3 ways to stay sane during the COVID-19 crisis

How to organize your news consumption, social media interaction and pandemic engagement so you don’t melt down

I know I’m usually the person telling everyone to spend MORE time on social media, but right now, I want to offer some different advice. Like a lot of folks, I’ve really struggled to find some kind of mental health equilibrium, and find myself gripped by intermittent, intense anxiety — not so much for our own personal situation but for the larger world.

But I’ve found three strategies that have made a huge difference for me, so I want to share them. Here’s the short version:

  1. News consumption: Choose two or three sources you will look at once a day, and consider making one of those a list of verified experts.

Now, the detailed version….

News consumption

There are three types of news I want right now:

  1. Actionable information that ensures I take care of our family and am a responsible community member

What’s not helpful: A constant flood of news, large and small, about all the many many things happening in light of the pandemic. So here’s the entirety of my information regime:

  1. I look at CBC.ca once a day for news about how things are going in British Columbia and Canada, and also let myself read any nice hopeful stories that pop up there. Sadly the situation in the U.S. is so different that it’s really not too relevant to follow U.S. news, at least in terms of understanding what we should be doing here in Vancouver.

Social media interaction

In my normal life, Facebook is my main online home, and I look at it for a few minutes every hour or two, all day long. And usually, that Facebook scan is a mix of bragging and memes, celebrations and the occasional plea for comfort.

But right now, Facebook is pretty much a solid wall of pandemic posts. So many people are struggling, and even the relatively happy posts are about how people are grappling with the crisis and finding approaches that work. It’s like reading the first chapter of every dystopian novel ever, and it sends me into a rapid anxiety spiral. So here’s how I’ve adjusted my social media usage:

  1. I look regularly at my Facebook and Twitter notifications so that I can reply to any comments on my posts. I am taking a lot more time with my comment threads than usual. For example, when I posted the other day to ask people where their anxiety is manifesting in their bodies, I tried to personally respond to every single comment, where usually I might just use a quickie reaction like a thumbs up or a crying face. I think it’s really important for people to feel heard and seen right now so I’m trying to double down on that with my own circle.

Pandemic engagement

The biggest factor in my own experience of this pandemic is the work I’ve been doing on the VancouverSupport.ca and COVIDSupport.net. What started as a minor upgrade to a local neighbourhood Google spreadsheet has taken on a life of its own, and I’ve been speaking with community organizations, grassroots organizers and technology developers all over Vancouver, Canada and around the world. That’s made the past 10 days the busiest I’ve had in years — but it’s also helped to keep me from perseverating on the news, and more importantly, it’s helped me focus on the positive potential of this crisis.

Based on this experience, I strongly recommend that you find or create a safe, consistent and meaningful way to help in this moment of crisis. This won’t be possible for everyone, or at every time: Some of us will be flat-out looking for work, figuring out how to meet payroll or looking after sick family members. (Those count as helping out, too!)

But if you find yourself with some free time or resources — and especially if that free time is going into obsessive news-tracking or worrying — it can be very helpful to focus on helping others. It’s the right thing to do, it’s what we need people to do in order to have this all work out OK, and it will almost certainly make you feel better yourself. Some ideas:

  1. Sign up as a virtual volunteer for a community organization that needs help with phone banks, fundraising and other online tasks, or find one of the many online mutual aid groups that have started up online and see what kind of help individual people are asking for. Be aware that many forms of person-to-person help could easily become vectors for transmission.

I can’t tell you that these three strategies will alleviate all your anxiety and make you the picture of mental health. These are hard times, for both practical and existential reasons, and I can’t think of a day when I haven’t had some tears or a moment of panic. But I can tell you that since I implemented these three strategies, I’ve felt far less terrified and far more hopeful. I hope they can work for you, too.

Author, Remote Inc: How To Thrive at Work…Wherever You Are. Tech speaker. Writer & data journalist for Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review & more.

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