Though COVID-19 may have dampened the thrum of New York City a bit this week, there’s a new sound just on the edge of my conscious perception that’s taking its place.
When I slow down enough to become aware, I can feel a low-grade drone of adrenaline and tension coming from somewhere deep in my physiology. Unlike the white noise of Manhattan cabs, crowds and construction, I can’t drown this sound out with noise-canceling earbuds. Neither is COVID-19 like the usual threats of cars that careen around corners or the over-abundance of dog poop that peppers the sidewalks or (as every New Yorker knows) anyone inside of that sketchy phone booth; it’s more subtle and powerful. COVID-19 sweeps you up in an impulse to check the news at first light or watch the Johns Hopkins dashboard count like the score of some now-defunct final four game. It presses you to make one more run to the stores while they’re still open or even to get into an argument with a friend about just how bad things are going to get.
There’s also dissonance in this new noise. How can it be sunny, 70 and spring in the city and yet the world seems to be on the edge of falling apart? This dissonance is cognitively fatiguing. For those of us leading or parenting through it there is the additional fatigue of all the tough decisions required to care for the people entrusted to us.
I can learn to live with the constant washing of hands or even being locked in a little Manhattan apartment for 2 weeks with my three kids… but this new incessant discordant thrum? What do we do with that?
As the Coronavirus begins to spread to other parts of the country, so do the anxiety and uncertainty that come with it. The emotions surrounding this disease can be overwhelming and cause strong responses in adults and children. Though people respond differently, living in a COVID-19 world is fatiguing for most of us. And here’s the threat: prolonged anxiety can carve real neural pathways into the brain that may be hard to resolve even after COVID-19 abaits.
So it’s not only important to wash our hands and practice social distancing, it is also important to pay attention to our emotional world and guard our mental health. How do we do that right now?
Our family is trying to book-end our days with some intentional spiritual practices, limiting technology and news, and adding more prayer and reflection. In the same way that noise-canceling technology works, we are trying to be still and let Scripture act as “anti-noise” to the dissonant hum of COVID-19.
You might consider protecting your morning and bedtime routine similarly - limit online media, news, or reading about COVID-19. Let friends, roommates, and spouses know your intention to guard that time and ask them for help. Perhaps your family, small group, or church might covenant together to intentionally practice the stillness and knowing of Psalm 46:10 in this season.
We are also taking 15 minutes individually each afternoon to journal and reflect on what is happening around us and in us. Each of our kids has their own COVID19 journal. I wonder if more of us safeguard our times for quiet, journaling, prayer, Scripture and reflection, perhaps the next few weeks might turn out to be a uniquely rich season. I wonder if the treasures in our journals and hearts might become priceless heirlooms.
Despite COVID-19 there is still time, maybe even more time, for the best things in life. Consider what behaviors or available activities may bring restoration in your life. Psychologist Robert Wicks believes that restorative activities, or renewal zones, provide us with space for respite, inner refreshment, and reappraisal of our inner world including life rhythms… and even a chance to simply have fun. In my experience simple pleasures make the best renewal zones, so we’re trying to make more tea, music and laughter these days. We are trying to spend less time zoning out on screens and more time in books, around boardgames, near friends and outside while we can.