The coronavirus pandemic has turned our world upside-down, leaving people lost, scared, overwhelmed and — at times — defeated.
Feeling helpless right now is totally normal. As humans, we like to think we have power over our lives. When we’re robbed of that, it can be unsettling.
“When we lose control over any significant aspect of our lives, as is happening right now, it is natural to want to find opportunities to exert control over something else,” Utpal Dholakia, professor of marketing at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, told HuffPost. “Doing so makes us feel less helpless.”
While it’s easy to get hung up on the things you can’t change right now, try to focus on the small ways you can make a difference in your community and beyond. Below, eight things you can do if you’re feeling helpless during the COVID-19 outbreak.
1. Stay home and encourage your loved ones to do the same
Hopefully, you’ve already been doing this in accordance with the government guidelines, but digging into the “why” may shift your perspective.
“The smallest action that can make the biggest impact for the greater good is to stay home,” said clinical psychologist Aarti Gupta, founder and clinical director of TherapyNest. “Self-quarantine can feel isolating, but reframing it as social solidarity can be a reminder that everyone else is making the same sacrifice at this time.”
Committing to other health practices like washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, not touching your face, limiting or avoiding use of public transportation and eating nourishing, immune-boosting foods can help, too.
If you have loved ones who refuse to follow proper social distancing protocols, express your concerns in a nonjudgmental way (hard, we know!). Come prepared with facts that might help them reconsider their behavior.
“Talk to your friends and family who are not practicing social distancing and help them see why it is important to follow stay-at-home orders to slow the transmission of the disease,” said Alison Holman, associate professor of nursing at the University of California, Irvine. “Be a role model for socially responsible behavior by practicing behaviors that decrease the likelihood of spreading the virus.”
2. Resist the urge to panic-buy
In the face of so much unpredictability, the temptation to stockpile necessities like food, toilet paper and other household goods is understandable. But know that overbuying makes it hard for more vulnerable populations — like the elderly and lower-income folks — to get the essential supplies they need. And seeing empty shelves only fuels more of this behavior.
“Panic-buying is one way we try to gain control over our disrupted lives,“ Dholakia said. “However, it is unplanned, often wasteful and can lead to financial harm, making us feel guilty and selfish afterward.”
“We also help our communities, the retailers and their supply chains by giving them some breathing room to acclimate to these new circumstances,” Dholakia said.
3. Support local businesses hit hard by the pandemic
To the extent that you’re able, keep buying from the restaurants, bars, bakeries, shops and salons in your neighborhood. You can order takeout food and drinks or buy gift cards to use at those establishments when they open again.
“Now is the time to show support to these businesses and their staff and delivery people,” Dholakia said. “We can do this by patronizing the businesses as we would any other time and tipping service staff as well as we can afford.”
If money is tight, consider writing an online review for some of your favorite spots.
4. Donate to a food bank
“Not everyone has the luxury of extra income at this time, but if you do, consider donating to your local food bank or soup kitchen,” Gupta said.
5. Adopt or foster a pet
Many shelters across the U.S. have had to close their doors to the public and cancel adoption events, while also dealing with staffing shortages. During times of economic hardship, shelters often see an uptick in the number of pet surrenders and strays, so getting more furry friends into homes now is important.
“Adopting or fostering a dog during this pandemic would be a great support to a strained system, and can bring a much needed and welcomed distraction from all the bad news,” said Erin Stanton, founder of Susie’s Senior Dogs.
Or, you can offer to buy pet food or medications for a friend, relative or neighbor who wants to keep their dog but is struggling financially, Stanton added.
6. Write messages of encouragement to people on the front lines
Doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, pharmacists, garbage collectors and delivery workers are just some of the people who have put their own health on the line to help others during the outbreak. Let them know how grateful you are for their service.
“Send emails, leave notes, or post signs letting them know you see them and you care,” said clinical psychologist Therese Mascardo, founder of Exploring Therapy. “Going out of your way with the smallest act can make a huge difference in someone’s entire outlook and week.”
You can do the same for people in industries like travel and tourism, entertainment and event planning whose livelihoods have been threatened by the pandemic, Mascardo added.
7. If you can sew, make face masks and donate them
Health care professionals — and other essential workers — are in dire need of personal protective equipment like face masks. If you know how to sew, you can use online patterns to help create masks at home.
Before getting started, check to see if hospitals or other organizations in your area are accepting donated masks. If so, make sure the masks meet any requirements they may have for use in a medical setting.
And if sewing isn’t your forte, you can still help out by writing or calling your elected representatives to “encourage them to prioritize getting businesses to safely manufacture the much-needed supplies, like N95 masks and gowns, that will protect our health care workers from harm,” Holman said.
8. Make a list of people you’ve been meaning to catch up with and call them
Now that you may have some extra time on your hands, reach out to friends or relatives you haven’t heard from in a while but want to reconnect with.
“You can simply call to check in, or go the extra mile and take the opportunity to express to them just how much they have positively impacted your life,” Mascardo said. “Chances are, both of you will leave the conversation feeling more positive, seen and hopeful than you did before — it’s the magic of being around people that care about you.”
A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus