begin to lead the dance. In other words, choose to be the first person to take up the mantle of humility; more often than not, the other will follow. 

So you first have to ask some questions: 

  • What is it specifically you don’t like? 
  • Do you not like your spouse, or do you not like the situation you’re in? 
  • Does everything about your spouse get on your nerves? Or are there one or two qualities that are magnified by the circumstances of the quarantine? 
  • Could… this… possibly… be…you? Are you stressed, and that affects how you see your spouse? What are you dealing with inside of you that makes you see your spouse in certain ways?

These questions are humbling—they can bring you down a notch or two. But considering sincere answers help you to stop and put the right perspective on the situation. Then you are freed up to make a healthy response rather than a knee-jerk reaction

PRO-TIPS

Having said that, let’s consider some pro-tips: 

  • Choose to see your spouse as a whole rather than one or two negative qualities. When there is something bugging me about my spouse, I have to stop and consider all the things that make up who she is, and I find the positives far outweigh the negatives. I consider all the ways she contributes to the family, what she’s done for me in the past, her background and history, how good of a mother she is. And it minimizes in my mind whatever it was that was getting on my nerves. 
  • Think of five things you’re thankful for your spouse. The next time you find yourself frustrated at your spouse, try this. It’s a way to train your brain—to condition yourself —to see your spouse as a whole. When I’ve done this, I’ve found more often than not that I was frustrated at a molehill rather than a mountain. And even if you are facing a mountain, thinking of why you are thankful for your spouse clears your headspace to approach the issues in calm, effective ways rather than being reactive. Take a few minutes, write down five reasons you’re thankful for your spouse, and read them over. 
  • Take time to decompress and do things to lower the tension. Lots of times conflict with your spouse is exacerbated by the stress of everything else going on around you. Take the opportunity to detach from life for a little while and do some self-care—both as a family and on your own. Go on a walk, meditate, read something inspirational, do some push-ups, cuddle with your cat or dog. Your self-care should be productive and healthy rather than merely an escape. This helps ease the tension and set a healthier atmosphere for communication. (Here and here are some great ideas on self-care.) 
  • Try not to make big decisions during this time. The idea is to lower the potential for stress, not the reverse. If you can help it, avoid making big, life-altering decisions like major purchases or having children (although you need to keep the ones you already have). 
  • Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Prolonged traumatic situations like the pandemic can cause a person to focus all their attention on the negative. This is extremely stressful and adds to the tension in your marriage. Reverse this pattern by thinking of the things you are thankful for at this time. And no matter the situation, there are always things to be thankful for. Make a list. Add to it daily. Gratitude helps lower the tension in the atmosphere and put the issue at hand in a proper perspective. 
  • Put grace into place. Consider that our circumstances are affecting not only your emotional health but also that of your spouse. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand what they may be feeling. Keep in mind that you probably have magnified qualities that get on their nerves right now as well. 

Quarantine has put a strain on all kinds of relationships, especially marriages already under strain. But by being intentional and putting pride aside, the tension can lessen. Putting these practices into place will help you and your spouse get along during this time of quarantine. 

(Get-Along Shirt not required.)