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Maintaining Mental Health While Delivering During a Pandemic

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I believe there is a greater health risk during this pandemic than the virus itself.

And it's not that the risk of this thing is anything small. You can already see how it's overwhelming our medical system. This thing is pretty major.

But what may be bigger still is how it is impacting our mental health. What is the toll it's taking on you, me, those we love?

How are YOU doing through all this?

How is COVID-19 Impacting mental health for couriers with Grubhub, Doordash, Uber Eats and others?

All of the little stresses when delivering

Maybe your experience is different. My experience is that the delivery experience has changed. It just doesn't feel the same, does it?

I always enjoyed the interactions with the folks at the restaurants and with the customers. It was just enough, even if it was a nod, a quick chit chat or a little joke, or simply “have a great one.” Now there's a wariness. I know it's best to keep our distance and I actively do that, but after awhile keeping a distance takes a toll. When we have to look at one another with this thought of “what if you have it?”

I wrote about my approach to wearing gloves when delivering. It's all about being very conscious about the things you touch. It's about assuming any surface that you don't have control over could be infected, and whether wearing gloves or not, your touching those surfaces can transfer that infection to anything else you touch if you're still wearing gloves or if you haven't washed or sanitized in between those touches.

I believe that being smart about keeping distances and about what you touch can go a long, long way towards keeping you safe and keeping everyone you come in contact with safe.

But holy cow, does it take a toll after awhile? Doesn't it? Maybe it's different for you, but all this being conscious about what you touch and how close you are to people… that's exhausting after awhile.

At least for me, I have to say, it can get a little depressing when you have to view everyone else with such wariness. It just goes against the nature of who I am.

And then there's the lingering question…

Meme of a terrified looking dog with the caption "Every time I feel a tickle in my throat...  Is that you Rona?"
There's humor in this meme, but it probably also rings pretty true

Can you relate to this meme?

I can. In a time where sinus and allergies are full bloom and there's all the other seasonal stuff, when you get any kind of feeling that's out of the ordinary, where does your mind wander? In the Podcast three weeks ago I said this virus doesn't scare me. I compared it to working around traffic – you respect it and you get smart about it but you don't live in constant fear of it.

I still don't think I live in fear. But I'll admit there have been moments where I wondered, what if I did catch this thing?

The stress related to this thing can cause more damage than the virus itself.

That's the part that I see a lot of right now. Stress. Worry. Concern.

I see it in the forums. It's in the eyes of the people that I see.

We worry about the virus. We stress over the economy, over whether we'll be able to make an income. Getting the food and supplies we need. Health of friends and loved ones. All of that adds up.

And the thing about all this stress is, it can take its toll. According to this article in the Cleveland Clinic, when you are stressed, your body produces cortisol which limits inflammation. It's part of your body's fight or flight response, which allows us to respond quickly to stressful events. That can be beneficial in the very short term. Too much of it for prolonged periods of time can be harmful. It can also reduce your ability to produce white blood cells. It's those white blood cells that fight infections and viruses.

In other words, too much stress can make us more susceptible to the very disease we are worried about in the first place.

How do we manage stress?

There are a number of ways that we can work to keep our stress levels in check. Web MD has a very helpful article on different approaches to stress. A lot of it boils down to concentrating on what we can control – including our own health.

One of the most influential books I've ever read was Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.* Maybe the most valuable lesson I learned from that book was that we save ourselves so much heartache when we focus on the things we can control rather than stress over what we cannot control. This may be the most important lesson for us today.

Controlling our thoughts

I looked through several articles on how to handle stress. A lot of them come down to your mindset and a lot of them recommend meditation.

The old preacher in me is crying to come out here, so I'm going to let him step up for a moment. I should define preaching though – I don't mean preaching as in trying to cram anything down your throat, but I mean it as declaring good news. And this isn't meant to push any religious ideas, but it's more that there's something I've found in my own faith that has been helpful. I'm not going to strip it of its religious context but at the same time, there's a central truth that is relevant whatever your religious standing. Let me just give this quote from the Bible, and I'll explain what I mean afterwards.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:6-9, New Testament, New International Version

Don't try to picture a blue elephant with pink polka dots

Try this: For the next ten seconds, close your eyes and whatever you do, don't think at all about any goofy looking blue elephants covered in pink polka dots. Whether it's a cartoon elephant like Dumbo or a more realistic picture, just…. don't think about it.

How did that work? Were you able to avoid thinking about it?

That's kind of how it works when we say don't worry, don't stress, don't be anxious. If you leave it at that, guess what we do? What, you mean there's something to worry about? And then we start worrying about not worrying. It's crazy how our mind works.

