By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A friend called to complain about fake Chinese news websites, spreading rumors about coronavirus in Chinatown. “Can you write and tell people not to believe it?” she begged.
The best way to stop fake news from spreading is to tell your friends to avoid reading about it online.
More on that later. Another friend called and warned me not to interview people face-to-face. “It’s risky for you journalists, talking to too many people. Just interview them over the phone.”
Call it coronavirus anxiety. Social distancing and locking myself at home would drive me and many insane. The psychological toll on us is huge.
Take my profession as a journalist for instance. Staying away from crowds would hurt my job, because that’s where the action is, and it reflects the spirit of the community. It’s hard to read people’s emotions over the phone.
March has been a tough month. It broke my heart when I went to the Seattle Symphony’s Celebrate Asia concert at Benaroya Hall on March 8, and the attendance was half of what it was in previous years.
Originally, my March calendar was filled with 11 community events. I had planned to attend most of them, not only for coverage, but to learn something new and network with others. But the COVID-19 outbreak has turned our lives upside down. Sadly, as the tide of cancellations rose, I deleted nine of those events. Only two events were “postponed.”
Some of the cancellations include the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce Lunar New Year Dinner, Hop Sing Tong’s 140th anniversary dinner, Kin On nursing home’s 35th anniversary gala, March of Spring, the ArtsFund luncheon, Rotary Club of Seattle luncheon, and the Emperor of Japan’s birthday reception.
Many of the organizers have worked for months planning the event. For some, it was the only fundraiser for the year, only to see it “killed” a few days before it happened. The agony for those organizers who must decide, “Should I or shouldn’t I cancel?”
Even though I am not part of those organizing committees, I feel awful reading their emails. Every cancellation creates a chain reaction, affecting those who set up the banquet room, the audio-visual team, kitchen workers, wait staff, speakers, and the performers. Many have relied on the income to pay for their school loans, feeding their family, or house mortgages. And I wouldn’t be able to report to the community about the generous donors and the event’s highlights. The loss is irreplaceable.
How do you keep yourself from becoming insane during this crisis? How do you keep yourself from feeling depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed? Here are some tips which work for me.
Take it one day at a time
Being self-quarantined at home for a long period of time can make many depressed. Days can feel like years, especially when the weather is rainy and gloomy. Alex Trebek, the host of Jeopardy!, who has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, said recently in a one-minute video, “Take it one day at a time with a positive attitude, anything is possible.“
I challenge myself to stick to my normal work schedule, and add a small project on the side. For instance, I washed my hats and caps one night. Simultaneously, I explored ways to make my day interesting such as making a special soup.
At this point, I work hard not to be a burden to the health care system. Sleeping and eating well are crucial to our health.
The first thing is to make sure I have a good night’s sleep every night. And I have been able to accomplish my goal during the past few weeks. It works well if I exercise for more than an hour during the day.
If you feel stressed or wake up in the middle of the night, take deep breaths. It helps me to feel better, and go back to sleep.
These days, I am resistant to junk food. At first, I attributed it to my will power. The truth is, I have been conscientious of my health for the past decade, and I have developed good eating habits. My taste buds have changed and processed food doesn’t really appeal to me anymore.
It has been really difficult to stay positive with COVID-19 fears.
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself,” said author Paulo Coelho. Fear can overwhelm you, drive you crazy, and have a negative effect. If you have the awareness that this is happening to you, step back and retrain your brain to think differently.
According to the New York Times, optimism is an acquired behavior. Despite the fact that my mother’s depression impacted my childhood, I try hard not to be like her. Ever since I was little, I refused to play the “blame” game, and took responsibility for my own wellbeing. This has influenced me to be strong and independent.
Separate fact from fiction and rumor
Research has shown that people like fake news because it is more dramatic and exaggerated. The more you read, the more it will distort your mind.
Only read news from credible sources. That means knowing the people who write them, and you can go back to them to challenge what they wrote. Don’t assume everything you read or hear is the truth. Always ask questions and challenge assumptions that you and others have. Case in point: someone spread a rumor about us. We were so glad that readers called us to verify. So make that call. If there are no phone numbers listed for you to talk to a real person, I would be very skeptical of the things that you read. International news sources that you can trust are The New York Times, The Associated Press, and Reuters. These organizations always provide both sides to a controversial story.
