Columns

Richard’s Almanac:Taking charge

Don’t let situations push you around. Instead, take charge of the situation and push it around.”

I remember hearing that advice at one of the many, many commencement addresses I’ve heard over the past half century. And in most cases I try to follow it in managing my daily activities. But not now.

The situation that we’ve been in since mid-March has been one that seems out of our control. Most of us are dutifully following all the behaviors and restrictions imposed by our elected officials.

But results are coming very slowly.

As a septuagenarian who’s been self-quarantined since I returned to the Island on March 17, I ventured out to the grocery store this past week. I wore my mask and gloves, maintained my distance from other shoppers and washed my hands thoroughly upon returning home. I also followed required procedures and picked up my mail at the Post Office and then made a brief visit to the hardware store.

I haven’t been off this island for some two and a half months. And I’m sure that I am not alone when I say that this lifestyle, such as it is, is stressful. Particularly for older folks.

Most of us are retired and many came from professions where we were in charge and got results from our labors. Now we just get frustrated. So what do we do to cope with this stress that can be very detrimental to our health?

I checked out a guide published by Massachusetts General Hospital called, “Manage Your Stress During Times of Crisis,” that was given to me by Senior Center Director Laurie Fanelli.

According to the guide, whatever the cause of the stress is, learning how to relax and find perspective is crucial. Reading the daily papers on a regular basis can cause stress resulting from the sense of impotence brought on when hearing about all the tragedy in the world.

And all the bad news about the coronavirus pandemic so close to home has a way of making us feel “overwhelmed and anxious.”

“Apart from triggering feelings of anxiety or depression that can interfere with our daily functioning and long-term mental health, stress can also affect our ability to stay healthy and defend illnesses ranging from COVID-19 to a common cold,” the guide states, adding: “Stress, immunity and disease progression are all interrelated.”

So how do we reduce these potentially dangerous stressors that might undermine our physical and mental health?

Dr. Maurizio Fava, psychiatrist-in-chief at Mass. General, says that for those of us spending most of our time at home, lifestyle changes to keep stress from taking over include exercise, diet and sleep.

“Regular exercise can both reduce stress and improve mood,” Dr. Fava says, adding: “Getting adequate sleep through good sleep hygiene’s also critical. Avoiding cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs can also help. And of course, try to eat a healthy balanced diet, reducing caffeine and excessive carbohydrates. Establishing a new routine can be helpful as well.”

Do not let stress get the best of you. Meet it head on and use everything available on this island to beat it down. Get your exercise by going for walks on our beaches and in our woods. Experiment with new recipes — I made some pizza dough the other day and amazed myself. I also made what I thought was a very good pot roast.

And read all those books you never had time to complete.

I received a call from the library last week and I said that not going there on a regular basis to get new fiction, gave me the opportunity to read books in my house.

We must believe that this will be over soon.