March 05, 2020

Guest Chair's Column: Well-being in a Time of COVID-19

By Alexandria Hien McCombs, Immediate Past Chair, ABA Health Law Section

Novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Global pandemic. World Health Organization (WHO). State of emergency. Shortage of test kits, medical supplies, hospital beds, and healthcare professionals. Shelter-in-place orders. Business and school closures. Social distancing. Hand sanitizer. Toilet paper. And the list continues. These alarming headlines trigger our flight-or-fight response dating back to our survival instincts as early humans. COVID-19 is a deadly virus disrupting public health and the entire world order as we perceived it. It is a surreal nightmare; however, we can and should choose to survive and combat it one step at a time.

“If you make your bed every morning[,] you will have accomplished the first task of the day."

“If you make your bed every morning[,] you will have accomplished the first task of the day."

Maskot/Maskot via Getty Images

Each morning, I am encouraged by the powerful imagery evoked by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command who delivered his commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014. His directive was: “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” For the skeptics, making your bed seems like a trivial task. It’s easy; it takes about two minutes to make. It’s also absurd: a daily Sisyphean task given the known nighttime routine and morning outcome. But if you reflect on the symbolic act of completing this first task with ease and success, you’ll channel a can-do mindset for the remainder of the day.  

Here’s how Admiral McRaven explained it:

“If you make your bed every morning[,] you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.

And if by chance you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that is made—that you made—and a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”

This former Navy SEAL knows a thing or two about confronting and overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Admiral McRaven goes on to describe the excruciating tests of physical and mental endurance and team solidarity during “Hell Week,” the ninth week of Navy SEAL training designed to break an individual’s will. We’re in the same predicament now. The COVID-19 directives from the White House, the governors, public health authorities, CDC, WHO, and other key bodies on preventive measures such as hand hygiene and social distancing are essential to heed. Be a responsible citizen of the world and follow those directives diligently.

However, we also need to take care of ourselves as we would have done—with appropriate modifications—in a non-pandemic ecosystem. Good self-care activities may include in no particular order (except for the first one):

  • Making your bed
  • Exercising by walking, running, biking, or engaging in other physical activity
  • Reconnecting with friends and family members remotely
  • Engaging in early spring cleaning
  • Taken a step further, simplifying and sparking joy in your home like Marie Kondo
  • Catching up on your favorite streaming series on Netflix, Hulu, or other entertainment service providers
  • Finishing those partially read books
  • Creating structure for your children’s distance learning
  • Embracing the present
  • Meditating
  • Renewing quality family time
  • Continuing to talk to your healthcare professionals about your physical and mental health needs
  • Writing a journal
  • Reflecting on something that you’re grateful for each day
  • Taking a momentary break from watching or reading the news
  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule

Today’s new normal is tough. It’s normal to feel emotions of helplessness and even despondence. The key is to talk to someone about your feelings and to continue doing the little things that enhance your energy or outlook. Here’s to wishing you and your family a good night’s rest and a well-made bed in the morning. We’re in this together. 

 

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