We were about a month into our COVID-19 quarantine when it finally happened. There had been some ups and downs, of course, but I was feeling pretty good and able to stay positive as an individual, husband, and father. My family was handling it all surprisingly well. I was getting tons of work done. I felt like I was leading the family well. Then I finally snapped.

During the month or so of quarantine, I had been straining, working from home, fearful about my wife working in the medical field, stressed about a son doing middle school online, anxious about a son doing college online, sad for two adult children out of work, worried about one adult child still working in “essential services,” and totally uneasy about my at-risk mother-in-law. ALL of this under ONE roof. (You catch all the emotions in there? I didn’t.) But we were actually navigating it fairly well and trying to stay positive—movie nights, game nights, lots of good conversations. We got this! 

Then it all started to unravel. Then I unraveled. Big time.

In the span of a few days:

  • My wife was filing for unemployment. 
  • We had a brush with a tornado that left us with a yard full of fallen trees.
  • We had no power to our house for days. 
  • My car broke down while I was getting ice to keep food from spoiling. (It all spoiled anyway.)
  • We had friends who completely lost their homes and we were heartbroken. 
  • We had all-new financial pressures.

Things were starting to pile up. Stress and worry were at all new levels. 

I ignored it—too much to get done!

After about four days of trying to adjust to Generator Life and a bunch of new problems and expenses, I was soon trying to stay positive and hold my world together with threads and patches.

Then, in a single moment, life came undone. (Of course, it did.) The reality is, I came undone. Ironically, it was actually a relatively small thing that did it. Something so small that it would have been no big deal in any other context. Straw. Camel. Back. You know the saying.

I’ll admit it—I was lying in bed crying with the door locked, feeling fragile and helpless. 

How did it get to this? I’m stronger than this! What if anyone in my family sees me like this?

If we can allow ourselves to be honest, vulnerable, transparent humans for just a second, you might be feeling it, too. You might be close to snapping. Maybe you are on the edge of being overwhelmed. You may have already broken down. Your story and circumstances might have some major things going on in them that make my little pity party look pitiful. 

What do you do to stay positive when it all seems to fall apart?

Here’s what I learned after I snapped back from my snap: 

  1. Acknowledge your emotions and share them with people that you trust. For a while, I had been suppressing or burying emotions and needs deep down, trying to play it cool, but making myself a ticking timebomb. 
  2. Be real with your kids, your spouse, and your friends, because they have their “moments” too. Kids don’t need their parents to be perfect; they need them to be real. It’s good for them to see you work through imperfection and real-world problems. 
  3. Guard your mindset! Be careful what you look for in life, because you’ll find it. If you look for everything that is wrong, you’ll find it and focus on it. If you look for what is going right, that’s there, too. Find it and focus on it. You can acknowledge what’s wrong and still practice gratitude for what’s right. Remember what is really important—people
  4. Practice self-care. I was afraid to be honest with myself and the people around me—people that I know would help me, let me blow off steam, and help me process my emotions. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s more than okay to take care of yourself! Practice self-care. You may not be able to change your circumstances, but you can take care of yourself—physically and emotionally.
  5. Breathe. Think. Act. Take a moment to take some deep breaths, think about what you can and can’t control, and then respond appropriately—don’t react. Don’t make important decisions when you aren’t your best self or you’ve gone to pieces.
  6. Focus on helping others. This may sound counter-intuitive, but nothing feels better than helping someone with their problems. It actually makes our brain release happy chemicals and it may take your mind off your problems or even put them in perspective.

It’s okay to have a “moment”; it’s not okay to stay there. We’ve all been at a place where we felt like it was just one bad thing after the other and we’ve felt overcome by stress, anxiety, anger, or sadness. Give yourself permission to be real, but also develop a plan to stay positive the next time you feel overwhelmed and about to break down.

Every family in America is probably blessed with some members who are taking the CDC guidelines for COVID-19 very seriously and some who are taking them with a grain of salt. Often, those on opposing sides of the fence are looking down their nose at those who disagree with them. Each wonders when the others are going to wake up and realize their perspective is the correct one.

There is a ton of information out there. From the mainstream news, to opinion papers, talk shows, Dr. Fauci, the CDC and of course we can’t forget social media, it’s almost like information overload. And, who you choose to listen to often determines your behavior.

Whether you’re intensely practicing social distancing or think it’s a massive overreaction, one thing’s for sure – how you engage the ones you love around this issue will impact your relationship long after COVID-19 is no longer a concern.

At some point, many have figured out that it’s going to be complicated doing life together if you can’t agree on this issue. There is some degree of truth in that, but when have all members of a family ever seen everything exactly the same way?

We can spend our time arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong, which is unlikely to have a productive outcome. Or, we can figure out how to move forward while having differing points of view.

At the core of what many are dealing with is fear. Fear of getting the virus because people around you are not social distancing or following CDC guidelines. Fear of infecting someone else. Being afraid of doing the wrong thing. Fear of the government taking your rights away. Fear of losing a business. Fearing economic collapse. And the list goes on.

So, what do you do?

Talk about it. You may have family members who you believe are not handling things the way they need to. If that’s the case, you can choose to have a conversation with them. How you approach them really matters. If you are judgmental and condescending, it’s likely that the conversation won’t go well.  It’s probably a given that you feel strongly about your beliefs and you want those you love to get with the program. But the reality is, they may never be on the same page with you.

Case in point – your aging parents don’t want you telling them what to do. Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, your college student does not want you telling them what to do.

If all of you are living under the same roof, have a family meeting. Talk about how the entire family will work as a team to keep every member of the household safe. You don’t all have to agree. In fact, you may have to agree to disagree, yet all find a way to do what is best for the greater good.

Acknowledge what you have control over. If your parents are living hours away from you, what they do is beyond your control. You can make recommendations, but at the end of the day, they are going to do what they want to do. Can you love them anyway?

One thing that is within your control is your attitude. You could walk around angry all day because people are responding in a way you believe is irresponsible. On the other hand, you could do what you need to do to keep yourself safe and not seek to be responsible for other people’s behavior.

For example, you are trying to keep your family healthy and safe and your neighbor decides to have a party for 50 people in their front yard. You could choose to confront them, but that would probably create more angst on your part. It’s pretty likely that everybody is feeling a fair amount of tension, so why create more? Going on a walk away from the party, heading to the backyard to play or staying inside might actually help decrease your anxiety.

Be careful about being quick to judge. Things may not always be as they appear.  Someone leaving the grocery store with a lot of toilet paper and other items could at first glance be seen as hoarding much-needed supplies. In reality, the person may be shopping for several older people in their neighborhood. 

Show respect. At the end of the day, respect really matters. Even though you may have differing perspectives on the Coronavirus, being able to share, listen and seek to understand each other’s views goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy relationship over the long term.

It is our differences that make this world a rich place. Instead of trying to convince others that your way is the only way, treat them with the same respect you’d like to receive. Although you may not see eye-to-eye, disagreement doesn’t have to damage or destroy your closest relationships.

Right now, the whole world is in a state of slight (or, more than slight) panic. There is a lot of stress, anxiety, and fear going around, and chances are, you’ve experienced it yourself. Whether you’re a parent trying to figure out a new routine with and for your kids, a professional working through the difficulties of staying at home, a student running into the obstacles of online learning, or all of the above, every person is facing their own challenges in their own way.

So many suggestions have been thrown out there to try and help combat all of the overwhelming emotions: getting enough sleep, setting up a schedule for yourself and your family, eating healthy meals, staying active, video calling friends… The list goes on. But did you know that journaling is another great way to reduce stress and anxiety? And the research is here to back it up!

How Journaling Affects Our Minds

  • According to The University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling can help you manage anxiety, reduce stress, cope with depression, and improve your mood by helping you prioritize problems and track your symptoms so you can learn your triggers and control them.
  • Journaling can also enhance your sense of well-being, improve your working memory, and boost your mood.
  • Keeping a journal can help you keep an organized mind and can be helpful when processing information or making sense of trauma.

Okay, so now what? Sure, journaling is great, but it can be hard to get started. The key to making journaling a part of your routine is getting started! So grab an old notebook you’ve got lying around, and choose one, two, or more of the questions below to answer each day. If every day feels like too big of a commitment, start with just three times a week!

