Riding the wave

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”

—Henry David Thoreau

“The breaking of a wave cannot explain the whole sea.”

—Vladimir Nabokov

As I write this, we are on the verge of yet another wave of COVID-19, this one the omicron variant, which is much more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus, up to five times more according to one study. A recent report suggests that omicron multiplies 70 times faster in the airways (or bronchial tubes), probably one of the reasons why it’s more transmissible. A study out of Johns Hopkins reported on in early December by aidsmap found that while COVID-19 is uncommon for those who are fully vaccinated, whether living with HIV or not, “fully vaccinated people with HIV are about 40% more likely to experience breakthrough cases than HIV-negative people, regardless of CD4 counts or viral suppression.”

The jury is still out on whether omicron results in milder infections overall, but the sheer number of increased cases likely means the absolute number of hospitalizations and deaths will go up, regardless. And we need to be careful not to categorize it as a milder virus. “We know that people infected with omicron can have the full spectrum of disease, from asymptomatic infection to mild disease, all the way to severe disease to death,” says Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) COVID-19 technical lead, as reported by CNBC.

A wave of exhaustion is sweeping over many of us, with some carrying on their holiday travel plans and parties as usual, tiring of nearly two years of mandates and restrictions, while others are cancelling their plans, and accepting uncertainty as the new normal. But no one is as exhausted as the health care workers who have been battling this nonstop for the last 20 months, with no clear end in sight. We salute all of the doctors, nurses, and health care staff who continue to care for the sick and the dying, even though many hospitals are short-staffed, workers are demoralized and suffering from PTSD, and everyone is just plain overwhelmed and tired.

So how do we navigate or ride these waves, and keep from going completely under or even drowning? Here are some things that have helped me, so I’m sharing them here in the event they might help someone else.

Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and my mind starts racing and I can’t get back to sleep. A few years ago I discovered the box breathing—or square breathing—technique, and it really works. Basically, you breathe in, hold your breath, breathe out, and hold your breath again, all for the same amount of time (for example you can slowly count to four each time). Then repeat, repeat, repeat. I’m usually asleep before I know it, because I’m focusing on the technique so the thoughts just fall away. It’s even used by the Navy SEALs in stressful situations as a way to stay calm. 

Limiting consumption of news and social media. This one is tough for me because it’s part of my job to stay up to speed on what’s going on, and to use social media to promote our work. But it’s about finding the right balance. There are free apps and features on your smartphone that can help you limit your screen time and increase productivity and focus.

Getting out in nature. Even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood or the yard, the exercise alone will do you good. It doesn’t hurt to get away from your screen and technology, and get in touch with the natural world around you. If your eyes are straining and dry, or your anxiety is going up, that’s probably a sure sign you need a break. Finding quiet and solitude (no AirPods, please!) while walking through a forest preserve or public garden is free, and can be very healing.

Connecting with others. We’ve had to find different ways to connect these last two years, and nothing beats the face-to-face interaction with another human being. But if you can’t see each other in person, using technology to stay in touch whether it’s through phone/video calls, texts, Zoom or other virtual meeting platforms, finding connection is vital to breaking out of the isolation that can often lead to loneliness and despair if left unaddressed.

I’d love to hear from you about ways that you’ve found to help you keep centered and focused, and stay connected with others, while taking care of your mind, body, and soul. We’ll get through this, one wave at a time, until the waves become ripples and have dissipated. Still and calm waters exist—we just have to search them out, be patient, and have faith that they lie ahead.

Until then, take care of yourself and each other.