Here's the background for the quote that I just gave you. The Apostle Paul wrote this while he was in prison because of his faith. He wrote it to a group of believers in Philippi who were being persecuted for their faith. In an era where we're all wondering if we're the next ones up when it comes to this virus, maybe we can relate a little to the thoughts that might be running through their minds. When are some soldiers going to bust through the door and drag us away?

And Paul said don't be anxious.

How do you not be anxious in times like this? But he didn't just leave it at that. He gave some ways to cope, some things we can do to help us NOT be anxious. When you break it down, it sounds a lot like what I said I learned from Covey's book.

Let go of the things you cannot control.

The bottom line is, there are things we can't control. There's so much we don't know about how everything is going to play out, short term or long term. I think there's a point where we need to learn how to accept that. There is so much that I can't do anything about, so why waste my time on those things?

In my faith, I believe it comes down to turning that stuff over to God. He's better equipped to handle the stuff I can't control, you know? There's just a point where I feel like, hey, I can't do anything about this so I'm just going to let you take over here.

You may have a different view, and that's okay. I'm not going to think less of anyone for if they see things the same way as I do. But whatever your outlook on that, the reality remains that when we dwell on the things we can't do anything about, that's going to get to us, you know? One of the suggestions in the WebMD article I mentioned is “accept that there are events that you cannot control.”

One of the best ways to let go of what we can't control is to put our focus on what we CAN control.

I'm sure you've seen this, usually it's dramatized: someone closing their ears and shouting so they don't have to hear what someone is saying. I may or may not have done that as a child… or as an adult.

Shouting out something like  "La la la la" might help us not hear what we don't want to hear.
Shouting out something like “La la la la” might help us not hear what we don't want to hear.

It's probably not a good coping technique in that situation. But the thing about the shouting that is effective is that it replaces the part you don't want to hear.

There is a healthy version of this when it comes to our mindset. It's all about putting your attention on healthy and positive things. Paul didn't just leave it at don't be anxious, it wasn't just left at not dwelling on the things you cannot control. He moved into what you can do to replace those worries.

All of the advice I see out there about stress management suggests trying something like meditation. The whole idea in meditation is to focus your thoughts on something, or sometimes on nothing. Doing so draws your attention away from the negative and the worries. It's an active way of thinking about one thing that replaces concern about something that we cannot control. “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I think the passage I quoted takes it a step further. It talked about where you can focus your thoughts, on whatever is excellent or praiseworthy, but it also allowed for positive action. Do the positive things you can do. It's a way you can take control in a world and a time that seems so out of control.

What can you think about? What can you do?

Rather than get consumed by the things you cannot control, think about what things matter to you. Think about what you would like to do, where you would like to go with your life and your delivery business.

This is a running theme for me: What is your why? Why did you choose to get into this delivery thing? If you haven't listened to it, maybe go back and listen to Episode 3 in the podcast where we talk about drilling down into your why. It's times like this that really get us back to the things that matter. Maybe that why is your excellent or praiseworthy thing that matters so much in your life.

Maybe this is a time to step back and think some more about where you want to go with your life. For my wife and I it's been exactly that. In my market, it's gotten so saturated with other drivers that things have slowed down and it's harder to earn what I was earning. But I decided this was a good opportunity to step back a bit and rather than dwell on the unfortunate circumstances, double down on my why. Use it as an opportunity to do things that help me along to where I want to be eventually. We recently started talking again about how we'd like to spend more time in one of our favorite mountain towns and what could that look like? We started talking about what can we do to make that happen? That's helped us get our thoughts off of how crappy this whole situation is right now and look to something more positive.

We can't control this virus.

Where can this delivery thing take you? Where would you like to go with it? Maybe one way to deal with this stress is to start focusing on that, start thinking through positive steps you can take.

We cannot control the virus. We can control what WE do. Taking positive safety steps when out delivering is a way of taking control. Taking positive steps towards where we want to be in life is a way of taking control. Focus on what you can control, think about the things that matter to you rather than the things that scare us. That's one more way for us to beat this thing, and not let it take control.

I preach this about Grubhub, Doordash, Uber Eats, Postmates and other gig companies – that you are an independent contractor, not an employee. I tell you not to let them control you. Instead, you should take control, you should be the boss.

Don't let this virus control you. You can determine where to go with this. You can decide what things you want to focus your thoughts on. Do not let yourself get drug down by the things you cannot control, but DO take control of the things you can control.

Be the boss.

*Disclosure – links to products on Amazon are affiliate links. Purchases made off those links do help support the operation of this site through affiliate commissions

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