Article and Photography by Gabe Chiuli | Owl Staff
Back in 2009, when I first deployed to Afghanistan, I was a young private without much experience in combat stress or being in such a hostile location overall. I slowly adapted, but it was inevitably a very isolating feeling. I was in the middle of nowhere, sitting at a Forward Operating Base with limited contact to the outside world.
What does this have to do with the current situation that COVID-19 has presented our world with? The idea of isolation can be very demanding on the human psyche.
You have to train yourself and re-learn that it actually is fine. You must find a way to adopt the mentality that everything will be okay and that you just need to adapt yourself to the situation.
The CDC explained that “Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. How you respond to the outbreak can depend on your background, the things that make you different from other people, and the community you live in.” The truth is, as an individual, you are responsible for finding what it is that is causing your stress.
Since March 14, 2020, my organization has implemented a 100% teleworking schedule. I found the silver lining in teleworking to be more time to spend with my amazing dog, Baxter.
We have been going out for long walks and a morning run almost every day, and we’ve been enjoying afternoon games of fetch in absolutely gorgeous Spring weather. I really came to think to myself, “is this isolation, or a time to rest?” Time to reset and reprioritize the things in my life. Time to appreciate what I have come to undervalue.
As a veteran, I often receive valuable information from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. In a recent email, they advise that we “accept circumstances that cannot be changed and focus on what you can alter; modify your definition of a “good day” to meet the current reality of the situation; problem-solve and set achievable goals within the new circumstances in your life.”
The similarities to my deployment in Afghanistan were striking. Like circumstances in self-isolation, I found myself accepting the situation, coming to terms with what a good day should mean, and giving myself achievable goals.
I find that my new goals since self-isolation have provided even more exercise than when I was going to the gym. According to my Apple Watch, my activity has been higher during morning runs with Baxter, or that afternoon game of fetch.
The other major change in living with our new situation has been minimizing my interaction with news and social media. In a recent article, Johns Hopkins child psychologist, Joseph McGuire, Ph.D., M.A. says, “while keeping informed about current events is important, too much attention can cause problems.” I find social media to be our first instinctual step during a crisis. However, it can create unnecessary stress and anxiety during elongated situations like the COVID-19 pandemic and my deployment.
I have found newfound happiness in reprioritizing things in my life, and life has slowly fallen back into place. I found my own way of maintaining social distancing and increasing my overall mental health, which would probably deteriorate otherwise.
I even found a mental reward in turning my phone off and enjoying more quality time with my dog Baxter.
Oh, and I know he appreciates it too.