We’re anxious. We’re uncertain. We’re worried. That’s all normal and important to validate. How do we alleviate that? Studies show it’s by helping others.
I’ve worked with nonprofits for decades, and recently gave a workshop about the personal benefits of volunteering. Volunteering is not just great for those receiving assistance, but also a huge benefit for those doing the work. I think this can be a great focus for everyone feeling anxiety about coronavirus right now. Yes, plan and prep for your family. But here are other things you can do to help others, and feel better in the process. There are so many ways to capture the impact of volunteering — the essential elements of kindness — even during a period of social distancing. You might not be able to man a soup line or fill sand bags or any of the things that we imagine is helpful during a crisis or disaster, but there are plenty of other ways you can help. In the days to come it will be our small acts of kindness that continue to help shape the stories and memories of this time.
Here are simple Dos and Don’ts to help demonstrate that humankind is actually kind.
Do think about public health beyond ourselves. Social distancing is really the only responsible thing to do right now. There are two fabulous articles in The Atlantic and Newsweek that explain this really well. The best thing you can do to be helpful is to make sure you’re not infecting others and creating a drain on the system. Participating in social distancing — the greatest social experiment of all time — may be the most meaningful act of kindness you can make in your lifetime.
Don’t think (or tell others) this is a hoax or a drill. It’s here and real and we need to be responsible humans and do the right thing. And when you don’t get sick and nothing happens? Awesome. It worked.
Support the Economy
Do consider buying some gift certificates for the restaurants and shops that you’d like to make sure are still in your town and thriving when this crisis is over. They could use the cash flow and support right now. Not sure if you’ll remember where you put the gift card? Maybe you send it to your pediatrician, general practitioner, local fire department, police, emergency squad, town hall officials, health department, the folks who are in the grocery store or delivering your groceries and online orders. These people are all essential personnel, who cannot “work from home.” Remember to recognize and thank our first responders and essential personnel in this crisis. Buy local, support local, keep moving the economy forward while you are showing gratitude for those we need most right now. There are amazing community members organizing fundraisers with neighbors to send meals from local restaurants over to local hospitals. Entire departments are being fed because of the generosity of others. Do more of these things that make you feel better and that are better for everyone around you too.
Don’t stop supporting businesses because they are owned by people from other countries or have employees who speak other languages. Don’t share information that makes it seem like particular cultures or countries are responsible for the passing of germs. Don’t forward or share anything that is factually incorrect, racist, xenophobic, or fear-based. This is not the time for that. Actually, there is never a time for that. Don’t let anyone saying it think you are okay with that either. Being silent is being complicit.
Support the Elderly
Do ask if you can do something to help them out. Offer to get them groceries or medicines so they don’t need to manage the stores. Or treat them to a delivery of groceries. Or flowers if the florists are still open and looking for business. Nothing says Coronavirus like seasonal blooms? Maybe also apologize that you are assuming they are over the age of sixty (since that is where the CDC is currently drawing the line for people who are more at-risk). “Hi! How are you? I hope you know that really you don’t look a day over forty-two, but the CDC tells me that you might be more vulnerable in our current pandemic, so without me being totally awkward in assuming your age, can I just tell you that I’m here for whatever you need to stay healthy?” Sorry boomers. This is now the “advanced age” version of getting carded at the bar. Or an AARP meeting.
Don’t be offended if they are irritated that you just called them out for being old. Don’t be exasperated if they prefer to do their own thing. Don’t forget you are only responsible for your own self and your own actions. Don’t be afraid to tell someone else in your circle how it makes you feel, but don’t tell the old person that you’re mad they won’t let you help them. Unless it’s your own parents, in which case you can just link them to this article that explains the whole thing and remember this is how they felt about you not listening to them for most of your teen years.
Focus on Emotional Health
Do ask your family and neighbors how they are feeling, physically and emotionally. Listen. Wait for them to ask you back.
Don’t be mad if they don’t ask you how you are. Not everyone is going to be able to be supportive for each other. That’s ok.
Do use your energy to find the people who are supportive and connect with them. Times of crisis tend to show everyone’s true colors. As Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Don’t waste energy getting angry with someone who isn’t there for you. Don’t get wrapped up thinking you deserve something other than what they are able to give you.
Practice Self Care
Do what you need to keep yourself well. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. You know that whole analogy of the air mask dropping in the airplane in an event of an emergency? And how you need to put yours on first before helping those around you? Yup. This is that. Practice lots of patience with your self. Consider your mental health a priority — the rest of the world is talking about this, too. Do the things that you know you need to do to fill your inner well. Maybe you limit your news to twice a day. Maybe take a break from social media entirely. Or if you are on it, do your best to disrupt the feed of negativity. Know that feeling you have when you see something amazing and positive? Like Italians singing on their balconies connecting with each other even during quarantine lock down? Or Spain applauding together every night for their healthcare workers? Share that emotion. Pass that on.
