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NBC: COVID-19 Edition

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Now on to this month's NBC. As you might imagine, the articles I've been reading these days are all about COVID-19 and it's psychological and neuropsychological impact.

None of the articles are political or epidemiological. For full disclosure, sources include: The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Chronicle of Higher Education, Rolling Stone, CNN, and Slate.

Photos are random soothing Wix photos from their COVID-19 collection. Articles are roughly organized into categories, with about 3 articles per category.

Here we go.

How It's Affecting All of Us:

  • That Discomfort You're Feeling is Grief, Interview with David Kessler by Scott Berinato, Harvard Business Review Excerpt: "We’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety." Companion Article: A History of Loneliness, by Jill Lepore, The New Yorker. Quote: "Loneliness is grief, distended. People are primates, and even more sociable than chimpanzees. We hunger for intimacy. We wither without it."

  • Social Recession: How Isolation Can Affect Physical and Mental Health, by Adam Gabbatt, Guardian Excerpt: [E]xperts have found that social isolation can have a profound effect on people’s physical, as well as mental health. Long-term, isolation even increases the risk of premature death. It’s being called a “social recession” to match any economic downturn also caused by the growing pandemic and it can have profound physical and psychological effects. “People who are more socially connected show less inflammation, conversely people who are more isolated and lonely show increased chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been implicated in a variety of chronic diseases,” said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University.

  • The Parents Are Not All Right, by Chloe Cooney, Medium Excerpt: "Viruses, or in this case, global pandemics, expose and exacerbate the existing dynamics of a society — good and bad. They are like a fun-house mirror, grossly reflecting ourselves back to us. One of those dynamics is the burden we put on individual parents and families. We ask individuals to solve problems that are systemically created."

Impact on Special Populations:

  • How Will Loneliness from the Coronavirus Affect Children, by Rebecca Onion, Slate Excerpt: "Ellen Braaten, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Mass General Hospital, pointed out over email that many kids experience isolation from their peers for two or three months during a summer vacation, and have good memories of the experience. “If it lasts more than two or three months,” she wrote, “we really don’t have any scientific data to know what to expect, as this is uncharted territory. If an entire season goes by without seeing peers, I think that’s a significant time period for a child.”"

  • Grieving During a Pandemic, When Nothing is Normal, by Elizabeth Yuko, Rolling Stone Excerpt: "As a culture, we’ve never been great at handling grief. Sad people make us uncomfortable. We want people to mourn for a short period of time and then return to their lives as if nothing happened. We have a set agenda for mourning: plan the service; hold the funeral, memorial, or shiva; eat plenty of deli platters and casseroles; then get yourself back together and press on. That’s difficult to do under the best of circumstances. And now that families no longer have the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones, have to wait for hospitals to release the remains, and postpone any in-person gatherings for the foreseeable future, it has left many in a suspended state of grief."

How We Get Through This:

  • Focus On the Things You Can Control: How To Cope with Radical Uncertainty, by Oliver Burkeman, Guardian Excerpt: "One overarching strategy for dealing with the experience of intense uncertainty is to do whatever you can to bring yourself back to the world of the finite – to things as they actually are in your own concrete world, and the concrete things you can control. As a first step, try not to see anxious feelings as something you’ve got to get rid of.Lisa Marchiano, a therapist and writer based in Philadelphia, suggests making it your mission “to tolerate uncertainty, rather than having to make it go away. That creates a different frame for thinking about things: all you have to do is tolerate it."

  • Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure, by Aisha Ahmad, Chronicle of Higher Education Excerpt: "[I]gnore everyone who is posting productivity porn on social media right now. It is OK that you keep waking up at 3 a.m. It is OK that you forgot to eat lunch and cannot do a Zoom yoga class. It is OK that you have not touched that revise-and-resubmit in three weeks. Ignore the people who are posting that they are writing papers and the people who are complaining that they cannot write papers. They are on their own journey. Cut out the noise."

  • Don't Wave Away Frivolous Pleasures: Those Are Also Essential During Hard Times, by Monica Hesse, Washington Post Excerpt: "One of the odder sensations of this moment in the pandemic — three or four or five weeks in — is how large our emotions are for how small our days are. The most rudimentary acts take on the most monumental proportions. We are recovering, then we are back in hospitals. We are forgetting anything is amiss as we make coffee or empty the dishwasher, then we are remembering that outside our own walls people are dying, have died, will die. This is terrifying; this is boring; this is normal."

  • It's OK to Be a Different Kind of Parent During the Pandemic, by Mary Katharine Ham, Atlantic Excerpt: "Perspective is one of the paradoxical gifts of tragedy. The things that seemed like crises in 2014 [before the author lost her husband] snapped into proper focus for me in 2015, just as the minor things I worried about before COVID-19 seem less significant with every passing day. I’m thankful for every tomorrow I get to try again, especially for my kids, having learned how easily tomorrow can disappear."


