Friday, April 17, 2020

When panic gives way to drudgery

You're tired of the pandemic. Your habitual ways of dulling pain–Netflix binges, a second glass (bottle?) of wine, constant snacking–have stopped feeling like an escape and are starting to feel like a problem. It no longer feels urgent to check the news multiple times a day, though some of us still do it. I see (and feel) it happening like you do.

I heard an interview recently with a man who had been at the center of the SARS epidemic in China a few years ago. When asked what that lockdown experience was like, he said it was six weeks of intense fear followed by months of drudgery. He expressed a concern that we are moving these days from panic into drudgery.

What do we do now?

Most of life is lived in the face of drudgery. The adrenaline-laced moments are few and far between. We live most days putting one foot in front of the other.

Here are four tactics you can use to navigate the mind-numbing drudgery of these days:

1. Don't forget there's a monster under your bed. The pandemic is still a real thing, in spite of the fact that we all collectively want to move on. The challenges are still real. Your fears for your loved ones may not feel as urgent, but they're still hiding deep in your gut. Remind yourself that you're still in this struggle, and how you deal with it is important.

2. Clean the kitchen. Pick one chore, or a short list, to accomplish today. Don't plan to redecorate your entire house, but pick a few manageable things to finish. When you finish the dishes, mentally pat yourself on the back and take a minute to appreciate the cleanliness. It won't last, but seeing that you've accomplished something is its own reward.

3. Put the ice cream back in the freezer. You don't have to give up all your painkilling behaviors, but remember: When you numb pain, you also numb joy. Limit how much you indulge. A day a week, consider "fasting" from your favorite painkiller. It will hurt, but you might also find that you can feel joy and excitement in a new way as well.

4. Learn to play the ukulele. Choose one small skill and learn it. Decide that when this pandemic fades to memory, you are going to be better, faster, stronger, in one concrete way. Then, a little bit at a time, pursue that strength. If you are slightly familiar with another language, decide you're going to get a little more fluent. If you've always wanted to know the Bible better, read a chapter a day.

Finally, and this is important, give yourself a break. Be gracious when the frustration and panic rise to the surface again. Be gentle with yourself when you need it. Talk to a friend, watch a clip of your favorite comedian, go for a walk. Life is still very good. We're just settling in for the long haul, and it's still challenging.


  1. I appreciate all of your writings Jeff. I am so thankful you married Judy and I (Bob) in Elk River fourteen years ago. I would love to talk with you if you have time? May God keep you safe, continue to bless and show his grace, peace and love to you.

  2. I'd love to chat. My email is -- that's maybe the best way to figure out how to have a conversation.