Journaling Prompts

  1. What are 5 good things that happened today?
  2. What’s one thing you can do differently tomorrow to help it be a better day than today?
  3. What’s one adjustment you can make to your routine to help set up the day for success?
  4. What’s the main source of your stress or anxiety? Can you do anything about it?
  5. What are 10 things that make you happy right now?
  6. What are 3 things you can do daily to be a positive influence for others?
  7. How did/will you exercise your mind, body, and spirit today?
  8. What’s one thing that happened today that you’re still trying to process/understand?
  9. Did you feel anxious or worried today? When did it start? What caused the feeling?
  10. Who are two people in your life that mean a lot to you and why?
  11. What’s one thing that would have to change for you to feel completely satisfied?
  12. Is there anything that is consistently disturbing your inner peace?
  13. What do you not like to talk about? Why not?
  14. What is one thing you learned today?
  15. If you were completely free of fear, what would you be doing differently today?
  16. What’s one thing that you’re proud of yourself for?
  17. What decisions could you make today/tomorrow that could improve your mental, emotional, and/or physical health?
  18. What’s one habit that you would like to correct? What are some steps you can take toward correcting that habit?
  19. What are you most ashamed of right now? Why?
  20. What are 3 things that you did really well today?

Journaling is a great way to understand your thoughts, gain self-awareness, and process the world around you. And now is a great time to start!

I fish. It’s what I do. Some have asked me what in the world draws me to stand by a pond and throw a little feathered hook in the water time and time again, often with very few results. I fish so I can de-stress. 

It’s mindless (somewhat) and I can leave all the emotion, anxiety, and uncertainties behind me for just a little while. If you fish, you understand this. I can clear my head before re-entering the real world. Fishing is my self-care

Self-Care—It’s become a popular term that’s popped up in conversations around health, mindfulness, and stress. You do self-care when you do any kind of action deliberately in order to care for your mental, physical, or emotional health. And it’s widely thought to be effective in reducing anxiety and stress. 

How apropos in our current state. At perhaps no other time in recent memory has it been so important to stay healthy. Stress and anxiety are at an all-time high. People are stuck at home. Routines are turned upside down. Family members are spending way more time with each other than they are used to. 

I’d say self-care is a precious commodity right about now. 

I don’t know about you, but in my house, it’s easy to give our kids a schedule that includes some healthy activities. However, it’s extremely difficult for me personally to get into a routine of self-care activities. My game is so thrown off by the stress of our circumstances. And it’s sometimes a fight just to get me away from the computer screen. 

But it has to happen. As parents, we’ve got to practice good self-care right now. And here’s why: 

You can’t give what you don’t have. 

Meaning, if you want your kids to practice self-care, you need to self-care. You’ve got to fill your tank so you have it in you to help them fill their tanks. When you self-care, you’re better able to handle feelings of anxiety, fear, uncertainty, and stress. This is so important so that these emotions don’t get the best of you. 

Pay attention to yourself. Keep an eye on the radar of your emotional state. Take the time to do some things each day that help you deal with all the chaos that is going on

  • Go for a walk. Get some fresh air. Let the sun shine on your face for a little while. 
  • Meditate or pray. Sing (out loud). 
  • Get plenty of sleep. 
  • Do push-ups. Or go for a run. Or practice yoga. Anything to stretch, strengthen, and move the body. 
  • Eat clean. Healthier food keeps your energy up. Drink plenty of water. 
  • But, every few days, sneak in that Oreo. Because stress
  • Read a book. Watch a documentary. Keep your mental game strong. 
  • Communicate your needs to the people that love you. Let them know when you need to be alone. And let them know when you need to be with them. Get plenty of both. 

These are just a small number of suggestions for self-care. Search online for other ideas and find out what feeds your health – body, and soul. And then do it. Regularly. 

Of course, we don’t self-care simply for our own needs. Our families are depending on us. That’s why it’s so important that we set an example of self-care as parents.

Your moments of self-care are the teachable moments for your kids.

As parents, every little thing we do is seen. Young eyes are watching how we handle ourselves – especially in the midst of anxiety and stress. They take their emotional cues from what they see in us. “Do as I say, not as I do” is a terrible parenting style—particularly when it comes to self-care. They need to see you handling your health in a positive way

It’s okay for your kids to know you are anxious or fearful. But it’s so much more important that they see how you handle your anxiety and fear. When they see you taking care of yourself, you are modeling for your children. 

And think about this: when this whole pandemic, self-quarantine, social-distancing era is behind us, your kids are going to use what they’ve learned from you for the rest of their lives. I hope this is the last time we ever have to go through this, but it won’t be the last time your kids will experience stressful times. It may sound funny, but your self-care leaves a legacy. 
Parents, take care of yourself. For your sake, and for your kids. They’re counting on you.

