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Stop, Drop and Roll – Tips for coping with our new reality brought by the Coronavirus

Don’t throw the past away, you might need it some rainy day. Dreams can come true again, when everything old is new again.”

Peter Allen

What is the best way to survive a crisis? Our country is currently facing an invisible epidemic via the coronavirus and if you happen to be following the news lately (everyone is), you’ll find no shortage of advice on how to survive during these challenging times. The World Health Organization is encouraging us to “Do the Five”. [1] Dr. Sanjay Gupta is offering the sound advice to “act as if.”[2] The White House even has a plan to slow the spread of this virus with concentrated efforts over the next 15 days.[3]

Our future literally depends on the adherence to these survival guidelines. That is what survival is all about; continued existence. But what about our experience of that existence? Of course, we all want to survive but as soon as survival is assured (and for most people, survival is a very realistic prognosis), our thoughts turn to something more than mere survival. The right question is, how do we survive? Maybe the next question is, how do we thrive?

Joanna Gaines wrote, “I always thought that the “thriving” would come when everything was perfect, and what I learned is that it’s actually down in the mess that things get good.”[4] While we may feel very far from the point where “things get good”, we are all exactly in a place where we are ready for things to start improving. As we plan our future, we look to the past for guidance on how to deal with a crisis, stabilize our situation, and begin to heal.

In the late 70’s, the National Fire Protection Association partnered with Dick Van Dyke to offer a fire safety message that resonates to this very day[5]. The PSA began with Van Dyke rolling across a floor and advising everyone to “Stop, Drop, and Roll”. That iconic message continues to be taught today and even thought it was developed with fire safety in mind, there are lessons we can take from this as we look to thrive while we survive.

STOP

Since the beginning of this crisis, Internet usage is up over 40%. VPN usage is up 53% (double that in hot spots like Italy), and online chats and video usage has more than doubled. This is expected and not particularly worrisome given the mass number of employees who are now forced to work from home. However, one number does give us cause for concern. Traffic to news sites like CNN, Fox News, etc. are up over 60% and growing every day.[6]

Why is this a concern? Shouldn’t people stay up to date especially in times of crisis? Of course, they should but what is the nature of “up to date’? A recent survey by the American Psychological Association revealed that more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, increased anxiety, sudden onset of fatigue, and/or sleep loss.[7] This crisis has already created more than enough anxiety and stress. We certainly do not need to be adding to those feelings.

Stop checking the news. Find 1 trusted national source and 1 trusted local source and check it daily. Do not check it hourly, every time you get bored or nervous, or every time you see a troubling post on social media.

Speaking of social media, Stop checking that as often as well. Social media use has been proven to make people feel anxious, sad or depressed while negatively impacting memory, mood, attention span, and self-esteem.[8] Use social media sparingly and only to connect, never to compare.

DROP

Working with individuals who cope with substance abuse issues has taught me some very valuable lessons. Most of those lessons center around the concept of control. Addicts often have a false sense of control over their drug use which leads to ongoing use under the false belief that “I can quit anytime.” In fact, the concept of control is so key the issue of addiction that many 12 step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous use phrases such as “let go and let God” or “1 was too many and a 1000 was never enough” to reinforce the idea that the disease of addiction cannot be controlled by an individual and there are greater powers that we must surrender to if we want to break free from the cycle of drug abuse.

Perhaps the best-known and most often used mantra and salute to “letting go” is represented in the serenity prayer that was recited at every 12-step group that I attended. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”[9] Such is the case with the coronavirus. We cannot change that it is here, and that life will be different for some time because of its arrival. We can change our approach to this new reality. We need the wisdom to see the difference between what is and is not truly within our control.

Drop the illusion that you can control the progression of this epidemic. Drop the illusion that you can buy enough toilet paper to ward off the day of reckoning that may come if you run out. Drop the illusion that if we stop shaking hands for a week, we can all get back to Starbucks by April.[10] Like the rings inside of a tree, our lives are divided into hundreds of before and after moments. There was life before we had COVID 19, and there is life now. Invest in life now because the other one is now unavailable to us.

Picture riding a roller coaster. A potentially terrifying experience seemingly fraught with danger. High speeds, screaming riders, steep drops, jarring turns, intense highs and death-defying lows. And yet, on every ride we see a handful of people with their hands in the air (like they just don’t care?) and smiles across their faces. I tend to see them through peeking eyes as I cling to the safety bar and scream for help. They are our role models. They have taken the logical steps to ensure their safety (safety harnesses for them, hand washing and social distancing for us) and then they just…let…go.

ROLL

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her groundbreaking research on grief, identified 5 distinct stages that people pass through as they cope with a significant loss. The stages; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance represent various emotional states and cognitive challenges that we face as we struggle to accept a change and move to rebuilding our life in the light of a new reality.[11] We are all coping with a loss today. We have lost the reality that we used to enjoy, and we must now accept that loss to be fully ready to embrace the world as it is, not as we wish it was.

