By David Hellerstein, MD
Here we go again… thanks, Omicron!
Should we keep going to work? Should kids stay home from school? Is anyone still going to movies/ plays/ restaurants? Almost overnight, we New Yorkers pivoted back to our early lockdown days. We all tweaked our 2020 routines: more masks, less handwashing and surface-wiping, more hours hunting for home tests, not toilet paper. It’s clear what to do: finish vaccination, get boosted, increase social distancing. But it’s less clear how we can survive this round. Plus, how many more variants will come after Omicron?
As a psychiatrist doing psychotherapy and psychopharmacology, I’m accustomed to advising people in coping with life stresses. But now we are all in the same boat. We’re all fed up. My patients are exhausted from working at home, taking care of their restless kids, snapping at their spouses and roommates, but so are my fellow doctors and therapists.
And for once I’m a bit at a loss. The other day I was talking to a patient who was bemoaning this third wave lockdown, and we had an interesting conversation. What can you do at this point if none of the big things can be changed? “Change little things,” he said.He decided to leave his apartment twice a day, to take the stairs rather than elevator when leaving home, and to take an extra walk around the block. Made a lot of sense to me. Another patient, who has strong political feelings, decided to cut back on social media and to start helping with a local political campaign—a longshot candidate, but one who could use the help. Plus, she decided to make these calls while walking in the park rather than sitting on the couch.
I learn a lot from my patients and I decided to make a few small changes in my own life. First, to stop using the elevator in my building. Now I walk down and up the stairs, except when carrying heavy packages. I live on the 5th floor, and it turns out there are 71 steps down to the lobby. I’ve been doing this for several weeks, and already I’m less winded when I arrive at my front door. Second, I decided to copy my patient who makes calls while walking; but instead of talking politics, I phone up relatives and friends I haven’t seen face-to-face for nearly 2 years. It’s great to catch up, and many of them are also walking while we talk.
Are these big things? Absolutely not, they’re almost ridiculously small. But for me, they are things I can do that take attention away from the latest COVID surge to take care of myself and to reach out to people I care about. In a small way those are good things. Which may be the best way to deal with Wave 3.
David Hellerstein is a medical advisor on the MDSG Board.