Riding It Out

Jiab Wasserman

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

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R Quinn
R Quinn
2 years ago

Your point #3 is very important IMO. I have done as you suggest. Not only is it depressing and often scary, it’s downright unreliable too. They say bad news is more popular than good news and now I believe it. I have a friend in Paris who is confined to a 600 sf apartment with her husband and is having a very hard time coping with no outdoor space. I try to cheer her up, but I am concerned about her depression.

Mr Moderate
Mr Moderate
2 years ago

Wonderful advice!! Stay safe. For something humorous Google or YouTube “Spoonful of Clorox.” I thank you for expressing what many of us are feeling. I especially like how you noted to deal with any guilt of “not getting things done.” I’m still in the “can’t believe this is going on” phase. Probably anger and depression to follow if not already there. Thanks, Jiab!

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
2 years ago

Terrific article Jiab. I find that the various symptoms come and go – I seem to have some control if I get up, exercise, and accomplish something tangible. We’ve had lousy weather near Philadelphia, so we are all waiting for some consistently sunny weather.

Peter Blanchette
Peter Blanchette
2 years ago

Find a cause that can help sustain you during this awful period of time not only in our
country but in the world. Living in NY and watching Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences makes one feel very lucky and very helpless at the same time. This is a two-pronged disaster that has impinged on the lives of those we know and those we will never know. From a selfish point of view, it is especially impactful for those of us who live in NY. Thinking of the very difficult days facing health care workers, first responders, essential workers etc makes one feel both very lucky and very helpless. Living in NY, it is, unfortunately, relatively easy to know a friend or relative that has been impacted. People are being impacted from a health perspective or a financial perspective and, occasionally, both. Try to make a positive impact on someone from either a health or financial perspective. Find a food bank in a hard hit area of your hometown or in NY city, where the impact has been the greatest to this point. It is not very hard to find one. It has been a humbling time, literally, for those directly impacted and, figuratively, for those who have not.

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