What if we refuse to be victims of a virus? Hear me out. What if our COVID-19 Global Pandemic Battle Cry is simply these three A’s: Assess, Adapt and Achieve. What if we strive to keep them at the forefront of our thinking? Let it be our mantra. Make it our self-talk, so we don’t just settle for just making it through? What would our lives become?

Let’s rehearse these three A’s so that we respond to all of this insanity and not just react. It will help us keep our cool and stay in control. We can refuse to let these circumstances victimize us, our marriages, our families, and friendships. Assess, Adapt, Achieve. Let’s Triple-A our way through COVID-19 and all this stuff because don’t you want to be even better on the other side? 

Assess.

This means that I am constantly trying to feed my brain accurate, honest, up-to-the-minute information about what is going on inside and outside of me. I try to honestly inventory my emotions and psyché. How am I doing– really doing? How is my physical health? How am I doing as an employee, neighbor, friend, husband, and father?

How is my family doing? Do I even know? Have our routines set us up for maximum success during this strange new time? Are their needs being met – physical, emotional, and relational? Am I taking proper care of myself so that I can properly take care of them?

What about my marriage? Are we just coexisting under the same roof? Are these circumstances driving us toward each other or apart? Will we be able to look back and say, “Look how it strengthened our marriage, but yeah, it was crazy!” or are we just going crazy? Am I open and available emotionally? Am I tuned in to her needs? Would my spouse share my assessment?

And how about my friends and neighbors? The people within my sphere of influence? Am I checking in on them? Do I recognize who is vulnerable right now? It’s not all about me!

Oh, that virus? Almost forgot. Not. My. Job. I check in on it every few days. I let the CDC do their thing. I do get their expert assessment and make sure I’m doing what they recommend. Otherwise, I’m off the news and super-careful on social media. I’m not going to be irresponsible, but my day isn’t gonna revolve around a microbe.

Assess. Gauge. Evaluate. What is working for me, my marriage, and my family? What isn’t working? Where are the pressure points in my life? How are my kids’ gauges reading? When is the last time I checked? Where do I need to put my focus, attention, and energy? This is not the time to be passive or run on assumptions. Too much at stake!

Adapt.

This is the hard part. I don’t know you. I don’t know your family situation. I don’t know your work or financial situation. But here’s what I do know. I do know that after an honest, accurate assessment, you will have to make changes. You will have to be flexible and adapt. 

Some long-standing traditions will have to give way to new traditions. You may need to raise or lower some expectations and get real. You may have to think outside the box and get creative. You may have to recalibrate some priorities. 

It might be a tiny adjustment like using FaceTime instead of just texting someone. You might find an area that needs a total overhaul. Get to it. Everything is changing, but are you adapting? There is a huge difference. Then go back to assess. Then keep adapting. Stay a step ahead of the enemy.

Achieve. 

So much of this is mental. It’s mindset. Are these hammers beating you down, beating your marriage down, beating your family down or are the hammers beating you into shape? Are these all new obstacles or all new opportunities

We are all getting squeezed – maybe like never before – and what is on the inside is going to come out. Are we finding out that we are all wishbone and no backbone? Time to rise to the moment. We can wish things were different or we can work to make them different, work to be different. Use that backbone and lean into these challenges.

This isn’t the “new normal.” Reject that mindset. We aren’t settling. We aren’t surviving. We need to win. We aren’t in a holding pattern. We aren’t waiting for this to blow over. 

We are working to not waste this situation.★ 

We aren’t hoping. We are helping. We want nothing less than to be stronger people in stronger marriages with stronger families. Did you get that? We will settle for nothing less than to be stronger people in stronger marriages with stronger families. We don’t want to just make it to the other side, we want to get there better and stronger than we were before all this. Remember the Triple-A’s.

Yeah, things are pretty dark. Midnight is when the day begins.

Conditions are perfect for a Silent Killer to attack our minds, bodies, and most specifically, the emotions within our new culture of social-distancing. That Silent Killer – Loneliness. Let’s understand what loneliness is. Social scientists, as reported by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), define loneliness as “the pain one feels as a result of a discrepancy between one’s social needs and one’s ability to satisfy those needs.” 

Said another way, when our need for connection, interaction, and belonging are unmet and we feel unable to fulfill those needs, that pain we feel is loneliness. Why are the current conditions right for loneliness? 

