JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST --
The famous Irish writer, Oscar Wilde, said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Right now, with the spread of the Coronavirus reaching pandemic levels, it seems that everything from our economy to major sports and entertainment is in the proverbial gutter. For many of us, the COVID-19 outbreak has caused a major disruption to daily life.
Here in Washington, D.C., companies and government agencies have all but shut down. Employees are being asked to work from home, while schools are closed indefinitely or for the rest of the academic year, supermarket shelves empty of many vital necessities, community events shunned, and church services cancelled. This is hardly an environment conducive to productivity and workforce engagement.
Aside from the occasional comic relief I get from a clever toilet paper meme, this situation seems to be the most stressful event I’ve lived through since the last economic collapse of 2007-2009.
From the reports I’m hearing, the disruption to normal life in New York is at least as severe as it is here in the nation’s capital. And I would imagine that Philadelphia and areas in between where members of the 514th Air Mobility Wing live are facing similar interruptions. We all face restriction of movement, shortages of goods and services and the impact of critically important (though emotionally challenging) social distancing.
For my family, this sees like a perfect storm. My wife is due with our third child in April so we are nervous about the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the hospital. We are both extroverts, not homebodies, feeling very cooped up in our 724 square foot apartment. My company is facing a huge revenue crunch, as our financial health is tied to the level of activity in the mortgage market. Even our family’s normal homeschooling routine has been turned upside down, as we can no longer visit the Smithsonian museums and parks that make up a key aspect of our weekly Montessori curriculum.
I imagine many families of the Freedom Wing are facing similar or worse challenges. So how do we get through it? How do we recognize the enormity of the crisis without losing hope, without giving up in the face of difficulty? How do we keep looking up at the stars, when COVID-19 and all the negative news around it keeps our attention on the gutter we seem to be standing in?
As with battle stress, the key is to maintain the positive habits in our daily lives that contribute to resiliency.
Through the years, I have seen Airmen do this exceptionally well. As individuals and as a fighting force, we are highly resilient. So much so that the Air Force developed a resiliency model to describe the habits our Airmen display daily across the domains of mental, physical, social and spiritual health.
But if this crisis has taught me anything, it’s that when things seem to be in the gutter and the stress level rises, you have to redouble your effort in those areas.
So here are some of the ways I have been refocusing on resiliency during the Coronavirus crisis.
Mental health is key to our levels of happiness and performance, so I am taking every precaution necessary to ensure that COVID-19 doesn’t rob me of my peace. I am doing that by:
- Watching the news only when I need to, despite the temptation to want to know what is going on in the markets or what policy makers here in Washington are doing about the situation.
- Sticking with my reading plan, consuming material to grow intellectually, rather than negative news. The CSAF reading list is a great place to start; I recently finished Deep Work by Cal Newport and recommend it highly, especially for anyone struggling to stay focused while working from home.
- Limiting the amount of time I spend on social media, which can lead to increased anxiety levels for many reasons. I do this by setting iPhone Screen Time app limits, but there are a number of apps you can try.
- Continuing to see a mental health counselor for stress and anxiety via a secure telehealth video conference each week. Discussing these issues has been extremely helpful for me personally.
The gym is closed and I have concerns about how sanitary the workout room in my apartment complex is, but I have no excuse to become inactive. My fitness goals each week are:
- Get outside to walk or run for 30-40 minutes at least three times per week (maintaining social distance, of course).
- Do a 7-minute interval workout four times per week for short duration cardio training. I use the 7 Minute Workout app from Bytesized, but there are a number of options to choose from in the app store.
- Double down on my diet, consuming only whole foods, healthy fats, moderate protein and zero (or almost zero) refined sugar to maintain optimal blood sugar levels and keep the immune system ready to fight viruses.
As an extrovert, I normally get my energy from being around others, so the whole self-quarantine thing doesn’t come naturally, but I recognize how important it is to public health. That said, it is vital to public and personal health that we maintain relationships, even as we keep our social distance. Some simple ways I’m accomplishing this are:
- Call my parents a few times each week, especially now that I have a bit more time just to check in and chat.
- Call a wingman, or shoot them a text or message on social media. This really helps maintain esprit de corps when we are all working remotely. (Also ask about their families who might be dealing with financial stress or even illness due to COVID-19.)
- Stay connected to close friends by hosting conference calls and online meetups. (My wife and I are actually hosting a virtual happy hour for several couples we know around the country, since we are all stuck at home.)
In the face of stress and feelings of isolation, it can be easy to lose hope. For me personally, tapping into spirituality has helped me stay positive and find meaning amid this trial. Each week I take time to:
- Pray and meditate. Since I’m no longer commuting to work, I have a lot more time for a solid morning routine that includes a few minutes for spiritual growth. With everything shut down, online resources like Headspace for mindfulness and even virtual daily Catholic mass have been a Godsend.
- Practice gratitude and acceptance. A key part of my spiritual life is practicing gratitude for the gifts God has given me. Every morning, I try to list three things I am thankful for. This is a simple practice many people say contributes to a healthy attitude and overall resiliency, even if you are not religious.
- Remember the Air Force core values. It may sound like a stretch, but consciously reflecting on our core values can help us give meaning to a crisis and persevere in spirit when we hit emotional lows.
These challenges will be around for a while, several more weeks at least. The situation might get worse before it gets better. So it’s more important than ever to begin building positive habits into a daily routine that promotes comprehensive health. If we do, we will come out of this stronger than we were before, ready to face any challenge together as a team with resilience.
Let’s keep looking at the stars. Because one thing Airmen do everyday is Aim High.