ABC News' Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton has been reporting on the novel coronavirus daily, helping Americans understand the medical updates throughout this public health crisis that has changed daily life.
Now, in an upcoming book, "The New Normal: A Roadmap to Resilience in the Pandemic Era," Dr. Ashton is sharing a doctor’s guide to finding resilience in the time of COVID with ways to stay safe and sane in this new world. From finding emotional balance, to exercise, to diet, to general health, Dr. Ashton shares the tools to teach you to think like a doctor and take charge of your own wellbeing and mental health. She also shares the latest information she's learned from the nation's top infectious disease specialists to help you make smart and safe decisions in your daily life about topics from grocery shopping to caring for children, returning to school, playdates, and more.
"The New Normal" is available Feb. 9. Start reading now with an excerpt below.
Self-Talk for Pandemic Living
In our new normal, where things often feel upside down or uncertain, what you tell yourself is key to keeping your emotions in check. Self-talk requires self-honesty, though, along with the recognition that whatever you’re feeling is okay. Try not to judge yourself, fight your feelings, or pretend those emotions aren’t there.
To heal, you need to be honest with yourself about what you are experiencing. There is no wrong answer.
Acknowledge your loss.
We’ve all suffered loss. The first step in mourning that loss is to recognize that it happened and that any negative emotions you might feel now exist for a reason. You don’t need to dwell on your loss, but don’t minimize or sugarcoat it, ei- ther. Acknowledgment opens the door to acceptance.
Accede to uncertainty.
I’ve said it on air multiple times: No one has a crystal ball. No one knows what will happen tomorrow— or two weeks or two years from tomorrow. This has always been true, but it’s even more applicable in a pandemic. Neither you nor I nor even Dr. Anthony Fauci knows how this will end or what our world will look like in the future. And that’s okay.
Acceding to uncertainty can help you stop searching for answers in a cloudy crystal ball. It can help you learn to enjoy the moment and look to the future with open arms. What will be, will be. The future could be wonderful, it could be challenging, or it could be both, but that’s the beauty of life: When nothing is sure, everything is possible.
Choose facts over fear.
This simple mantra helped me overcome my own fears and anxiety. While raw emotions like sorrow, loneliness, and anxiety may feel real, they’re not based in facts --- they’re your responses to a situation or set of circumstances. Identifying and focusing on what you know to be true instead of letting what you think or feel might be true can help change how you respond.
For example, if you’re feeling anxious because you’ve lost your job, reevaluate your own set of facts. Is there a way to earn a living that you’re choosing not to pursue for some reason? Is there a way to use this as opportunity to remake yourself or reenter the workforce at a higher level? Your answers are the facts. You don’t have to act on them, but identifying and reminding yourself of the evidence can turn unpleasant emotions into inner peace.
Replace grief with gratitude.
When we suffer a loss, no matter the scope, it leaves a hole in our hearts. We can either wallow in it or start to heal that hole by replacing our grief with gratitude. It can be difficult to be thankful in challenging times, but we can all find things to be grateful for, whether it’s your health, a roof over your head, a special relationship with a friend, or even the ability to purchase and read a book.
You can also be grateful for the same thing you’re grieving—in fact, doing so can help you recover from a loss more quickly. For example, you may be upset that you can’t see your family in person, but you can be grateful that you have family in the first place.
Let it RAIN.
This easy-to-remember acronym, created by psychologist Tara Brach, stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture, which means recognize your feelings; allow them to exist; investigate why you’re feeling this way; and nurture yourself with self-compassion. It’s one of the most useful tools I’ve found that can help me slow down whenever I feel my thoughts or feelings are spinning out of control.
RAIN may sound simple, but when you recognize your feelings, allow them to exist, and try to view your pain from a different perspective, you open yourself up to a new level of awareness and the fact that you are hurting. You can then try to give yourself the compassion you need, whether it’s in the form of forgiveness, reassurance, or simply self-love.
Sales of booze and comfort foods like cookies and chips skyrocketed soon after the pandemic hit. While indulging in either can seem like a way to avoid pain and uncertainty, consuming too much alcohol or junk food usually just intensifies our troubles after the initial buzz of booze or sugar wears off. What’s more, drinking too much or eating too much sugar can harm your physical health, potentially making you more susceptible to COVID-19.
Establish a routine.
After your whole world shatters, creating a new safe haven can help ease your anxiety and loss. You likely haven’t been able to resurrect the daily routine you had before the pandemic, and that’s okay. Instead, just create a new routine and stick to it.
Minimize the news.
This may sound surprising coming from someone who delivers the news daily, but watching or reading media 24/7 might drag you down deeper into the depths of despair, according to mental-health professionals. Try unplugging for a few days to assess whether it buoys you up, mentally or emotionally. When I took on a mini staycation in July 2020, I didn’t turn on my television once or check news on my phone for nine days. I felt much more relaxed, not only because I wasn’t working around the clock, but also because I wasn’t engaging in the emotional overload news can trigger for some people.
Find meaning in life’s little things.
Several months after the pandemic hit, I found myself taking real pleasure in previously pedestrian activities like cutting the grass and cooking a new meal. Since I wasn’t able to accomplish things in other areas of my life, I realized that these everyday projects had taken on new meaning, especially when they offered a visceral sense of accomplishment, like seeing a freshly cut lawn or tasting a delicious new dish. Since then, I’ve learned to celebrate more of life’s little victories.
From THE NEW NORMAL by Jennifer Ashton, M.D. Copyright © 2021 by JLA Enterprises Corporation. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.