Social Distancing? Not If You’re a Cop

Mar 24, 2020

13 tips to help you and your family through this pandemic.

As a police psychologist, I am used to responding to crises and offering my help to first responders and families when they need it. It feels bad to be told to stay home, shelter-in-place and even worse to be among the vulnerable. My hat is off to everyone who has to work, is ordered to work, who drops their plans and volunteers to work—and to those first responder families who are holding down the fort, juggling jobs, homeschooling children and everything else it takes to keep life running.

I’m also a writer. I’ve been sheltering-in-place for years. It’s what writers do. I’ve learned a few things from both of these careers, odd bits of wisdom that have helped me in times of crisis. In the interest of trying to practice what I preach (see below), I’d like to share them with you. Try them on, let me know what fits. Leave a comment with ideas of your own.

1. Get dressed and make the bed, no matter what.

2. Make a plan for the day: Schedule something with a tangible outcome so you can see results. Rearrange your sock drawer,  mow the lawn, learn something new, teach your kids a magic trick, bake cookies, work on a puzzle. Simple things that are doable.  It will help you remember that you aren’t as helpless as you may feel.

2a. Be content with tiny victories.

3. Remember to breathe. This graphic will help.

4. Take a walk or download an exercise video. Exercise is the best medicine and it’s free.

5. Practice gratitude: Write a letter or an email to someone who has helped you. You’ll feel less alone. Instead of focusing on the bad (there is some) look for times when you are the recipient of generosity and kindness. It doesn’t have to be big. A smile or a “thank you, officer” is enough. I am very grateful for the generous offerings I’ve found on the internet from celebrities and everyday folk: music, classes, tours, books, words of encouragement, friendship, and a lot of laughs.

6. Do what resilient people do: Find something positive, yet realistic, in a negative situation. Think of it, pollution is down and the dolphins are back in Venice. On my daily strolls, I’ve noticed how many more fathers are walking with children. They may be out of a job or mandated to work from home, neither of which was in their control, but how they use this new-found time is entirely up to them (see #11).

6a. Fight negativity: Make a concerted effort to add positive things to your day. Watch a funny video or movie. Find something or someone that makes you laugh. Smile at yourself in the mirror as you are washing your hands and singing Happy Birthday to your reflection. Dr. Carrie Steiner, police psychologist and former police officer, recommends lightening your day with or

7. Live alone or feel like you do because your mate is working overtime? People need people. It’s in our DNA. Use social media in creative ways with virtual movie viewing parties or dance nights. Exercise with friends, check on your neighbors, just keep your distance.

8. Homeschooling driving you bats? Go here for help. Or here.

9. Volunteer to help someone else: Shop for a neighbor, make masks for your local hospital, post something sweet, funny, or inspirational online. Helping others is an evidence-based way to reduce depression.

10. Go with the flow: Flow experiences are those experiences where you are so totally absorbed time flies by. It’s different for all of us. For me, it’s cooking, reading, and jigsaw puzzles.

11. Remember the donut: This is one of the most important teachings we offer at the First Responders’ Support Network retreats. In the donut hole is what you can control: your thoughts, your attitudes, your professionalism, and your ethics. The donut itself is your sphere of influence. Influence is different from control. Influence comes from love, caring, compassion, and emotional intelligence, meaning the ability to read yourself and others and regulate your emotions in proportion to the situation. Outside the donut is everything else, none of which is in your control. If you start to panic or rage, remember the donut.

12. Respect your fear but don’t feed it: These are difficult times with an uncertain future and an invisible enemy. Respect your fear. Treat it and yourself with kindness. Get the most reliable information and use it to challenge your fears. Limit the amount of time you spend listening to the news or surfing the net. If you can’t stop catastrophizing, do it on schedule at the same time every day for no longer than 10 minutes. Remind yourself, this too shall pass.

13. Do what you can, leave the rest behind: My yoga teacher, Yiwen Chang, used to say this. She was a tiny woman who could push off from a plank position to a seated lotus in one move and never get out of breath. All I could do was what I could do. To blame myself for not being different or better would only have discouraged me further. I haven’t taken yoga in years, but Yiwen’s words have become a mantra for way more than yoga.

Finally, please cut yourselves and your family members a little slack. These are tough times. We are all under stress. Be kind to yourself and everyone else. Remember to wash your hands and wear your personal protective gear. Stay safe, be well, and take as good care of yourselves as you do the rest of us.


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