Reopening from Lockdown, and Staying Calm

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In my previous blog, I described that many of us are experiencing a lot of feelings as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown. I suggested creating plans with contingencies to help manage the anxiety.

Your mission in the next phase of the pandemic is to (a) do your own risk evaluation and (b) create a personal plan to maintain your safety and start living a new normal.

One Major Source of Our Anxiety – The Media!
One primary source of our anxiety is the media which presents two polarized positions: A continued lockdown to avoid deaths due to COVID-19, and an opening up of the economy to get people back to work to avoid deaths due to unemployment. Each side assumes the moral high ground. One side accuses the other of putting profits over lives. The other side accuses the first of insensitivity to the ravages of unemployment and the loss of liberty.

In pursuit of ratings the media tells us to fear the coronavirus as a deadly killer never seen before. But this is not true. Jeffrey Tucker (American Institute for Economic Research, May 1, 2020) explains that in 1968 a flu arrived from Hong Kong that killed 100,000 people in the US mostly over the age of 65, and 1 million worldwide. The 1968 flu was as deadly or more so than COVID-19.

COVID-19 is deadly. But poverty and job loss also kill from suicides, alcoholism and more, and a surge of non-coronavirus health problems is expected from delayed diagnostic testing and illnesses left untreated.

Reopening After the Lockdown
The next phase of the pandemic is to reopen our economy and get people back to work while maintaining safety. These are not mutually exclusive priorities. According to Ken Langone (a founder of Home Depot), “It isn’t safety or business, it’s safety right now which allows business.”

We are going to receive new directives from experts and policy makers. They will modify the directives as new information comes to light. For example, California Governor Gavin Newsom quickly relaxed restrictions he had just recently announced in response to appeals from counties to allow local authorities to derive their own plans based on local needs and knowledge.

Be ready for rapid change and conflicts in the directives. As certain as the sun rises, directives from one source will conflict with those from another, and directives from the same source will change week to week. To mitigate against anxiety, prepare for “hyper-accelerated change” and inoculate yourself against fear-mongering.

Create Your Plan for Reopening
Create your personal plan for safety and re-entry into the economy. But first, determine your own “comfort zone”. Think about the following questions to plan how to come out of the lockdown. As you do, listen to your feelings and your intuition to determine which actions will enable you to be most comfortable.

Step 1. Evaluate your own health risk. What is your health status? Your age? Do you have a pre-existing respiratory disorder or diminished immunity?
Step 2. What is your economic need? Do you need to get back to work or can it wait? Do you need to find a new job? Can you work from home?
Step 3. How strong is your drive to get out of your home, to return to the office, travel, restaurants, shopping, movies, medical appointments, resume your usual lifestyle?
Step 4. Do you need to get your kids back to school, their extracurricular activities, and time with their friends?

To repeat, create your personal plan for safety and re-entry. If you prefer to remain in your home, do so. If you prefer to get back to work, or travel, then do that. If you prefer to stay in lockdown until an effective vaccine is available, then plan to do it comfortably. The right decision is yours alone. Other people might oppose your decision, but it is your plan; embrace it. You can modify your plan at any time.

It is particularly helpful to journal and write down your thoughts, feelings, and decisions over time. Your feelings and your plan will change. I suggest to my patients that they use to record their thoughts, feelings, and decisions about coping with the pandemic and the changing directives.

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