Don’t let outside influences overwhelm you. Don’t underestimate how anxiety multiplies when there are lots of things we can’t control. Don’t share scary worrisome rumors. Don’t refresh your news app quite so many times. The rest of the times you pick up your phone? Don’t forget to connect with a human instead of just a website. The essence of connection (with the right people) is what gives us that positive vibe.
Do connect, as deeply and genuinely as possible. There is ample science that meeting in person is better for energy and idea generating than meeting virtually. We will miss that during social distancing. Video calls where you can see a face gives you more information than an audio call. Text messages and emails give you even less of that, but are better than just searching news headlines. Call your parents. Make your kids call your parents. Call your grown kids (and be okay if they don’t want to talk for long. Or at all). Reach out to your old boss who mentored you (maybe not the current boss who pissed you off by telling you that you can now work from home even though that request was denied so many other times these last few years). Do you know a parent who is now homeschooling their kids? Check in on them. Many of them are not doing well and need to hear that is okay. Remember those old people who want to get their own toilet paper? Offer to practice FaceTiming or Skype or Zoom or one of the other cool kid tech things with someone who hasn’t used it before so they can gain confidence in how to utilize it. Find a group on social media where you can be a resource to each other and offer to help those in your community, or maybe even just laugh a bit, and know that humor is ok too.
Don’t expect a magic fix. All that connecting will help, but it won’t make all your sadness and worry go away entirely. You’re still going to feel crummy sometimes. A lot of the time. Don’t be too hard on yourself when that happens.
Do donate money. Every dollar helps. Give a donation to a nonprofit that works on providing basics to those in need — we will need them more than ever. Also remember to donate to the organizations that aren’t direct human services related — arts and animals and education and LGBTQ and anti-bullying…. All of those organizations are going to be supporting mental health in different ways, and they are going to see their donations shift downward as we refocus on other more front-of-mind issues. Had a concert cancel? Donate the cost of the ticket back instead of taking the refund. The theater and actors and performers all need it now more than ever.
Don’t start your own nonprofit. This is not the time to think you can address a need you see on your own or with the dozen friends you are texting. Don’t think that you won’t find an organization that is already doing something similar — your efforts donated there will be so much more valuable than sitting around writing articles of incorporation and bylaws and starting new fundraising efforts (trust me on this one). Don’t forget there are already 1.5 million nonprofits in the US — the good ones are doing amazing things. Don’t forget to pick a couple that already exist and help them do their mission and work.
Don’t make it about you, either. Don’t call a nonprofit and ask them to train you as a volunteer, and then get irritated if they tell you they don’t have time for that right now. Remember that it takes time to onboard and train volunteers and that organizations who are in crisis mode need to allocate staff and leadership to bigger priorities than making new potential volunteers feel good about themselves. Don’t be insulted if they ask you to donate money now, and come back later when we are in a more stable place to help in person. Don’t forget to call again later. You might want to donate canned goods instead of money, but they know they don’t have as many food collections points available and don’t have the volunteers available and know that they can purchase at a discount and get it done quickly, because you helped donate money to feed the 1 in 9 Americans who are food insecure.
Remember there is Hope
Do remember this will get better. We Americans (and humans across the globe) have been scared and suffered before. We’ve made it through. I lived in New York City before, during, and after September 11th, and we all worried how we would come back — emotionally and financially. We did. We will again. We do this one day at a time, with each other as teammates, working together. Remember those old people we keep calling vulnerable? Maybe when you call them to check in you ask them about a time in our history when things looked bleak before. They might be old, vulnerable, high risk groups. They might also be a resource of remembering what hope is like that we need right now.
Don’t think too far ahead. There are so many moving parts that long-term planning is really impossible right now. Someone once told me to only look as far ahead as your car headlights. No high-beams. Don’t forget we might have so much fog we need to pull over and wait a little while. That’s ok. Don’t forget that’s ok.
One last thing
I’m not always an optimist by nature — sometimes I am the saltiest brat on the planet (my husband just nodded). These last few years, I sometimes felt like real life was my dystopian reality. Politics and divisiveness. Climate change and science denyers. Just about anything in the news. So I wrote a novel with an ending I liked. It’s about a pandemic global virus that wipes out most of the population, and only the women survive. Who would have known when I wrote that we would be looking at it in real life. But the reason I liked writing my book is because it feels more utopian than dystopian; I like the hopefulness it offers to how we can actually make the world a better, kinder place. I believe we have an opportunity to show our innate human-kindness right now at this moment in history. We can still rise above the chaos and perform acts of pandemic kindness. I believe in that with my whole heart, which is why I spent two years writing it as a novel. Trust me, it’s a good ending. We just need to get through a couple plot twists in the meantime.
What else can we do to help make a pandemic world a better place? Comment and let me know!
Colleen Markley is a novelist, blogger, and freelance writer living in New Jersey. Her latest novel, Lilith Land, is a story about the end of the world where only the women survive. (It’s a novel, not an action plan). Find her at www.ColleenMarkley.com or sign up here for her newsletter and updates.