What just happened? Is it even possible to describe the last two months and the impact the global pandemic has had on each of us, our communities, the state, the nation and the world? How do we look to the future if we still do not fully understand today?
As you read this article, people are still losing the battle to the COVID-19 virus. The number of new cases has begun to slow down, but are we sure that we have learned enough to move forward correctly?
Consider that we are at the right time to take a breather. Have faith and trust that the experts are making the right decisions to assure our safety as we re-open our lives and businesses. While many facets of the bigger picture can be endlessly debated, maybe this is an excellent time to reflect on how we did. What did we recognize in our situations that made this crisis one of personal change, discomfort and loss of control?
In the beginning, everyone experienced some new fear and anxiety. We were trying to comprehend that the world was facing a novel virus, which needed to be defined because none of us had experienced such an illness. We had to become educated on symptoms, what to watch out for, how to know if it was time to see or call a medical provider. We were told to shelter-in-place and practice proper social distancing. Today we cannot go into public without a protective facial mask. The grocery stores have limited purchase of some items, and, for the first time in our lives, we are told what to do and where to do it by the government. This is not the norm in the United States. These changes make us wary and anxious.
Despite the obvious tragedies of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that some good came from the extra time at home. Our community health nurses routinely provide blood pressure and blood glucose monitoring services at clinics that were all shut down.
We asked how they filled the time while sheltering in place. Similar to many of you, they used the time to do household chores and projects put off in the past. They reorganized, cleaned out, and sifted through years of keepsakes in an effort to clear out the clutter. They tended their gardens. They focused on their loved ones in old fashioned ways, like doing puzzles, family game nights, enjoying being together over meals.
Most took more time cooking, and many made sure that they watched out for their neighbors, making deliveries for those too concerned to leave their homes.
They extended themselves in new roles to assist the VNA, making sure that we would be able to do business as usual. They spearheaded volunteer campaigns and donations to the VNA, and because of their efforts, we are well-stocked and well prepared. Some also said they took this time to review their personal documents; reviewing wills, health care requests, and organizing those files.
Most walked many more miles than usual, and all of them chose to look on the bright side as best they could. Interestingly, they all said that the extra time on hand let them focus more time on each other and their families, especially those not close. Everyone became experts at video chatting, using FaceTime and Zoom as the next best thing to a grandparent’s hug.
Here’s what they identified that translates to each of us. Social isolation and loneliness are very real syndromes that can lead to deepening depression and anxiety, and lead to crippling levels of fear. This needs to be combated, and the nurses found ways to cope. They have all survived just fine—as did the majority of us. They identified how important it is to keep busy, keep positive, and most critically, how to stay connected. We are social beings. Whether or not we find the same level of comfort in big groups, we all need other people in our daily lives. Finding ways to stay connected, cared for, as well as to care for others, even if only in conversation, is vital to keeping our spirits up.
A 2018 National Survey by Cigna Healthcare indicated that nearly half of those surveyed described feeling as though they were alone—either sometimes or always. According to a meta-analysis co-authored by Julianne Hold-Lunstad, Ph.D., at Brigham Young University, lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol-use disorder. Her study found that loneliness and social isolation were twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.
Given what we are experiencing, doesn’t it make us stop and think? We owe it to ourselves, especially as we move forward into an uncertain future, to do all that we can to prevent illness and take care of ourselves.
Think about what you did to get through these last two and a half months, and what you will do going forward. Think about how essential managing loneliness and social isolation is and gear up better for your day-to-day life. We do not need another health-care crisis to develop this vital part of our emergency preparedness.
Stocking up on toilet paper is important but taking care of your mental health and well-being comes first. Plan now. Work on your introspection and develop the skills you need to stay connected. Together, anything is possible.
By Nancy A. Scheetz, APRN, Executive Director, Farmington Valley VNA