Edicts such as “social distancing,” “work from home,” “shelter-in-place,” can all set the stage for increased loneliness. Regular activities such as after-work trips to the bar, small group studies, birthday parties, Saturday/Sunday worship are halted. Our places of employment, schools, and civic communities that we are part of, are all places where we often connect and interact with people. These places, where we connect with people who help us feel as though we belong, have closed their doors. 

It’s important that we do not allow ourselves to feel helpless during this time of forced isolation. This is one area where technology can truly help. My son and I have been part of a small group that meets every other week. Last night was the first time we did the meeting online because of COVID-19. It was quite uplifting. 

We interacted with people that we have deep connections with within a community that we belonged to. We were able to laugh, talk and just be known by people who care about us. We decided to increase our meeting frequency from every other week to every week because we realized how encouraging it was for our psyche. Part of the purpose of forming social communities is to help us push through difficult times.

How do we use technology to help us ward off the attack of loneliness? Don’t cancel the coffee dates you have with your friends or the post-work drink you have with your co-workers. Continue with your small group meetings and your marriage double dates with your favorite couple. JUST DO IT ONLINE. Schedule a Virtual Date using Google Meet, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Houseparty or any of the other apps available. 

Phone calls are nice and text messages can be helpful. However, there is nothing that compares to actual face-to-face interaction and what it does for our emotional connectivity. The ability to see the empathy, shared joy, or the heavy anxiety on your friend’s face enhances the connection in ways that emojis and tone of voice can’t quite match. 

Fighting loneliness is not about the number of people you interact with. Shasta Nelson, a healthy relationship expert and author of Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness and Friendships Don’t Just Happen! The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends doesn’t believe that the answer to loneliness is to go out and make more friends, but to deepen current relationships. It’s being intentional to create opportunities for meaningful interaction within the communities you belong to. And within those meaningful interactions, we must take advantage of the opportunities to connect at a deeper level, to be vulnerable, to be known.

Think about the people in your social community—whether it is family, friends, civic, faith, etc. Who do you already have deep connections with? Who do you want to develop deeper connections with? Who are the people that you feel the safest with? We need to feel loved and supported during difficult times. Not only do we need to feel loved and supported, but we must also remember others that are most vulnerable to loneliness as well. Reaching out to those in need is a way to attack our own loneliness.

Nelson suggests that when someone is feeling a deficiency of love and support, “[they should] consider who in their life they would want to build a more meaningful or closer relationship with and then make a list. Start prioritizing those relationships.” There are times when loneliness is at a place where we need to call and get help from the professionals. Don’t feel like you have to win this by yourself. Many professionals are meeting via phone or video conferencing during this period of social distancing.


As we are being intentional about prioritizing relationships, don’t hesitate to meet online for coffee. Schedule a tea using Google Meet. Create a calendar invite for your book club on Zoom. Use Skype for you and your buddies to work out together. Set up a video chat with an elderly neighbor. Create virtual dates within your social community to lessen and hopefully minimize the discrepancy between your social needs and your ability to meet those needs. And while you’re interacting, connect – really connect. Your emotional wellbeing needs it.

If anyone is gonna catch COVID-19, I will…” This is a thought that I have had to do mental-battle with in the last couple of weeks. Even though rationally, I know my chances of not catching COVID-19 are really, really good, I still find a sinking feeling creep into me day after day. Even the people that know me have hinted at it, heavily implied it, or come right out and said it. 

I check the CDC website daily. I check to see if there are any more cases in my county and the surrounding counties. (And the surrounding states… and countries.) I catch myself wondering if “they” are reporting the numbers accurately. My paranoia doesn’t feel entirely unwarranted. The concern of my family, friends, and co-workers is justified.

My health has been a bit of a dumpster fire. Chronic pain and catching everything going around is just a way of life for me. What follows is far from exhaustive. Consider it my body’s “Greatest Hits.” In no particular order…

  • Severe case of mononucleosis in college that went undiagnosed for months, made me miss almost an entire semester and did significant liver damage. 
  • Spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia. (To answer your question- the worst kind.)
  • Contracted a staph infection during knee surgery. Spent two weeks in the hospital being operated on every other day. (Beat sepsis and avoided septic shock! Yay!)
  • Diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disorder. (Of course!)
  • Spent a week in the Infectious Disease ward of the hospital because of more staph infections. (Nurses in biohazard suits – scary, not cute!)
  • Total of 32 surgeries in the last 25 years on my face, head, both shoulders, elbow, hip, both knees, and I guess you could say, innards. (Not counting numerous other procedures. It only counts if I was completely anesthetized.)
  • Totally forgot! Traumatic Brain Injury from a car accident. (Wasn’t trying to be funny.)

