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Five months into pandemic, finding new ways to cope is critical

Five months into the coronavirus pandemic, Alabama is nearly 100,000 confirmed cases statewide and many local residents are struggling with “COVID-fatigue.”

“I believe it to be a real phenomenon,” said Rick Smith, CEO of Troy Regional Medical Center. “It has consumed most of us for nearly five months now with no real end in sight.

“Messages and communications are coming at us from all angles and as this pandemic goes on, there is a strong likelihood that someone we know or love will be affected or even succumb to this deadly virus.”

More than 5.1 million cases of the virus have been confirmed in the United States since tracking back.

The spread of the disease will continue to grow, as students return to campuses this month with new guidelines and restrictions, from wearing masks to socially distancing in classrooms. The virus cancelled spring sports seasons and threatens to cancel fall sports for colleges and some high schools, leaving many people with a sense of loss and fear of the changes ahead, Smith said.

“Every time we experience a loss – a job, a loved one, even a sense of normalcy – we also can experience a type of grief,” Smith said. “COFID-19 has caused many of us to experience different types of losses, as we understand life will not be the same once it passes.

“With so much uncertainty present, it may delay our ability to cope.”

Understanding that, Smith offered six strategies to help residents manage the experience:

• Value Your Emotions: There are five common responses to loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Grief is not a linear experience and these responses can occur at any time, often in combination with other emotions. “Try looking at grief as a package,” he said. “You will find it’s composed of several parts, each allowing you to move through the experience.”

• Own Your Experience: “It is important to remember that your experience is unique,” Smith said. Social distancing has created a sense of isolation that has magnified some issues in families, couples, and individuals. Make a routine with behaviors that will only take you 2-5 minutes to accomplish, such as reading or going for a short walk. “These new habits will progressively move you in the right directions, even improving upon what was already there,” he said. 

• Ask the Right Questions: “When we experience loss and enter a sense of uncertainty, it is normal to ask questions: Why did this happen? Why now? We want to make sense of situations and figure out what to do,” Smith said. Questions leading to actions can be more helpful. For example: What can I do while this passes? What is an area I can improve on? How can I connect with my loved ones better? “These will empower you and help you move through your grief more adequately,” he said.

• Express Yourself: “Express what you are going through,” Smith said. “Doing so will unburden you from how your grief and sense of loss might be accumulating. There are many ways to share your emotions effectively, such as talking to someone, writing in a journal, playing an instrument, listening to your favorite music, or painting.”

• Strive for Growth: “We have an opportunity to redefine what gives us purpose and what is helping us grow,” Smith said. “Begin each day with two specific goals you want to accomplish” Make the goals so easy, you will not need a lot of motivation to begin. “At the end of each day or week, you will have an added sense of accomplishment to show for it,” he said.

• Create Significance: “We like stories and giving meaning to situations,” Smith said. “Whatever meaning you are giving to this pandemic will influence the responses and actions you take. Try to think of this as a reset period and opportunity to redefine your priorities. This may be a chance for you to even invest in your spiritual beliefs.”