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Riding It Out

Jiab Wasserman  |  April 27, 2020

IN MID-MARCH, I went into lockdown with optimistic thoughts. Perhaps it would give me time to perfect my Spanish, master classical guitar, write more blog posts, start online courses and even begin the book that Jim and I often discuss writing together.

I’ve accomplished none of my grand plans. Instead, I’ve been consumed by reading COVID-19 news. I’ve slept poorly and eaten too much. I remain perpetually exhausted. I struggle to focus and lack creativity. Everything takes twice as long as usual. My sense of time and motivation has completely gone out the window.

Before I retired in 2018 and we moved to Spain, I worked from home for seven years, so I’m no stranger to spending most of my time in the house. But it’s harder to stay home when you’re retired, without the need to make day-to-day work decisions and interact with colleagues.

I’m trying hard not to feel guilty about my mood or lack of accomplishments. Apparently, all this is normal. My feelings of grief are, it turns out, part of a greater collective grief.

There have been countless articles about coping with the recent stock market downturn and about how to keep ourselves entertained at home. But very few cover the mental health aspects of today’s stay-at-home orders. The months ahead will be rough on everybody. What to do? Here’s how Jim and I are trying to sustain ourselves through these hard times:

1. Acknowledge loss and grief. According to David Kessler, an expert on grief, understanding the stages of grief is a key place to start. The stages aren’t linear and may not happen in the same order. Jim and I have discussed our emotional responses. As I write this, I flip between sadness and acceptance, while Jim is alternating between anger and acceptance. There is power in recognizing grief and in reaching acceptance. I can stay home to save lives. I can connect with my family and friends virtually.

2. Lower expectations. One thing I’ve realized is that, even though my calendar looks more open, I don’t have the ability right now to take on new tasks and new goals. For me, simply taking care of myself takes a lot of mental energy. All grand plans will still be there when it’s the right time to tackle them.

3. Limit time spent reading the news. I’ve found this has helped me to sleep better. I no longer check the headlines multiple times each day. Instead, I use my time to read more books and cook new recipes.

4. Routine, routine, routine. I found that setting a regular time to wake up, exercise, relax and go to bed has helped me to feel more in control.

5. Exercise. There’s plenty of research on exercise and its positive effect on mental health. It reduces anxiety and depression. For us in Spain, because even outdoor individual sports aren’t allowed, we have to be more creative if we’re going to stay active. We use our terrace for exercise. For 30 minutes, we jog back and forth, jump rope, and hit a tennis ball against the wall or together volley it back and forth.

6. Get sunlight daily. I find it improves my mood. I often sit in the sun on the terrace, either to read a book or have a conversation over our shared wall with our neighbor—an elderly woman living alone.  For some of our friends who don’t have an outdoor space, they have lunch or read by an open window.

7. Stay connected virtually. We watched a movie with our son, who lives in Japan. We’re also investigating how we might work out together or play games virtually with both of our sons.

8. Look for small victories and opportunities. Even though we’ve lost so much, I’m grateful to have a partner like Jim and the companionship of our cats. Together, we’ve even taken to replicating famous works of art—both paintings and sculptures.

Jiab Wasserman’s previous articles include Enforcing the RuleWhen You’re No. 2 and Grab the Wheel. Jiab and her husband Jim, who also writes for HumbleDollar, currently live in Granada, Spain. They blog about downshifting, personal finance and other aspects of retirement—as well as about their experience relocating to another country—at YourThirdLife.com.

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