It’s a respectable list, but I’m always mindful that there are people out there dealing with far worse health issues. So you can see why I might get a little anxious about COVID-19, right? You can see why people would put all their money on me if there was some kinda morbid betting pool?

Let’s talk about anxiety a second. You don’t rack up a “body count” like mine without having all the exhausting mental health problems that inevitably come with a broken body. Been there, doing that. Here’s the kicker – I was voted “Class Clown” my senior year of high school and THAT is a distinction I have always been determined to live up to! Laughter is the best medicine! How do you beat anxiety and stay fun-lovin’ when you have legitimate health concerns?

  1. I focus on what is right with me and remember there are people dealing with so much worse. There are people that would trade problems with me any day.
  2. I’ve been through some hard things. Miserable things I don’t want to do again. I’m certainly not happy about COVID-19 and our present situation. On good days, I try to lean into hard situations and even try to be thankful for them and be open to the lessons they are trying to teach me and the character they are trying to develop in me. (And I stay thankful for the people around me that love me and help me through all of this stuff.)
  3. I try to be wise. (I try.) There are things I just can’t do, even if I think I can. Frequently, I have to swallow my pride and let other people do things for me. (This is one of the hardest parts. I’d rather help someone than be helped.)
  4. Specifically related to COVID-19, I do what the professionals say to do. Period. Full stop. I’ve been conscientious about eating healthier, staying hydrated, and getting sleep. I practice social-distancing, wash my hands a ton, make sure surfaces in my house are sanitized. We had a family meeting and continue to work together to be smart and stay healthy.
  5. I deliberately stay away from people, conversations, and information that is generally negative or will make me feel anxious. That has involved putting some distance between myself and some people. That has involved controlling the flow of information into my brain from television and social media. 
  6. I’ve been using apps like FaceTime and Google Meet instead of simply making phone calls or texting friends and family. Seeing another face is so important for helping me feel better and to really check on how they are doing. Face-to-face communication helps me connect to “my people” who encourage me. 
  7. I’m a big believer in the real power of positive thinking. I decide how I’m going to think about my body and my life. (That’s why I don’t even like writing stuff like this, honestly.) I try not to live in worry and fear or self-pity. I find strength in what I’ve already overcome and will draw on that strength for the next “thing.” But only if there is a “next thing.” I don’t deal with “what ifs,” I just take it as it comes. (When I feel like I am losing the mental battle, I don’t hesitate to call on “my people” and even call on the mental health pros when necessary.)

I’m not going to say that anxiety or fear about COVID-19 is justified. I will say that concern is justified. There is a huge difference. I’m concerned about my health and respond to that concern appropriately by doing what medical professionals recommend. That’s it. That’s what I can control. I’m not going to worry about things I can’t control.

Maybe the biggest lesson I’ve learned about anxiety is that actively looking for ways to help and encourage other people, is like, magical. It’s hard to worry about yourself and someone else at the same time. It’s hard to worry about things you have no control over while helping to meet the needs of someone else. Nothing feels better than helping other people. 


This is the perfect time to think about how other people are doing and reach out to them. What if you could relieve someone else’s anxiety while relieving your own?

We are fighting an unconventional war against an unconventional enemy. Time to up our psychological warfare game. I give you Sun Tzu from the Art of War:


However desperate the situation and circumstances

Don’t despair.

When there is everything to fear

Be unafraid.

When surrounded by dangers

Fear none of them.

When without resources

Depend on resourcefulness.

When surprised

Take the enemy by surprise.

Sun Tzu probably never had to work from home and take care of his kids while quarantined.

We’ve definitely been surprised. Is it possible to take the enemy by surprise and regain some lost ground?

Many of us that are working from home and caring for our children feel trapped in a Catch-22. If we attend to our work, we feel like bad parents. If we attend to our kids, we feel like bad workers. (Perish the thought that we attend to ourselves.) We feel like failures on all fronts.

This expresses itself in guilt and compounds our stress and anxiety, so our bodies continue to release stress hormones like cortisol and we function perpetually in “fight or flight” mode. This compounds our struggles.

Tasks feel like they take so much longer. Easy things feel harder. Hard things feel completely impossible. Our brains really aren’t wired to multitask effectively and we are asking them to multitask while under a great deal of stress. That stress is chemical, it is hormones in our bodies. They take their toll and we give up even more ground. Eventually, you are not even you.

