After witnessing the 9/11 terrorist attacks from his Manhattan office in 2001, Barry Davret spent weeks overcoming anxiety.
“We saw the buildings on fire and all the craziness,” Davret says.
When he got back to his apartment, he became obsessed with watching news footage of the attacks.
“I just glued myself to the TV and just started watching nonstop, and the more I watched the more tension I felt,” he recalls.
After the news about COVID-19 started breaking in February, he says “I felt very much the same.” He started repeating mistakes from the past. Instead of separating himself from the non-stop news coverage, he found himself repeatedly checking social media. It only triggered more anxiety, he says.
“I wasn’t able to do work even though I was lucky enough to still have a job,” says Davret, a product manager for a financial services company.
Davret, who is currently working from home, is self-isolating with his family in New Jersey. Using what he learned from 9/11, Davret created a set of rules to keep his stress levels to a minimum, which he originally wrote about on Medium.
Here’s what Davret, who writes regularly about productivity and relationships, does to stay sane during the pandemic.
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1. He avoids “panic amplifiers”
As the COVID-19 outbreak intensifies, Davret says he feels that same “tension and angst,” he felt in the wake of 9/11, “and the urge to just watch the news or keep abreast on the internet and everything.”
Social media can be an enormous panic amplifier, says Davret. Earlier in the pandemic, he was regularly checking his local community Facebook page for updates about the virus. He says the feeds were filled with people arguing with one another, which added to his stress. He started limiting social media use to only once per day. On Twitter, he mutes specific keywords related to the virus so it isn’t constantly popping up in his feed. He says he also limits the amount of time he spends on Twitter.
“I just caught myself early, and decided I couldn’t do that again,” he says, referring to his obsession with watching the news after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “It was too unhealthy, definitely unproductive, so I just decided I was going to limit myself to a couple times a day, stick to local news rather than mainstream media, and then try to do a lot more work, try to write a lot more than I was before, and it’s been very helpful.”
While he’s limiting how much media he consumes, he says it’s still important to keep up-to-date on the pandemic. At the end of his work day, he checks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization websites to get the latest information about the virus. He also checks one local news source and one national news source, as well as his local emergency management office website, no more than twice a day, he says.
“You’re less tempted to jump into the maelstrom,” says Davret.
2. He stays connected to friends and family online
After 9/11, Davret realized the importance of surrounding oneself with family and friends to help build a sense of security. But in the era of COVID-19, where social distancing has become the new normal, he can’t just meet friends at a bar or go to a family member's home. And even though he lives at home with his wife and children, he says he still needs to be able to connect with other people.
“It’s just nice to be able to see other faces every so often,” he says
To build a sense of connection outside his home, Davret schedules Facetime meetings with friends and external family members every day. He also schedules regular Zoom sessions to connect with fellow writers “where we can all just get together in a group and talk for a little bit.”
3. He binges on healthy distractions
Bad habits are easy to pick up when you’re stressed or bored, so Davret is focused on finding activities that keep him healthy and stimulate creativity. Right now, he says he is reading a book of poems by Donald Hall.
“Just having something to turn to that you can distract yourself for 3-5 minutes is sometimes enough to calm you,” he says. “My wife likes to do yoga and Pilates. A lot of these short exercises help in deflecting some of that tension. That’s much better than distracting yourself on social media or news sites.”
4. He schedules sacred time for himself 30 minutes a day
For a half hour every day, Davret schedules alone time for himself. The time replaces his former commute to work, he says, and is a good opportunity to de-stress before and after work. Whether you want to use this time as an opportunity to exercise or do something creative, it should involve zero work, he says.
“I like to look at it as a combination of light exercise, so for me that’s usually walking, solitude, and disconnection,” he says. “So, when I go for a 30 minute walk I’ll put my phone on airplane mode, go by myself and that combination of solitude and light exercise has that rejuvenating feeling.”
5. He gets creative
Pandemics are ugly. Giving yourself an opportunity to be creative can be an important reminder that beauty still exists in the world, says Davret.
“I think in times of crisis it’s even more important that you focus on creating something and sharing something with the world,” he says.
Davret says he is writing some fiction stories he says will depict what the world might be like after the pandemic is over.
“I find thinking about that helps a lot,” he says. “Like what are the possible social or technological changes that might result in what we’re going through right now? I plan on writing some stories on that in the near future.”