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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

If you would have told me at the end of January that I’d be cooped up in the house with my kids for weeks on end, their schools canceled, the shuls shuttered, all play-dates off, all meetings with friends shelved, or that if I wanted to interact with anyone accept my immediate family, I’d have to stand six feet apart from them, assuming they weren’t in quarantine and could come out of their house at all, I would have thought you were describing something out of a science fiction movie.

No libraries, malls, parks, gyms, movies––”It’s not possible,” I’d retort. “Not in America in 2020 with all the modern technology we have at our fingertips and access to top medical specialists in every field.”

The 8 p.m. curfew was initially very hard for many, and then it expanded to day-time hours as well, where we were strongly encouraged to stay inside our homes except for essential activities. And somehow we dealt with this as well, with varying degrees of success.

Slowly everything besides food and drug stores seems to have shut down. My kids’ dentist shut his doors, then his orthodontist, and last week his pediatrician closed his doors as well, though the office did admit there was an on-call doctor available to return phone calls in urgent cases. We hear about people sick in the hospital, and we reach for our Tehillim, praying for a refuah shleimah for these sick individuals and hoping for a return to normalcy. How long can this go on?

This situation can leave one feeling very anxious. People are out of work, and they worry how they will pay their bills. “How are my parents, are they safe? How long will my kids be out of school? With my Pesach plans scrapped, please let them go back to school after Pesach…” In the back of my head I’m praying Summer camp is still on. For those in quarantine or living alone, the social isolation can be extraordinarily challenging.

One way to deal with this stressful situation, is to tell oneself, “gam zeh ya’avor” or “this too shall pass.” This passage was written on King Solomon’s ring and reminds us not to get overly despondent during hard times, as they will have an end, and to fully savor the good times in life, as they too have an end.

God is clearly running the show here and has proven Himself trustworthy in our lives, and now we must trust him once again. At times like this, working on our emunah, can go a long way. There are many great books out there such as the “Living Emunah Series” by Rabbi David Ashear, which one can study with their families.

Children are scared now and it is important to reassure them that we are here for them and things will be OK. Learning simple emunah principles with them can help ease their worries. It is also very important to take each day one day at a time and see the blessings and silver linings in each day.

There are exercise classes available online, and Zoom is also a good resource to take advantage of. There are countless Zoom shiurim to learn from, and you can use Zoom to set up a nightly reunion for your extended family, which gives everyone something to look forward to throughout the day.

We can get a little more rest now, and savor time with our kids, really enjoying their antics and watching them in live time, instead of zipping by them at night with a mumbled word here and there. The pause button is on and we are all trying to figure out how to cope, but finding the blessings in our life, and the blessings in each day and staying today focused is a wonderful tool to help us get through it.

For those who need a little extra help with anxiety and fear, two very common emotions people are grappling with these days, meditation can be extremely useful. You can access wonderful meditations to do throughout the day when feeling tense, by downloading the “Insight Timer” App onto your smart phone or through the website Authormarkvanburen.com. Both are wonderful resources to keep your mind healthy and uncluttered. Being proactive and action oriented can help give you some semblance of control at a time when we feel so not in control. It can be helpful to keep a journal, read an inspiring book, or try to grow in an area you’ve been working on forever, be it exhibiting more patience, praying with more concentration, being more forgiving, reaching out and calling single friends and family members and so forth.

In terms of other ways to tackle the anxiety and worry, one thing people should not do is be on the internet/Facebook all day listening to every detail of this virus unfolding. While speaking with clients via phone or video in the last few weeks, I have found that those individuals who aren’t following the news every minute as it unfolds are definitely calmer and less anxious.
You don’t have to know about every single development the second it unfolds. I assure you, you will find out the important information you need to know. Instead, read a book, pray, work, exercise or do an art project with your family.

Finally, for those whose anxiety and fear are overwhelming to the point of thwarting their daily functioning, there are psychotropic medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), Lexapro, Zoloft, Paxil and Prozac to name a few, and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Effexor, Cymbalta and Pristiq which can offer immeasurable help. At times a practitioner might decide to add a benzodiazepine temporarily such as Klonopin, Xanax or Valium if one is having persistent waves of panic or difficulty sleeping, as these offer immediate relief and can be tapered back when one’s situation improves. There are other classes of anxiolytics that can be very effective such as Buspirone, Vistaril and at times a small addition of an antipsychotic such as Risperidone or Abilify to the treatment regimen can provide much needed relief. For some adding a short term sleep-aid such as Trazodone or Ambien will help get through a challenging time.

Good luck to all, stay safe and remember “gam zeh ya’avor,” We will get through this together.


Shani Stein MD maintains a private practice in Teaneck, NJ where she treats individuals 16 years old and over. She can be reached at 201-591-5230.