Stress in the Time of COVID

Heraclitus is credited with “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change." The fact is that we cannot control our world or the people in it. At best, we can moderate our own reactions to it all. We can decide the extent to which, and how, we react as the world swirls around us.
Times are challenging lately. That is affecting some of us, whether we admit it or not. It is up to us to persevere or not. As Judge Smails said in Caddyshack so many years ago . . .
"It's easy to grin When your ship comes in And you've got the stock market beat. But the man worthwhile, Is the man who can smile,"
. . . when things are perhaps not going so well.
There are a multitude of news stories about the Coronavirus (COVID-19). There are school closures, function cancellations, inconveniences, routine changes, and even dire predictions. The world around us is changing, due to forces we really cannot control or even perhaps understand. And, that is causing stress.
The Centers for Disease Control publishes a list of the leading causes of death. The good news is that the Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) is not on the list. Influenza is on the list, but down at at number 8. What is also not on the list is stress, but the American Institute of Stress reminds us that truly stress can kill. 
In the midst of the COVID-19, as the OJCC strove recently to adapt and adjust to the reality of school and business interruption, I received a frantic communication from an attorney. The message, essentially, was a plea for advice regarding fear of the COVID-19, a desire to postpone a hearing, and a fear of appearing in-person during this time. It ended with a "what do I do?" I was inclined to email back the Rule 60Q6.115(1) language I so often do ("any request for an order or for other relief shall be by motion"). But, I paused.
This attorney already knew that. The issue was not of intellect, but  of emotion. The situation was apparently overwhelming and thus impeding analysis, and the attorney chose to contact me. It was not a time to quote rules, but to facilitate a reduction in stress. When we are stressed, we are seldom at our best. As Judge Smails reminds us above, it is easy to be our best when the skies are clear and the sailing is smooth.
Stress can have physical causes and effects. The human body is an incredible machine that runs on a variety of systems and processes. The manner in which stress may stimulate or suppress those systems' normal function is not entirely clear. But, there is belief that stress has an impact. The effects may include anger, anxiety, weariness, doubt, and more. Demonstrably, there may be physical effects. 

Stress can also influence and interfere in our relationships with others. One commentator warns that self-isolation currently underway for some suspicious of COVID-19 could lead to an increased prevalence of divorce. Some suggest that the impact of stress or change could lead to increased violence; concerns are expressed for spouses, children and even pets. In a humorous social media post, one person suggested that in working from home, he and his spouse have invented an "imaginary co-worker" ("Janice"), upon whom they each blame everything they dislike ("why does Janice keep leaving dirty dishes around the house?"). 
As we deal with the changes around us, it is imperative that we remain conscious of the stress that our lives are undergoing. We, alone, decide how we each deal with the stress of the changes and challenges. I am not a mental health counselor, and thus cannot charge you for this advice, just as I cannot regarding nutrition. But, I will propose a suggestion or two.
I am not a licensed therapist or professional (if you are suffering anxiety, depression, malaise, or otherwise, seek direct help; some resources in that regard are offered free by I can, however, offer some free advice for the coming weeks. I have either found each of these to have value to myself, or have been told of their value by others in whom I trust:
(1) Exercise. No one wants to hear that. We all hate it, except for those super-fit (do they really need it? they are already picture-perfect). But, it is not about how you look (sorry Fernando), it is about how you feel. Getting even a short walk or jog can do wonders for your stress. I know one person that walks in the kitchen to avoid weather and risk. No treadmill, no membership, just walks in circles and thrives on it.
(2) Disconnect. The world around us is persistent in data, information, and noise. Turn it off. You may feel unable to disconnect frequently or completely. But, find a way to do it at least periodically and completely. Put the electronics away and read a book, stare at the sky, lay in the grass, converse with your pet (they never disagree). Revel in the opportunity for a few minutes of peace. If you can find an hour a day for such quiet, even if you do it 5-10 minutes at a time, it may help.
(3) Diet. No, I do not mean calorie counting as in "on a diet." I mean watch and be aware of what you eat. How does what you consume make you feel? It is possible that we may eat not to nourish, but to compensate. We may overeat or under eat due to stress. I find I feel better when I have certain foods regularly. With focus on our habit, we can strive to moderate, and to deny stress this control. 

(4) Unload. Find someone to talk to (obviously your neighborhood bartender is out of the question). Stop a neighbor on the street. Maintain your "social distance," (6 feet), but stop and chat. Get your perceptions and fears out there. There is power in clearing the air.

(5) Quiet time. There is power in mediation and idle time. Sit somewhere quiet and "focus your attention" to "eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind." That is what the Mayo Clinic says. 

(6) Sleep. I know, this one is a bit hypocritical for me. But sleep and rest are your friends. This is when your body recharges and replenishes. Try to get to bed at the same time nightly. Try to clear your mind with some interesting reading right before. More tips are offered by A good night's sleep is a very powerful tool in your defense against this situation. 

This is not an exhaustive list. And, there are others out there far better trained to provide advice and guidance. The Florida Bar and Florida Lawyers Assistance have published a web page full of information and resources for working through this time. It includes anxiety, stress, coping, and more. There are also good resources in publication from authorities like the Mayo Clinic. The "how" is up to each of us, with our own personal traits and needs in mind. But the "if" and "when" are important; we all need to minimize the stress and its effects.  Will you look out for you? If you will, then "when?"
The fact is: Yes, Heraclitus there is a lot of change. There is ample stress and uncertainty. But, in the end, everything will be alright. The world will recover. The day-to-day to which we are accustomed will resume. We will persevere and return. And, you can always look forward to telling your grand kids you survived the great Corona Virus of 2020 (start now documenting the feelings and updates in your diary to share in 30 years).  Start a Twitter feed, blog, or Instagram story to document your experience, thoughts, or feelings. If you need someone to talk to, email me (if it is about a case, make sure to copy the other parties). 

Good luck and be well. This too shall pass. 
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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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