A Mental Health Break from COVID-19

I just want to bury my head in the sand. My brain injury can be overwhelming and depressing, but COVID-19 is something completely different. I’ve been jumpy, on edge, and worried about the people I love. And the constant updates just serve to exacerbate the stress.

A month or so ago I booked a flight for this past weekend to see my 3-year-old granddaughter in Miami. As I got closer to departure, just thinking about the airport and flying, much less the subway bus, and taxi, made my hair stand on end. But I was not about to cancel the trip; I hadn’t seen my baby in months

On Friday I set out for the airport—baby wipes in hand (who knew they don’t work for COVID-19?), onto the subway (with gloves), then a bus (uh-oh, swiped my MetroCard with bare hands), and eventually onto the plane. Once buckled in I tried my best to put doomsday out of my head.

Hours later I was on my way to pick up my granddaughter at school with her mom. By then, my most pressing concern was if she’d recognize me. I wasn’t disappointed—the moment we arrived she ran to me then back to her friend and said, “my grandma’s here!” I swept her up in my arms, her mom took photos, and I was set for the weekend.

Very quickly I learned her new favorite word (NO!) but crankiness comes and goes when you’re three. After a nap the fun began. She’s a hoot—made me laugh, prance, crawl like a caterpillar and dance like a butterfly. Between hugs, reading books (me to her and vice versa), and putting my back at risk by swinging her around, I was happy and relaxed.

On my way home from JFK I started to feel the weight settling back in, and by the time I got there I felt overwhelmed and on edge…again.

But I was amazed that for a few days the anxiety took a back seat as if I was living in an alternate world. Surrounded by love and laughter I was completely (as they say) in the moment without even trying. I’d unintentionally found a way to take a break from the bad news. Coronavirus hadn’t gone away, instead I’d turned away from it, engrossed by what was important and good in life. I never thought I could do that, and you may feel the same.

We are not powerless. Although we can’t change the world, we can change how we face the world, managing our fears by immersing ourselves in what we love—family, art, music, books, a walk in the park, or setting a challenge that demands focus, attention, and creativity.

Avoiding stress has been proven to strengthen your immune system and mental well-being. That’s how the body protects itself. So we should take the bombardment of information hitting us with a grain of salt. As Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization Health Emergencies Program said, “We need a vaccine against misinformation.”

This outbreak is not just a pandemic, but an infodemic.* Just turn off the TV, skip the non-stop emails (how do you make your own Purell?), and talk to your friends about anything but COVID-19. It is possible to hit the pause button. Try it.

– Laurie

  • Fake Facts Are Flying About Coronavirus. Now There’s a Plan to Debunk Them from National Public Radio (Listening time, 3:41 or read the story). “An ‘infodemic’ [is] an overwhelming amount of information on social media and websites. Some of it’s accurate. And some is downright untrue.” – World Health Organization (see the WHO site.)