Opinion

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Reporter's Notebook

Pandemic Self-Care

Putting mental health advice and tips into practice during a prolonged difficult period

Mental health professionals recommend limiting coronavirus media exposure, with some stipulating daily allotments of time for consuming COVID-19 material, which requires social media self-control since feeds are inundated with pandemic posts. Other recommendations are less specific, including from the CDC: “take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.”

While I support those guidelines for the general public, they’re not feasible for journalists. We must immerse ourselves in COVID-19 media as a professional obligation and necessity to stay informed as we execute our job duties, which, of course, heavily involve thinking, talking and writing about the pandemic. We live in the bubble. We are the bubble. It’s unavoidable.

That’s not a complaint, but rather a reality that is increasingly crystallizing in my household as the pandemic persists. Moreover, my wife is one of those mental health professionals, and she spends her day helping people who are struggling with the public-health crisis. It’s hard to tune out when our livelihoods require us to tune in.

Likewise, recommendations such as finishing house chores and diving into hobbies are, as any parent of young kids knows right now, almost impossible with the little ones demanding every second of our attention.

Still, for our sake and the sake of our two sons, we hone in on those scattered pockets of non-coronavirus life as much as possible. I prioritize evening reading that has nothing to do with the pandemic: books that open up new worlds. I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I’ve also enjoyed escaping to the screen more than usual.

There are also other helpful mental health guidelines that my wife and I, and most everybody else, can and should try to follow. Many are everyday health suggestions outside of the current crisis.

Among those are regular exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, connecting with others even if only through digital means, and focusing on positive thoughts and controlling what is within your control, acknowledging that plenty isn’t. Or schedule an appointment with a mental health professional. I’ve seen my wife help numerous people navigate these uncertain times; I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t one of them.

The recommendations can be tailored to specific people and situations, including media exposure, for which there is a fine line. On one hand, people need information in a pandemic when public-health guidelines and announcements shift regularly. Nobody is suggesting that you bury your head in the sand.

In any case, however much time you spend consuming media each day, a common theme among professionals and experts is to find a couple or handful of trusted sources. There is plenty of misinformed, inaccurate and downright dangerous material all over the internet.

The Beacon works hard to be one of those trusted sources locally, and is just one of countless news operations across the state and country trying to break through the noise and connect people not only to critical COVID-19 information but also to fellow community members, keeping the public abreast of the lives and stories that celebrate our humanity.

Even with the forthcoming phased reopening of the state economy, life will continue to be disrupted and full of uncertainty. We aren’t suddenly returning to pre-pandemic life. We’ll need to keep our expectations in check, cheer and cherish the breakthroughs that do occur, be patient and safe, and continue to practice self-care amid this prolonged difficult period.