By NC Health News staff

At North Carolina Health News, we are not immune from the stress and anxiety caused by this pandemic. We are covering incredibly sad issues on a daily basis. And it can be difficult to hit the “off” switch as home life and work life bleed together. Some of our staff members shared small things they are doing on a daily or weekly basis to take care of themselves and their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. 

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My husband and I are both reporters covering the pandemic from home with a 9-month-old. We both have to resist the urge to be trawling social media and covering every twist and turn of the outbreak. That’s proven to be overwhelming and anxiety provoking. We have to schedule time away from work. So every morning, we load up the stroller with to-go cups of coffee and a bottle and take the baby and dog on a walk. Starting the day outside and moving instead of hunched over our laptops has really helped us cope. — Taylor Knopf, mental health reporter

husband, wife, baby and dog on a walk to promote their mental health and helps them cope
NC Health News reporter Taylor Knopf and WRAL reporter Andy Specht have found it helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic to begin each day by taking their family on a walk in the neighborhood before diving into work. Photo credit: Andy Specht

I balance work with caring for my 4-year-old twins, which is delightful and stressful all at once. When this crisis first hit, I found myself repeatedly checking headlines and Twitter on my phone, which was not only unproductive but made it hard to appreciate the joy and fun I could have with my kids. Now, when I’m not working and am with my children, I make a point to put my phone elsewhere for set periods of time and dive into whatever we’re doing – whether it’s hunting for worms in the garden, making up obstacle courses in the backyard or just coloring pictures. I also am trying to sweat away my stress by exercising when I can, through short workouts on the Daily Burn channel on my Roku, free yoga videos on Youtube (Yoga with Adriene is a favorite), or getting a run in outside. Finally, I light a fire in my fire pit once a weekend to force myself to do nothing for a bit but just sit by a campfire. — Sarah Ovaska, children’s health, and Medicaid reporter

Exercise is one of the main ways I cope with stress and anxiety. When I can, I go for a long run. If that’s not possible, even a 15-minute session on the yoga mat calms me down. And if I don’t have time for either, a 2-5 minute mini-meditation session is my next go-to. If even that is not feasible, I move to my favorite coping tool of all: My husband’s extensive knowledge of Victorian English history. An instructor at a community college, he’s home now and teaching remotely. That works in my favor, cause he’s always there. I’d say, “tell me a random fact about Victorian England” and he understands. Something about knowing that Victorians thought the night air was toxic or that they believed women’s ankles were obscene shortcuts anxiety’s trajectory for me. If they survived infectious disease outbreaks with their limited knowledge, I end up thinking, so can we. — Liora Engel-Smith, rural health reporter 

First (and this is a consistent practice) I follow the advice of the former Navy SEAL Admiral William McRaven and I make our bed. Straightening the sheets and tucking in those hospital corners gives me a small sense of control. I smooth the blankets and make sure the comforter is brushed off and blankets are folded and all wrinkle-free. If nothing else goes right during the day, at least you’ve done this small thing to cope, and brought a small amount of order to the day. It takes 5 minutes. 

The second thing we’ve done is established a neighborhood “driveway happy hour.” Saturday afternoon, I send a text to my neighbors, we all bring our own lawn chairs and drinks, snacks, and sit in the driveway at a good social distance and socialize together. Before the pandemic, folks in my neighborhood were always talking about getting together, but this super-easy gathering has finally made it possible! No muss, no fuss!! We’re in our sixth week! — Rose Hoban, founder, and editor 

I live alone and have been a freelancer for many years so life isn’t much different from the pre-COVID days. But I do miss socializing and hanging with friends so I’ve turned to parking lot lunches with people who are local. We bring, pick-up or get drive-thru meals and park next to each other (keeping an appropriate social distance), roll down the windows and spend an hour “together.” Over the weekend, I added a thermos of daiquiris to the mix. It goes a long way toward satisfying the need for human connection so much better than Zoom or Skype. — Melba Newsome, Mecklenburg and Western NC reporter 

As freaked and shaken as most people are by Covid, I recently picked up my worn copy of The Last Battle, the final book in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series. As I grew up reading in late ’50s and early ’60s North Carolina, these seven books gave me as much of a sense of fairness, fun, devotion and ethical behavior as anything else. Brilliantly written, funny in places and truly serious in others, they also instilled in me a love for England, even before the Beatles. So it was that The Last Battle helped lift my eyes and calm my glum spirit in this chaotic season, when natural, deadly harm could lurk on any doorknob or stranger’s breath. — Tommy Goldsmith, aging reporter 

I’m a single parent to a 9 year old. Our house has been chaotic for the several weeks and it can be challenging to cope. The one thing we’ve stuck to during quarantine is bedtime. This is the only bit of our routine we’ve managed to keep intact. A full night’s sleep means fewer and less intense meltdowns for both of us. It also allows me a few minutes of quiet time in the morning and a few minutes in the evening after she goes to bed. Sometimes I have a glass of wine or dally as I walk the dogs and just take a deep breath and be thankful our family is healthy. — Anne Ehlers, development director 

Making her bed every morning helps editor Rose Hoban cope. THe photo shows a bed with tidy comforter and folded blankets
NC Health News editor Rose Hoban finds it strangely reassuring to have the comforter smooth and blankets folded on her bed as a way to start the day. Photo credit: Rose Hoban

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