Stressed by COVID? Find Simple Moments and Revel in Them

Dr. Jean G. Gispen

Today’s note is for people who are way, way busier because of COVID-19 and for those who are stressed-out by COVID-19.

When the girls were much younger and learning to manage their knives, forks and spoons, they sometimes had the dropsies. Sadly, the noise of falling utensils was musical to them, and they repeated the dropping until my husband and I enforced the following strange and silly rule: anyone who dropped an eating utensil had to lie on the floor for a minute – by the timekeeper’s watch – before continuing to eat.

The rule applied to all comers: kids, grown-ups and invited guests (though grown-up invited guests could plead for a pass). 

Working from 7:30 in the morning till mid-afternoon at the hospital and at the office, picking up the girls after school or day care, playing with them the rest of the afternoon, cooking the evening meal and anticipating the evening’s medical charting to be done after the girls went to bed was stressful to me. Some nights, by the time the meal was on the table, I was ready to be under it. So I developed butterfingers too. “Oops! I’ve dropped my fork. I have to lie on the floor. Somebody time me. “

Lying down for a minute, even on a dirty kitchen floor, was oddly calming. Sometimes a minute was all it took for me to pop back up ready to deal with the chaos of family and professional life. Lying down rested my body, but the minute’s timeout also reinvigorated my mind. While the fork and I were in timeout, I wasn’t allowed to carry on conversations. I lay there and felt the cool tiles beneath my hands and my head. I could close my eyes to escape to a poolside or a backyard or a creekbed. 

The world seems disordered, unpredictable and stressful. When the current COVID times get to me, I try to remember my minutes lying on the kitchen floor and I think of ways that I can drop my fork and give myself a minute’s timeout to regroup.

It can be as simple as taking a pause in the discussion of a patient’s illness to ask, “Where did you grow up?” and then to really listen to the answer, trying to get to know that patient as a person and not just as a person with an illness. It might be sitting outside on the front porch before supper to watch the light just before dusk. 

The way to regroup is to be absolutely present in a given moment, to let go of everything external and to be aware of the light, the heat, the feel of the chair, the way your husband’s eyes gleam just before he laughs, the way your daughter’s voice sounds over Facetime, the way you feel content right then. This is the way to stay sane during COVID. Find these moments and revel in them. 

Dr. Jean G. Gispen is a staff physician at the employee health center within University Health Services at the University of Mississippi.