You don’t feel overwhelmed; your brain is overwhelmed. It is like overloading a circuit-breaker. It is going to trip and you’ll shut down. Some of us are already there.

Even our sense of time and our internal body-clock get out of whack. For some of us, the days feel unbearably long. For others, the days seem impossibly fast. The rhythms and routines that defined our days have been upended. Things that gave our lives meaning and significance have been taken from us.

Research indicates that child abuse and domestic violence rates are going up. Divorce lawyers are gearing up. These are our families. Our children. Our spouses. The people we love the most that can become both the catalyst and the object of our anger and stress. Make no mistake, we are in a war. The enemy is NOT our family. The enemy is the mercenary Covid-19 and the disruption it has brought to our lives.

We can wage this war with hand sanitizer, disinfectants, hand washing, and social distancing, but the real frontline is our mind. This is psychological warfare. So what are the rules of engagement?

An expert in psychological warfare says, “When people are stressed, there is a temptation to lose touch with reality and to blur the boundary between reality and fantasy, If you blur that line and start making decisions on false data, that’s going to lead to bad decision making.” 

Your mind is a Prediction Making Machine. Don’t rely on its guesses based on “false data” about the future and create false narratives like:

  • I’m botching my child’s future because I can’t really help them with school.
  • My boss probably thinks I’m a bad worker and is gonna fire me.
  • My spouse and I can’t get along and my marriage isn’t going to survive this. 
  • I’m going to be financially ruined.

You don’t have to believe everything your brain tells you. Tell your brain they’re Covid-19 psych ops. Tell your brain that other outcomes can be more likely. Tell your brain you will take things as they actually happen and not react because they might happen. 

What are your weapons? Directing your attention to the truth. Adjusting expectations. Practicing gratitude. Exercising stillness. (You don’t have to fill 100% of your day with activity.) Breathing. Releasing tension in healthy ways. Sharing love. Practicing grace and forgiveness. Creatively helping others. Putting off important decisions. All these weapons are right between your ears.

Just knowing you are engaged in psychological warfare is a good start. Hold your ground. Fight the good fight for yourself and for the people you love. Take Sun Tzu’s advice and surprise the enemy by using your best weapon- your mind. Don’t let yourself, family or marriage be a casualty. Don’t settle for being a survivor. Focus your mind on being victorious.

How do you typically deal with the surprises life hands you? How you handle these situations – whether it’s a sick family member, a traffic jam on the morning of your big meeting or a last-minute, expensive repair – can determine whether the problem is minor or becomes huge and affects the rest of your day, week, month and beyond.

When unexpected things collide with the best-laid plans, some people have a tendency to react to the emotions of the moment. Their anxiety goes through the roof, they begin to panic, thinking about being late and all of the things they are supposed to get done. This often leads to frustration and feelings of helplessness and in some cases, even feeling hopeless.

How can you effectively prepare for these situations in a way that will help you remain calm, cool and collected? The key is to learn how to respond versus react, so the first item on the agenda is to have a plan and utilize the resources available to you.

The first key: Have a backup plan just in case something goes wrong. This is like having an emergency generator so your life can keep going regardless of the crisis at hand. Be intentional about creating a support network of people who are willing to assist you when you are in a bind. It doesn’t have to be family. It could be teachers, neighbors, the parents of your child’s friends, co-workers, etc.

The second key:  Step back and assess the situation before doing anything. People often move to action before actually assessing the situation to determine all their options. This includes getting the facts. We are much less likely to do something ridiculous when we think before we respond.

Once you have your plans in place, remember to follow your plan when the unexpected happens. Having steps to follow helps to make these situations more manageable.

  • Keep your emotions in check. Don’t let the situation control you.
  • Be prepared. Keep basic medication on hand, have a spare set of keys for your car, take a lesson on how to change a flat tire, give your neighbor keys to your house, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. It is hard to be helpful when people don’t know there is a need.
  • Ask for a second opinion. Sometimes talking with an objective third party can be helpful.

All kinds of things will pop up in your life that have the potential to wreck your schedule, cause irritation or create stress, but how you handle it can be a game-changer. The next time you are dealt an unexpected surprise, be ready to respond by staying calm, assessing the situation and working your plan. You will probably be amazed at how quickly you can manage the crisis and get on with your day.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 16, 2019.