Have a schedule for everything and every day
The tech world emphasizes the discipline of scheduling—not only to get things done, but to make sure you don’t skip out on your important chores. So put in your schedule for dates with your loved ones, haircut appointment, naps, meditation, calling your parents, and even watching your kid’s ball game. Once it’s on your schedule, it means you have prioritized them to be a part of your routine, and you will have a better chance of sticking to those activities.
Develop activities at home
Boredom is the enemy when you stay home. Beat boredom by preparing enough activities you can do at home and alone. You can play video games and mahjong online with unknown opponents or friends. You can do puzzles, paint, sew, knit, carpentry, lego, and golf.
My nephew turned a basement into his basketball court (mainly a hoop), and friends have set up a mini golf course in a house’s spare corner. I enjoy my exercise rituals in the morning, which includes funky music for dancing, jogging, and yoga. Also, practicing your music instruments and karaoke can be fun. Reading is one of my favorite past times. Check out games, movies, and books from your local libraries.
Clean ignored or forgotten items like my coin purse and my big purse. That’s one of the dirtiest items that carry germs.
Put things in perspective
My cousin and his family returned safely from a January cruise in Asia. “Whenever I think of cruises, I am scared,” he said. That’s self-induced fear. We don’t need to burden ourselves with unnecessary anxiety.
The only way not to overthink is to put things in perspective. For instance, my friend said recently, “No more cruises,” as if she had forgotten the joyous time we (eight of us) had together on the New England cruise last October.
The horrible news about Princess Cruises passengers who have been ill with the virus, has affected our ability to think rationally. But the cruise also gave all of us a wonderful reunion and trip.
It reminds me that cruises allowed me and my husband to see the world in a way we otherwise wouldn’t have, while also saving us time and money. Gratitude is a meaningful tool during challenging days. I feel blessed that we traveled on cruises and met people, who are still my friends.
We have to see issues from both sides, the good and bad. If we just condemn and see everything with a negative lens, our world view will become distorted.
Support the economy
Social distancing means you are not encouraged to dine in public. If you don’t want to dine in restaurants, why not order to-go? Restaurants’ business has plunged 20 to 50 percent. If each of us pick up food from restaurants at least once a week, no restaurants would need to close. If you don’t eat out, order food for your good friends who are too busy to cook. They would appreciate your goodwill. Just think of ways to help mom-and-pop businesses during this crisis. Don’t forget to leave a tip even though it’s a to-go order. Think of the wait staff who rely on tips to make a decent living. A small tip will light up their day. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. When you save restaurants, you save jobs.
Change bad habits
Coronavirus attacks our respiratory system and lungs. For smokers who don’t have strong lungs, this may be a good time to quit smoking. Since we are staying home more, think of habits you want to change and had no time to work on before. This may be your opportunity.
Learn something new
This is a good time to learn something new. Learn a second language through YouTube. Go to your library. Or you can check out things online and pick up from your local library. Watch movies or read that book you’ve been meaning to read, but didn’t have time to do so before.
Postpone and not cancel
I like what Kin On nursing home did. Instead of canceling its 35th anniversary gala on March 14, it is postponing to September. To organizations that are thinking of canceling, please don’t cancel, just reschedule to a later date.
You have worked so hard to organize it, please don’t disappoint your supporters and volunteers. If you plan to do a smaller or even bigger event later, it is doable because you have more time. Don’t give in to the virus.
Have a sense of humor
Crazy people do crazy things during the coronavirus, like stocking up on toilet paper. I confess, I stock up on too much stuff. Nothing much, just bags and bags of dark chocolate. My son bought me a lot over Valentine’s Day. And I treat myself with more chocolate every day. Make sure you laugh every day.
Funny videos on YouTube or comedy shows, such as Saturday Night Live and the Stephen Colbert show, cheer me up every day. Those moments will keep me going when I suddenly remember the funny faces of the Max brothers.
Keep yourself busy. Enjoy social distancing with laughter. Smile even in the worst of times.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.