Up until now, you’ve been advised to stop and to drop. Those are passive activities and states of mind that take things away from you. Unhealthy things to be sure but still a loss. The question so many people are asking right now is, what can I do? Doing is active. Doing feels good. Once you have “stopped” and “dropped”, you will have arrived at a place of acceptance and be ready to create a new reality for yourself and those that you love. Like someone who jumps (or falls) from a significant height, you will reduce damage and give yourself the best chance of survival if you roll once you hit the ground.[12]

Here are 5 ways to “roll” with our new reality:

  • Set new routines – Humans are creatures of habit and it is very likely that many of your established habits are not available to you right now. It is crucial that you work to establish new routines. Go for a walk/run every morning, have coffee and do your daily check (only one!) of the news, create a checklist and complete a task every day, have dinner at the same time, follow a specific wake up and wind down routine/hygiene schedule, etc. Anything and everything you can do to establish consistency will aid your transition to the new reality. As a bonus, this is especially helpful for children!
  • Actively engage in self care – Invest in yourself every day. Exercise, proper nutrition, adequate water consumption, meditation/mindfulness will all serve to help you maintain a positive mind/body connection. Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Good self-care is key to improved mood and reduced anxiety. It’s also key to a good relationship with oneself and others. Additionally, you can only help others if you are in good physical/mental/emotional shape yourself. Speaking of;
  • Find ways to help – With all your stopping, dropping, and rolling with this change, you are going to be in great shape both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, not everyone will share this good fortune. People need help now more than ever. Elderly people will need someone to get supplies for them. Parents could use a break and babysitter, Churches are giving and need givers, even taking the time to video chat with friends and relatives can provide a huge social boost. If you want to be happy, find a way to give.
  • Educate yourself – I know that I started this article by asking you to stop reading the news so often and to get off social media. Now, here I am asking you seek education. The reason I can offer both suggestions is that these are not the same activities. We have fallen into the trap of simply consuming information as it comes our way. In the internet age, it tends to come our way via sensationalized headlines and on social media via the simple regurgitation of incomplete analysis of those clickbait headlines.That may be ok for non-crisis events and simple time wasting but in times of actual crisis with heightened anxiety when safety is a real concern, you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to engage with high quality unbiased information. If a news article cites a study, read the study. If you hear a radio personality reference a law that may protect your assets, seek out the full version of the law. Look for books and peer reviewed journal articles. Pretend you will need to teach someone else about the topic and educate yourself to the point where you would be comfortable doing so.
  • Take time in nature – Recently, there was a drug released that reduced the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, and preterm births, and increased sleep duration and sleep quality. It also reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress. Taking this drug strengthened the immune system and reduced inflammation throughout the body. As a bonus, this drug also significantly reduced the presence and intensity of anxiety and depression. What is this miracle drug? Is it Flintstone vitamins? No, it was simply living near greenspaces and/or spending time in nature.[13] Capitalize on social distancing by resisting the urge to retreat to Netflix and increase your time in nature.

Setting new routines, Actively engaging in self-care, Finding ways to help, Educating yourself, and Taking time in nature form and effective SAFE-T plan for coping with our new reality. Combined with a stop, drop, and roll mindset, these recommendations will go a long way in ensuring that you and your loved ones not only survive, but thrive, in this brave new world.


Sources

[1] 1 HANDS Wash them often. 2 ELBOW Cough into it. 3 FACE Don’t touch it. 4 FEET Stay more than 3ft apart. 5 FEEL sick? Stay home

[2] https://www.cnn.com/videos/health/2020/03/18/gupta-act-like-you-have-the-coronavirus-sot-vpx.cnn

[3] https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/03.16.20_coronavirus-guidance_8.5x11_315PM.pdf

[4] Why are we taking life advice from someone who refurbishes houses on tv for a living? The easy answer is because she is very familiar with rebuilding and taking a disaster and turning it into a beautiful new home. The easier answer is because its just good advice.

[5] Why Dick Van Dyke? Shame on you. The man won an Emmy in 1976, A People’s Choice Award in 1977, and another Emmy in 1984 for Outstanding Performer in Children’s Programming. Stop, Drop and Roll was a message geared to children.

[6] https://www.npr.org/2020/03/17/817154787/internet-traffic-surges-as-companies-and-schools-send-people-home

[7] https://time.com/5125894/is-reading-news-bad-for-you/

[8] https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/social-media-mental-health-negative-effects-depression-anxiety-addiction-memory-a8307196.html

[9] There has been much debate about the true author of the Serenity Prayer. Attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, there are citations as early as 1932 that indicate Neibuhr has valid claim to the original quotation even though Neibuhr’s daughter, Elisabeth Sifton, states that she remembers her father penning the phrase for a sermon in Massachusetts in 1943.

[10] The Starbucks where I live has done an excellent job of ramping up curbside pickup and drive through services, so I haven’t stopped going there at all. You get my point though.

[11] There is a 6th stage “finding meaning” proposed by David Kessler and Kubler-Ross. Viktor Frankl also explores this idea in his work, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Meaning making is highly personal and takes time and often, reflection. Given that this article is focused on immediate steps, the 6th stage will be considered beyond the scope for this purpose. Perhaps it would serve as an interesting follow up work once we have assured safety and stabilized post pandemic.

[12] Like this, Parkour!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ehlx0KrVJa0

[13] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180706102842.htm

Author Profile

Jayson Pratt | Path IHC CEO
Jayson Pratt | Path IHC CEO
Jayson Pratt is the CEO for PATH IHC. After offering therapy to clients for 20yrs as an independently licensed clinician, Jayson served as VP and Clinical Director for Phoenix House and COO for Lighthouse Youth and Family Services.