As a community we are used to living with a level of uncertainty about our health. Being diagnosed with MS means that we have had to find ways to manage anxiety and uncertainty about the future and our wellbeing. In many ways we are well equipped to deal with the lack of clarity there is about the COVID-19 pandemic and what’s ahead. While many of us might be regarded as ‘high risk’, I have every faith that the OMS community have the tools and the mindset to weather this storm.
While 'information is power' there is no doubt that in excess it can be overwhelming. It may be helpful to make a plan about when and what information you will look at. Today, news broadcasting is 24/7 and instantaneous, escalating our anxieties constantly. Repeatedly. But realistically we only need one (sensible!) and cohesive update on the world’s news a day.
It’s also helpful to avoid beginning and ending your day watching the news. The images and words we experience last thing at night can leave a powerful imprint and disturb our sleep. It can help to plan when you will catch up on the news and avoid updates outside that time. Worrying is understandable, however limiting the time you dedicate to thinking can prevent overwhelm. Similarly, taking some control and disabling news notifications on your phone (ping!) or pausing before you Google, to ask “Is this urgent? Do I need to do this right now? Is this going to help me?”
While social distancing and self-isolating may seem daunting I have seen some great information that has been reminding people to focus on the things that we can do, rather than what we can’t. Okay, I can’t hug you but I can listen to you. I can hear what your worries are.
We are creatures of habit so disruption to our routine feels frustrating and can be confusing for children who are home from school. It can help us all to stick to some of the same ‘patterns’ during the day. Getting up at the same time, getting dressed and maybe even creating a ‘work area’ in the home if you have the space.
Integrating bursts of exercise is good for mind and body! Be it football in the garden, hand weights (baked bean tins?) or yoga tutorials online. Importantly, trying to change the lens through which we view these restrictions can open up the possibilities of what is possible, rather than what is not. While we are socially restricted, there are so many things this doesn’t affect. While it may not seem important in the grand scheme of things that are happening in the world, it is so important that we do the things that keep us well and we should not under-estimate their importance.
There is huge value in doing small things; the things that bring us pleasure, connect us and nourish us (or simply distract us!) – be it gardening, reading, praying, writing, sorting out all those photos (*which I keep putting off). Integrating meditation or downtime into your day now seems more important than ever.
How lucky we are that in a time of social distancing most of us are equipped with technology that helps us stay connected to others. I have been so grateful for this over the last few days – it has allowed me to continue to work, support my students and importantly remain connected to my family and friends. It allows me to order most things from food to new reading books for my kids, and search for the recipe for vegan waffles. I’m even playing an (ongoing!) online game of Scrabble with an elderly and isolated member of the family.
There’s been such a heart-warming response among communities and local businesses; people pulling together and thinking of others. The OMS community is one step ahead with this, of course! I am filled with gratitude for this, and for the scientists and leaders who are working so hard to understand and manage this situation, and so proud of my colleagues, family and friends working in healthcare. It’s okay to be afraid, but like I tell my children, ‘when you see bad stuff happening, look for the helpers. There’s always helpers’.
Ironically, this awful situation and the isolation may be the very thing that brings us all together. We may be in ‘lockdown’ but we are not alone. Be kind to yourself and stay connected.