If we all reflected on the last ten weeks of physical isolation, we would learn something about how we manage stress.

Since I moved directly from my clinical work on one inpatient unit to another, I can say that I’m fairly adaptable at work, but that I really like to have a clear purpose and a means to complete my assigned tasks. It took me much longer, several weeks, to get into a pattern of being able to continuously connect with my outpatients virtually. Thank goodness I have a team to help me. For those patients for whom there is no team, connecting been more difficult.

At home, as I have realized this weekend, it has taken me longer to adapt. Like many other people, I fell back on cooking. Since I have not been shopping in three months, any food that I particularly wanted, I created myself. Isn’t that what many of us did? It seemed much more complicated for me to figure out how to get Thai food than it did to figure out how to make my favourite noodle dish. The bonus was that I have now built upon the small amount of Thai cooking I had learned on several visits to Thailand.

Cooking and baking have been highly adaptive ways of managing the stress of being isolated. Both are immediately rewarding. At the beginning of physical isolation, many people had lists of things they were excited about doing. One friend wryly told me that she had enough projects for two pandemics! I also have many projects I could consider – half completed sweaters, quilt tops to work on, books I’ve bought, but never read…oh, and then there’s that manuscript that’s almost completed.

We all had so many projects that we were certain we would complete, until the stress of learning to work differently began to take its toll. Think of everything we’re accommodating: no colleagues close by for immediate advice or just support. Think about how important that is, but wouldn’t it be weird to just call your work neighbour who usually sits down the hall to say, ”Hey, I’m just needing a teensy break from what I’m doing and thought I’d wander over to say ‘hello’. Usually you’ll say something a bit funny or supportive so, could you do that now, please? I’m missing it.”

These are the moments when I realize that those small contacts make a difference.

If you are working from home, you may not be able to just work. I cannot even imagine how difficult it must be for those with children trying to do schoolwork – children who are also stressed and need extra support. Those without work, wondering if the government aid will be enough money to manage the rent or the mortgage and those whose home is neither pleasant nor safe must feel especially desperate. Then there are those who haven’t been able to prepare food, because they don’t have any.

All this is leaving aside the reason we’re all in this predicament: COVID-19. There have been 5.5 million people worldwide – that we know of – who have had COVID-19 and approximately 345,000 people who have died of the disease. If we are reading this and haven’t had the disease or known someone who did, we are among the lucky ones – so far.

Most of us are similar. We know people who have had more stress than us and people who have had less stress than us. At the end of this weekend, when we have not managed – again – to do as much as we had wanted, we could all take a moment to reflect on how much stress we are under. Our main goal right now is to reflect on those personal measures we have taken that helped us to manage the stress and to build from that. The more knowledge we have of what helped us, the better we will continue to adapt.

May we all find some time on our days away from work to learn what strategies we use to manage stress – and then may we have the time to practice them!

(Art can assist us in managing stress – both looking at art and creating it. I love this art by a young Canadian artist. Here is her Instagram account)

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