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  • Dr. Catherine Florio Pipas

Navigating Uncharted Waters: A Pandemic Voyage Back to the Basics of Caring for Self, Family and Com

Across the globe, new scenes of struggles and successes are playing out. Navigating unchartered waters while managing elevated levels of stress means processing the paradoxes of grief and gratitude, duty and danger, isolation and risk, trust and fear. Social distancing equates to limited contact with multiple people but increasing time with a few- often family. Quarantining alone or together can be challenging but this slower pace of life presents opportunities to prioritize core values and enhance wellbeing skills. Being homebound and providing home daycare, home schooling, home work and home making test our flexibility and creativity, particularly for those juggling all simultaneously. New living conditions, such as grown and college children returning home, multigenerational families coming together, house guests spending day, weeks or even months in tight quarters demand that we give attention to ourselves and have increased compassion for others. I am reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs when considering the basic principles currently driving our world. Safety and Health first- Never have I been so appreciative of the necessities of life, or the link of my own wellbeing to the entire world. Water, food, clothing, sleep, shelter and health – all bind us together. The need to safeguard society demands waving to neighbors from across the road and allowing only the guests to our home who can prove 2-week prior isolation. A tank of gas can last a month, a dust covered can of beans or box of strawberry jello are viewed as treasures and neighbors swap wine for the highly prized roll of toilet paper. Handwashing is choreographed worldwide to twenty seconds of the most popular song ever. And this prioritizing of physical health and safety is being followed by an outpouring of human generosity. The message of connection and caring is once again ringing true in our nation. Love and belonging are like food and water for those who have the latter. Spirited community initiatives (even if virtual) counter isolation and overcome looming fear. Building time in our secluded community to replenish together acknowledges communal stresses and provides all permission to step away from work and worry. Creative activities; cooking, crafts, dance, games, art and music have the potential to refill our tanks. Amid our new culture simple activities provide the gift of sharing together and apart and re-watching Harry Potter becomes a silver lining in the COVID storm. Double dipping on social and physical health occurs with a return to long-lost habits of jogging with a spouse or hosting an on-line coffee break or “wellbeing” check-ins with colleagues. Whether working at home or in the office, prioritizing time together can slip through the cracks of the 24-hour block. Checking in with team and preserving family and meal time allow for much needed replenishing together and alone, personally and professionally. Purposeful Self Reflection is critical in the swirl of a new routine. Loss of purpose, self-esteem and sense of contribution can accompany extreme change. As a newcomer to teleworking I found it difficult and underestimated the need for “me time”. Routines dissolve; some days working longer hours without breaks to compensate for not being in the office, other days working less hours being distracted by home activities and lack of boundaries. Scheduling “start and end” to core items in the day allow for precious “me time” Setting limits to screen time also keeps self-awareness in the forefront and social media from becoming the default. The more flexible the schedule the more discipline needed in caring for me and for others. NO guilt in taking breaks. Filling our own tanks is key to sustaining wellbeing. While I count the days that our universal ship continues to sail across choppy waters, I also count my blessings. On this 31st day of social isolation it may seem like the pandemic will go on forever, but I am reminded by history that “this too” shall pass. Until the new normal arrives, I will cherish this time spent caring for myself, my family and my community.

Catherine Florio Pipas April 2020

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