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It’s a wild time.

Schools are shut down. Small businesses are closing, or struggling at best. Restaurants are figuring out creative ways to survive with delivery. Hourly and gig workers are putting their lives at risk. Corporations have furloughed or laid off employees, or those employed may have a loss of income and/or hours. Freelancers and event planners are stuck. Yet rent, bills and living expenses still need to be paid. The impact on society, culture and the economy have not fully been determined yet. Until then, things are not OK, not fair, not right.

I’ve been self-quarantining for over two months because I’m that person who has an underlying condition, making me highly susceptible to COVID-19. So, my doctors told me to stay put, and I have. I know staying in is the best for me, but I sure do miss going outside and being around people.   

But you know what I’ve come to realize? It’s OK to not be OK. In fact, the CDC has reminded us that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations.

Let me offer you some tips on how to be OK with not being OK:

1. Determine What’s In Your Control

Acceptance around control is different for everyone. The coronavirus is a moving target. Protect your time and energy around news, social media, conversations (personal or professional) around the coronavirus. Ask yourself, “What do I have control over?” Spoiler alert: more than you realize.

Many people are experiencing anxiety, fear and panic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that outbreaks are stressful, causing fear or worry of health, difficulty with sleep or eating, increased use of drugs or alcohol, and worsening of health or mental health conditions. Set boundaries to empower and protect yourself from feelings that increase stress mentally and physically. For example, I start my day by knowing the total count of cases in the world and the United States. This allows me to have information for meetings if need be and allows me to put a parameter on what I need to know (I am a public health nerd) about COVID-19.

2. Pivot

Redirect thoughts and conversations. For example, when you start thinking about something negative relating to COVID-19  and you start to go down a rabbit hole of tweets, articles or news clips, make the choice to pivot. Redirect those actions to penguins, a funny TVshow or anything that makes you smile. This goes for any virtual conversations, personal or professional. Have a phrase or two on hand to move the conversation past the pandemic. My favorite in response to anything coronavirus is, “Yes, wild, I know. So, what would you like to discuss in our meeting?” Or, it is also OK to say, “It is a lot and I am limiting the conversation about it. I am excited to connect with you today.”

Keep it moving.

Having phrases on hand acknowledges the situation, point or story, and moves the conversation to a place within your set boundaries.

3. Do What You Can When You Can

I know it sounds simple. When I'm on back-to-back Zoom calls, drained does not even begin to describe how I feel. So, I shut it down, walk away from the laptop and start over the next day. I do not get mad at myself. I do not get frustrated. I listen to my body. This also goes for the endless amount of campaigns and ways to shop to support small businesses.

Shop here, buy gift cards, takeout, delivery, donate to a campaign or GoFundMe campaigns are constantly showing up in our email and social media. If able, do what you can, when you can. If unable to support due to health, limited funds or time, use the power of social media to promote the opportunity and feel good that you're doing something in your capacity.

If you are shopping for yourself or loved ones, taking care of another person, volunteering your time, and find yourself feeling drained and tired from those efforts, take a break in whatever way possible – even for five minutes. (I hear bathrooms and closets are a great place for breaks). If you are drained, you are not going to be your best self.

4. Relationships Will Be Tested, And Honestly, It's Probably A Good Thing

There are people fortunate enough to be sheltering in place with a loved one, roommate, partner, kids or pet. Find ways to escape to a room, closet or bathroom. If you’re able-bodied and not immunosuppressed, take a walk. You have to take time and reset.

Do not be afraid to communicate how you feel. Many of us are on edge because President Twitter (yes, that is what I call the current president) is not making it easy for us to feel safe and secure during the pandemic. There is a lack of leadership complete with public health expertise. In addition, people are posting, saying and doing crazy things on social media. Mute and unfollow as needed, or have a chat/video call explaining why you feel harmed, scared or concerned. You may need to mute or unfollow friends and family in real life, too.

People are feeling all kinds of emotions during this pandemic and are coping in many different ways. You may see loved ones shopping a lot, becoming less communicative or super productive. There’s no rule book on how to make it through this pandemic.

Last, remember there are people who are alone during this pandemic. Some people will say, “I wish I was sheltered in place alone,” or “I wish I had someone to go through this with.” We all are wondering about different scenarios during this uncertain time. Regardless of your situation, be in the moment and do what’s best for you.

5. Accept The Abnormal

It’s not going to be OK, for a while. The sooner you can accept that things will be different, the less anxiety, stress, fear and panic you will have. Minimizing your real feelings of not being OK is not going to help the worse off situation-er. (Yes, I made up a word.)

Hiding your feelings and emotions can affect how you respond to living in a pandemic. Be appreciative and thankful for what you have — and you can do that and not be OK. If you struggle here, revisit number three on the list or reach out to a therapist. Many therapists are taking virtual appointments, or you can use cool apps, like Talkspace, to communicate your feelings of not being OK.

Look, it is OK to not be OK. This is an unprecedented time and you will get through this. We will get through this, OK?


Dr. Akilah Cadet, an expert in public health and leadership, is an Oakland-based consultant who provides people and companies with services that support diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging (DEIB) including executive coaching, strategic planning, and problem-solving.