By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves”
Viktor E. Frank, holocaust survivor and psychiatrist
There is no rule book about how to cope during a pandemic. Surprisingly, many have gotten benefits out of COVID.
“We should use the pandemic to our advantage,” said Frank Wu, Queens College’s president in New York. He meant his college can reap benefits from the virus, but what about the rest of us?
Can we? How? How can we see opportunities instead of feeling stuck, isolated, and overwhelmed? How can we live with a peaceful mind during uncertain times? We can’t let the virus defeat us mentally and physically.
I admit that the lockdown did affect me initially. As the Northwest Asian Weekly shortened our office hours, and most of my staff worked from home, I had a hard time sleeping and coping last March and April.
Slowing down was not in my blood. Rarely did I have any dull moments as a publisher. My calendar used to fill up with adventures, meeting big shots as well as little guys, attending exciting community events, and experiencing exotic food. I used to anticipate Chinatown-International District events, and contemplated how we could promote and support them. I was constantly thinking about what’s next for the Northwest Asian Weekly and Seattle Chinese Post.
Travel has always been on my horizon. By this time of the year, I would have already taken two trips and planned for another trip for Christmas. So did eight of my staff members who took vacations without disrupting our press schedule.
The pandemic has shattered our dreams and normal life. But do I really miss traveling now? Not really. I would not be comfortable flying. For the past few months, I have been reliving all my spectacular travel experiences. That’s soothing and satisfying.
Already, I have been embracing the shutdown, and, actually, appreciating a different pace of life. To my delight, there are folks who have made incredible use of the pandemic. If you have the freedom to do what you want, now is the time to do the one thing you have been yearning to do.
My friend, who was writing a play, said she got a lot more done during the lockdown. She has saved a lot of time through Zoom meetings, so she could focus on her writing. My nephew Andy Cheng and his wife Shinny, who have a six-month-old baby and a two-year-old son, are having fun raising their kids while working at home. Imagine if they have to go back to work at their companies, it would stress them out commuting and finding childcare. It also saves them money, and they can even get tax benefits by having a home office.
CBS’ Sunday Morning program aired the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, which inspired contestants to look inside their homes for resources and creativity to complete a simple task by using complicated processes. Sounds like an excellent project during COVID. It’s a record-breaking year for entries and the number of countries participating. Parents and kids were thankful for the contest so they could work on the project together. The kids learned about patience during the process. It made learning fun and brought the family together. Because of COVID, all contestants submitted their projects online. I guess nothing can stop you from doing what’s important. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Saving commuting time enables my employees to relax and do more at home. This is a win-win for family-and-work life balance. What exceeded our expectations is they finish their work before deadlines every week. There are fewer internet problems in our office, since the majority of our staff work at home. And I have fewer management responsibilities. Sometimes, managing people can be very draining. COVID has inspired more blog topics than ever before. I have never run out of ideas since the pandemic.
A few of my friends have used the work-at-home flexibility to remodel their home. One friend was proud of her new bathroom, which she had been putting off remodeling for years. During the lockdown, she said she bought and picked up all the pieces for the bathroom because there was no delivery service. When the lockdown was lifted, the workers came in and did the job easily since all the parts were there. Another friend built a new deck all by himself. One friend became a gardener, delighting in eating fresh vegetables. Some college students have revealed that because of flexible online classes, they can now work two jobs instead of one.
If you pass by Goodwill, you will see a long line of cars waiting outside, delivering items to donate. My friend was among them. She had decluttered many closets and shelves. I am proud to say that I too cleaned up quite a few places at home. Usually, I empty my pockets with new business cards I got from networking events, on a plate at home. Now, the plate has been turned into a nice accessory at home.
Those people cooking up a storm at home have succeeded in one delicious experiment after another. My daughter-in-law Tracy even made beautiful mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival not just for me, but her family and friends. I have never seen mooncakes so colorful and creative. And my cousin Ted made Chinese BBQ roast pork and curry pastry from recipes online. Despite their first attempt, their food experiments look perfect and yummy.
Work on your health challenges
As my editor wrote in “The Art of Being” during the pandemic on Sept. 3, each of us can practice self-compassion. This is the time to work on your health. One of my staff members lost 20 pounds, and she looks like a different person—beautiful and happy.
My challenge is sleep. During the past decade, my sleep was poor—an average of five to six hours a night. The only time I slept well was when I traveled. The sign is, the less I work, the better I sleep. Last May, I decided to improve my sleep. Now, I sleep an average of 7 hours a day, plus a nap during the day. Before the pandemic, I could never nap. Now, sleep comes to me naturally.
For those who experience frequent insomnia, we all know that better sleep increases your immunity, memory, and fights aging. I know how to develop good sleeping habits, but never have the determination to do it. Designing a customized sleep, exercise, and diet program just for yourself is the key, and you need to stick to it. Ironically, my body feels much better now than it did pre-pandemic.
Is optimism the right way to fight insanity?
In the past, we told ourselves to be optimistic during tough times. With the pandemic, that’s lying to ourselves. Just like other small businesses, our financial loss is enormous—losses we likely won’t recuperate. How can we be optimistic when the number of COVID deaths in the United States has climbed over 200,000? And our president has been fooling us that everything will be okay, and COVID will fade away. Don’t kid ourselves.
Being pessimistic doesn’t work either. You don’t need to make yourself feel awful. Being practical is the right attitude. Recognize that COVID is a dangerous virus. Take extra precautions, and not be tempted to do things which will compromise our chance of getting infected. We have to learn to protect our family and friends as well. If optimism is not the attitude during this time, what is the tool we need to fight insanity?
Turn off negativity
If neither optimism or pessimism is the answer during the pandemic, the best way to live is to remove your unnecessary worries. Too many worries, about things not really happening, will lower your spirit. Dwelling on a particular issue for a long time can paralyse you. Overanalyzing situations can make you anxious.
So meditate for a peaceful mind. I was about to sign up for a meditation class last February. Then, I discovered in May that YouTube has hundreds of effective meditation tutorials. Every day, I just turn on a new lesson.
A psychologist on TED Talk said, positive thinking is useless unless we accompany it with positive action like taking better care of ourselves, our loved ones, and helping the vulnerable.
These days, I don’t plan too much except the newspapers’ content. By the way, the story ideas just flow to us from our writers, readers, and community.
We don’t have to work too hard to get them. Just living in the moment is good enough for me.
The best advice I got from an artist is, don’t think too far in advance during the pandemic. “How is your day?” I asked the artist recently.
“Today is a good day,” she replied.
“What about tomorrow?” I continued.
“Don’t go that far. It’s day by day (for me),” she said.
I write down my to-do list the day before to guide me the next day. I have never gone astray. Every day, I make sure I have a good day by creating my own adventures. How? I will share with you in my next blog.
Replace optimism with gratitude
Gratitude can enlighten you. It is much more effective in fighting negativity. Be grateful that you are safe and your loved ones are safe. Think of all the good things you have done before and during the pandemic for yourself, family, and community. Write them down. Read them out loud. Post them up on your mirror and wall.
And right before you go to bed, say a prayer. Tell yourself that you are grateful for the day and tomorrow when you get up.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.