Tips to Navigate through COVID-19

It has been a few months since COVID-19 first showed its lethal teeth to the humankind. Although the worst part seems to be behind us and people have in general felt more optimistic, the pandemic is still not yet over. Navigating through this unfamiliar territory is daunting. Below are some tips that I have used in my own life to help me feel better during COVID-19.

1. Apply for government assistance programs.

Hopefully by now you are all aware of these programs, but I think it is still worth reiterating. The governments all over the world have stepped up and offered various assistance programs for eligible residents. Policies differ by country, but they are all united by the same goal: to financially support residents get through COVID-19. For example, the government of Canada has offered the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides $2,000 every month for residents who got laid off due to COVID-19. In the US, the Economic Impact Payment provides $1,200 for eligible individuals, and $500 for each qualifying child. The government of Australia has also offered different measures including two $750 Economic Support Payments.

Please make sure that you check your government’s official website to find out what programs are available and what you are eligible for.

2. If your government doesn’t provide what you need, make your voice heard.

Governments are trying their best to help their citizens.

I do believe that the governments have been trying their best to make sure that the programs cover as many affected people as they can. However, we must bear in mind that they have to act within such a short period of time and that politicians, like ourselves, have their own biases and blindspots. As a result, the governments may not necessarily have been able to enact policies that meet everybody’s needs. For example, the first benefit plan that the Canadian government introduced neglected post-secondary students and workers who suffered a significant pay cut even though they did not lose their jobs. The government has subsequently added additional programs, or modified eligibility criterion, to patch up the overall COVID-19 assistance plan.

But the policies are not yet perfect.

Of course, a quick browse through reddit can make you realize that the policies are still not perfect. For example, although the Ontario government has promised to provide some frontline workers with a temporary $4 pandemic premium on their hourly wages, it hasn’t fulfilled its promise yet, not to mention that the list of occupations eligible does not cover all front-line workers.

Make your problems known to policy makers.

But I do strongly believe that the policies are fluid. If the problem is big enough (like in the case of students), the government will be willing to make adjustments. So if for whatever you are excluded from benefits that you desperately need, make your voice heard. You can leverage all the social media you can, or even send emails to your local politicians. Complaining to your family and closest friends can make you feel better, but it won’t change your conditions, because the policy makers don’t know how you feel. What’s the worst that can happen? Well, it will just be that you spend a few hours (that you would have spent otherwise watching TV) writing some emails and posts that nobody responds and reads, but if there is enough of you, your problem will become visible to the decision makers.

3. Negotiate your financial responsibilities with all service providers.

This is an all-encompassing blanket statement that should apply to all of your debts and monthly financial obligations. They include your personal lines of credit, personal loans or small business loans, credit cards, mortgages, insurance premiums, and more. Remember that your financial service providers are here to support you. Ultimately, they still want to retain your business in the long run. Most financial service providers should by now have a fairly reasonable policy and process in place to help their customers. Give them a phone call to request for delayed payments or a lower interest rate.

You may also be able to lower your financial obligations like insurance premiums. The Ontario government has amended a regulation under the Insurance Act to make it easier to auto insurance companies to provide temporary insurance premium rebates to drivers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several companies have publicly announced that they are providing rebates. However, if yours is not on the list, please still go ahead and give them a call. They may have just not publicized the rebates.

I understand your frustration that the phone calls are almost impossible to go through, but please keep trying. You can also send secured messages through their online portals. Personally, what works for me the best is to wake up early, and give my financial service provider a call as soon as they open.

4. If you are fortunate enough to still have an employer, encourage them to do something extra.

My company has done a great job helping employees navigate through COVID-19. The Human Resources team started a Wellness Wednesday series. Every Wednesday, they host a special activity to help people engaged. We have had public health authorities virtually join us to talk about COVID-19, chefs to demonstrate some recipes you can make at home, or even just a few employees showcasing their barbecue skills. These are fun sessions that can bring some elements of peace and happiness, even if transient.