  • Not Everyone Can Write Off a School Year, by Melinda Wenner Moyer, Slate Excerpt: "Education researchers and sociologists agree that the implications of the coronavirus on U.S. education are dire, but primarily for disadvantaged students. “The impact of this COVID-19 crisis is going to be felt most profoundly by the students who are already most vulnerable,” John B. King Jr., president and CEO of the Education Trust and the former U.S. Secretary of Education, told me. These include children with disabilities and children who rely on schools for essential services such as counseling and crisis support, as well as low-income students who may rely on schools for meals and shelter."

  • A Home School Plan That's Realistic, Not Sadistic, by Ned Johnson, Washington Post Excerpt: "To all parents out there, my main piece of advice is to practice self-compassion and lower your expectations of yourself. And please set aside all of the ambitious “suggested home schooling schedules” going around social media. Yes, a routine of sorts is important for all of our sanity, especially our kids’, but instead of cramming in science, math, history, language art and personal enrichment, you can take a broader, saner approach."

Advice from Therapists/Psychologists & What Psychologists are Doing:

  • Are We Coping with Psychological Distancing? Psychologists are Watching Warily, by Craig Welch, National Geographic Excerpt: "Social scientists are watching with alarm, worried about the harm this will inflict on some of us: depression, substance abuse, domestic violence. Forty-five percent of Americans say the coronavirus outbreak has taken a toll on their mental health, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. Cigarette and alcohol purchases are up. So, too, are gun sales. But research underway in Seattle, Washington, where I live and where COVID-19 first surfaced in America, suggests many of us are finding our way—at least so far."

  • Pandemic Anxiety is Making Us Sleepless, Forgetful, and Angry: Here Are Tips on How to Cope, by Jelena Kecmanovich, Washington Post Excerpt: "In late March, even before the coronavirus had reached the frightening benchmark of infecting more than 1 million people worldwide, 77 percent of American women and 61 percent of men were reporting personal stress, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Sixty-nine percent of Americans were worried about themselves or their family members becoming infected, and a majority thought the economic impact would be worse or the same as the 2008 Great Recession. As a psychologist, I’m seeing firsthand how the pandemic is increasing anxiety among my patients and others."

  • Dear Therapist: What's Your Advice to Parents Whose Kids Are Stuck At Home During the Coronavirus Lockdowns?, by Lori Gottleib, Atlantic Excerpt: "Many parents believe that the way to be there for their kids during a crisis is to sacrifice their own needs for their children’s. I’ve already seen this happen during the coronavirus outbreak. Parents are so focused on making things run smoothly for their kids that they’re running themselves ragged. Parents don’t eat regular meals, sleep enough, reach out to other adults for support, enlist their kids to help with the household duties, or take time for enjoyable activities like reading a book or taking a walk. But nobody can function like this for long, and eventually parents’ own anxiety will become worse as a result. And if there’s one thing in a household that’s as contagious as a virus, it’s anxiety. Guess who’s in charge then? Not the person a kid wants in the pilot’s seat. In order to be present for their kids, parents first need to be present for themselves."

What's Next:

  • We're Not Going "Back to Normal", Interview with Ed Yong (one of my favorite science writers, and author of two excellent pandemic articles in The Atlantic) by Mary Harris, Slate Excerpt: "It’s going to take feats of imagination to steel ourselves—not just in terms of material resources and logistical plans, but also psychologically—for the idea that the summer, the rest of the year, maybe even longer, is going to be different."

  • Coronavirus is Changing Habits of Mind, by Alan Lightman, Atlantic Excerpt: "But there is something more to be regained, something more subtle, more delicate, almost impossible even to name. That is the restoration of our inner selves. By inner self,I mean that part of me that imagines, that dreams, that explores, that is constantly questioning who I am and what is important to me. My inner self is my true freedom. My inner self roots me to me, and to the ground beneath me. The sunlight and soil that nourish my inner self are solitude and personal reflection. When I listen to my inner self, I hear the breathing of my spirit. Those breaths are so tiny and delicate, I need stillness to hear them, I need slowness to hear them. I need vast silent spaces in my mind. I need privacy."

  • The Impossible Has Already Happened: What Coronavirus Can Teach Us About Hope, by Rebecca Solnit, The Guardian (warning: author is explicitly left-leaning). Excerpt: "As the pandemic upended our lives, people around me worried that they were having trouble focusing and being productive. It was, I suspected, because we were all doing other, more important work. When you’re recovering from an illness, pregnant or young and undergoing a growth spurt, you’re working all the time, especially when it appears you’re doing nothing. Your body is growing, healing, making, transforming and labouring below the threshold of consciousness. As we struggled to learn the science and statistics of this terrible scourge, our psyches were doing something equivalent. We were adjusting to the profound social and economic changes, studying the lessons disasters teach, equipping ourselves for an unanticipated world."

Some Good Stuff:

  • Karuna is a Sanskrit word for compassion. This site is devoted to good news, upbeat articles, and other sources of hope during this difficult time.

  • Taskmaster #HomeTasking Does anyone else watch the British comedy game show Taskmaster? For some reason the contestants' entries in the At Home Tasks make me crack up and tear up at the same time. Their creativity brings me joy and inspiration - maybe it will for you, too.

And How About You?

What have you been reading? What are you struggling with? What new project have you been thinking about? Where are you finding joy? Leave a comment below and let me know how you're doing.

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