Responding to

"Not everything that is faced can be changed,
but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

James Baldwin
Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand, offered some of the best advice for preventing the spread of the coronavirus during the summer - "Act like you have COVID-19."

Underlying her recommendation was the message that the actions one takes and the decisions one makes, particularly during a crisis such as the pandemic, will have far-reaching implications on both the individual and their community.

From a health perspective, wearing a mask and physically distancing, especially from the more vulnerable segments of our community, shows consideration for others and an awareness of how our personal decisions can impact ourselves and the people around us. But there's another message buried within her advice. Taking some type of action allows us to assert a degree of control over a situation that feels well out of our control. And self-care, such as eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising and tending to our mental health, can go a long way to ensuring that we are better able to cope with the disease even if we contract it.

The pandemic has dramatically altered how we connect, operate, and problem solve. It has disrupted entire industries and huge segments of society. We can no longer enjoy the luxury of finding perfect solutions to problems. We've got to be pretty flexible and nimble in order to respond to the unpredictability of our situation.

Sailors talk about the difference between predictable change and unpredictable change - the biggest difference being that we can take advantage of predictable change. Rick Arneson, a sailor and author, writes, "Tides are an example of predictable change; we know what the tide will be doing every day and when it will shift. Wind shifts are another story; patterns may emerge, but surprises are very possible and change is constant." In the context of the pandemic, when we're feeling pretty storm-tossed and weatherbeaten, he writes, "Rather than concentrating on the storm around us, thus allowing fear to take over, we can focus on our own actions in response to these conditions. Like a sailor facing volatility on the water, each of us needs to think ahead, concentrate on our priorities, be ready to adapt at any point, put safety first, and of course, never lose hope when things are hardest."

Although I'm not a sailor, his words make sense.
All of us are feeling the mental and emotional distress caused by the pandemic. Some of us are better at coping with the distress than others, and some of us are really struggling. "Psychological First Aid" is a set of skills that mental health experts describe as a way of helping someone who is experiencing emotional pain. “These are life skills [and] psychological first aid is even more essential in times such as a pandemic,” George Everly, a clinical psychologist and professor of international health at the Center for Humanitarian Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, offers. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the prevalence of severe anxiety this past summer was three times as high as it was a year earlier. “The pandemic is like the never-ending story. What makes this more psychologically toxic is that we keep receiving new impacts” as resurgences and new outbreaks occur, and more economic, social and community damage becomes apparent.

Here are some things that may help. There's nothing here we haven't already heard, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to be reminded of what we already know. We can apply these ideas to ourselves or use them to help someone else.

Get enough sleep, keep a well-balanced diet, and exercise. “Finding a baseline routine that works for you and maintaining it helps align the body’s equilibrium with your psychological equilibrium,” Kaushal Shah, a psychiatric researcher at Griffin Memorial Hospital, explains.

Avoid further harm. Protecting people from additional distress is key. Take steps to ensure emotional “safety” by treating ourselves and others with respect and compassion. “Remind yourself that whatever you’re feeling or going through right now is perfectly normal,” advises Nancy Haugen, a clinical psychologist in San Francisco. Simply acknowledging the distress can help relieve some anxiety.

Keep calm to carry on. This shows up in just about every article I read these days. Daily practices of yoga, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation can help us de-stress. 

Set priorities. Distinguish between what we can and can’t control and focus on the situations we can do something about.

Build hope. Especially during periods of uncertainty, it’s important to stay positive with learned or active optimism and remain forward-focused. One way to do this is to consciously focus on what’s going right in our lives right now. 

Connect with others.  Everyone is pretty tired of Zoom and virtual meetings. Still, it's what we have right now. Reach out to friends and family members on social media and make an effort to rekindle old friendships by phone, text, email or video conferencing. An alternative is to create our own coronavirus-safe pod or bubble so we can spend in-person time with people.

Practice good communication. When someone is distressed, active listening is a way of showing that we're paying attention to them. Most of us don't like being told what to do to solve our problems, but showing empathy can often be all that the other person needs.

Reinforce coping skills. Ask someone who is distressed how he or she coped with difficult situations in the past and encourage them to use those strengths and strategies to handle the current situation. We can do the same thing with ourselves. This can help rebuild a sense of confidence and competence to face and manage the current challenge. It also builds resilience.

Everyone has different coping strategies and there's no single perfect blend. Sometimes we need to change our strategies as the situation evolves, just like a sailor. And other times, we just need to step back, take a break, and catch our breath.

I remain deeply grateful for all that you do to keep yourself and the entire Kitchen Angels family safe and healthy.

Thank you.
Thank you for all your vigilance. We want you to stay safe,
healthy, and informed.
Is it the Flu or COVID?

With flu season now upon us and COVID still a major concern, it's important to be able to distinguish one from the other. This article from the New York Times offers information on how to tell the two diseases apart.

For the flu, symptoms typically include fever, headaches, body aches, sore throat, runny nose, stuffed sinuses, coughing and sneezing. For infants, they also include ear infections. In severe cases, the most common complication is pneumonia. The typical signs of flu pneumonia are shortness of breath and unusually rapid breathing as well as possible chest or back pain.

These can also be symptoms of COVID. However, the one sign that really distinguishes COVID from the flu is that COVID-19 often includes a sudden loss of one's sense of smell (usually accompanied by a loss of taste). It's not one hundred percent, but it's pretty close.

Less common symptoms of COVID include a sore throat, congestion, runny nose, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and feeling somewhat out of breath on exertion. Some victims have red or itchy eyes, and some get redness or blisters on their fingers or toes.