My department has also been hosting quite a few Zoom coffee shops in the morning and Zoom bars at the end of the day for employees to socialize and have a beer together. Of course, this is not the same as happy hour, but it still helps us feel connected during this special time while we are all working from home.

If your employer is already doing something like this, then fantastic! Please do make an effort to join these events. They will really help you feel better. If your employer isn’t doing anything like this, come up with an idea and share it with your human resources department.

5. Host a Zoom bar with family and friends.

On a related note, you can also introduce Zoom into your life. Zoom will let you virtually hang out with people you cannot meet because of social distancing measures. Feel free to be creative and host Zoom bars, dinners, or even birthday celebrations with your family and friends. One of my friends has managed to coordinate with her entire family living in different parts of the world to cook the same recipes and enjoy food together at the same time. Although Zoom is not as good as face-to-face interactions, it is still better than nothing.

6. Book a phone appointment with your family doctor.

Due to social distancing measures, many family doctors’ offices, including my own, are closed. Even if they are open, you may still worry about in-person sessions with your family doctors and other patients. But what if you have an issue that needs to be addressed?

For example, I had some weird rashes randomly appearing on my body. Even after repeated applications of home remedies I found on Google, I still couldn’t get rid of them. Frustrated and concerned that the rashes would get worse, I searched for doctors’ offices that were open. I stumbled upon offices that actually offered phone appointments. I was able to book a ten-minute phone appointment with a medical doctor, who prescribed some ointments for me to pick up at the pharmacy. The entire process, from registration, to the final pick-up, was seamless. My rashes were gone in two days thanks to using the correct medication.

The moral of the story is, take advantage of phone appointments if they are available. Don’t delay taking care of your health, even during a pandemic.

7. Look for online counselling if you feel stressed.

Many therapists are also offering virtual counselling sessions or self-help programs to help you navigate through COVID-19. For example, BounceBack has a free program that helps people who are “experiencing mild-to-moderate anxiety or depression, or may be feeling low, stressed, worried, irritable or angry.” Canada Mental Health Association branches may not be open, but they still offer services through Ontario Telemedicine Network, Zoom and phone. If you already have a therapist, feel free to reach out to him/her to see if they offer virtual sessions as well.

Sometimes all you need is a bit of professional guidance, and there is a world of professional counsellors to help you. If you are feeling unusually sad or negative, make sure that you proactively reach out to them and take control of your own emotions and mental health.

8. Journalling.

I find journalling to be particularly powerful and calming at this time. My journal is a safe place for me to write down all of my thoughts, regardless of how crazy they are. Writing things down seems to have a therapeutic effect on me. I often feel that my worries lessen as the tip of my pen moves on the paper. If you don’t have a pretty journal at home, some scrap paper, or just a Word document, will do. All you need is a place to put down your thoughts. You may find that you get a lot of clarity as you scribble down all the random worries you have on your mind.

9. Find something productive to do.

Do you have a side project that you have been neglecting? Is there anything you should do but you have been procrastinating on? Are there any online courses you want to take but were always short of time? Do you want to step up and give back to your community? Now it is a perfect time to knock one or more items off your to-do list. You may head to Instrutables to learn how to make a wooden table, Coursera or Udemy to take some financial courses, take up your vacuum and do a thorough cleaning of your house, or volunteer for your local no-contact grocery delivery for frontline health workers or seniors. Time will pass by quickly without your even realizing it, and you will for sure feel a sense of fulfilment by the end of it.

10. Yes, you can cut yourself some slack.

What if you just don’t feel like doing anything? What if you just want to watch that TV show for the fourth time? Yes, you are allowed to just lie in bed, or watch that TV show. You are allowed to feel sad and down. It is okay to cut yourself some slack.

Final thoughts

Finally, remember that you are not alone. We are all in this together, and we will get through it together. If you have kids at home learning remotely, you may want to check out Chrissy’s tips over at Eat Sleep Breath FI.

I hope these COVID-19 tips are helpful for you. Please leave a comment down below if you want to share any thoughts!

P.S., if you are interested in learning more about my personal reflections on COVID-19, check out my blog post here!

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