Life has come to a standstill for many. Fears of COVID-19 or coronavirus have forced schools and businesses in McFarland, Monona and Cottage Grove to close. Sporting events, parades and concerts in those communities have been cancelled. New decisions on how to control the virus have come every day, sometimes every hour.

Yet, people can turn all this mayhem into something rewarding and fulfilling. It’s an opportunity for imaginations to run wild with ideas and newly discovered interests.

UW Health psychiatrist Dr. Shilagh Mirgain said people should adopt what are called “coronagoals,” an idea influenced by her friend who was forced to close her small business due to the virus.

“She started brainstorming: What do I want to learn? What do I want to experience? How do I want to grow?” Mirgain said. “Maybe you are quarantined in the house for two weeks, maybe working from home, social distancing. All that means is there will be more time for self-reflection. We start to listen to ourselves more. Our own inner voice can come up. When it does, all of a sudden, we can think: We have this gift of time. How do I want to spend it?”

A “coronagoal” could be anything tangible or intangible, depending on what interests the person. Binge watching television shows, participating in interactive exercise programs, learning a new musical instrument, reading books and cooking are just a few ways people can spend their time. Some “coronagoals” don’t have to be complicated.

“It could be something simple as I want to get seven hours of sleep a night,” Mirgain said. “I want to eat nutritious foods and improve my immune system.”

She suggests some activities could be done as a family, such as learning a foreign language. All it takes is some creativity, imagination and resourcefulness to transform a life in isolation to a life of achievements.

Mirgain said people who are isolated can also help themselves by helping others.

“What keeps us resilient is that sense of our generosity,” she said. “Give a call to someone, make them food, reach out to someone to make sure they are OK, get involved in charity work.”

Dr. Adebowale Mofikoya, a psychiatrist at Mercyland Psychiatry in Sun Prairie, advises people should learn more about coronavirus through reliable sources such as the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization, and avoid information from non-reputable sources. Getting dependable facts on the virus will provide peace of mind and reduce stress.

“Avoid catastrophizing. We need to be calm,” he said. “Is my anxiety based on facts? Is this helpful to me or anybody right now? Those are the questions we need to ask.”

Mofikoya also said people should not allow fears of the virus to neglect basic necessities such as buying groceries and getting prescriptions refilled.

Older populations – the primary victims of the coronavirus – are most vulnerable to getting infected, and their isolation from family and friends could be stressful if they live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities.

Mirgain suggests seniors stay connected to others through social media, texting or using the telephone. Stress relief could also come from just looking out the window.

“One thing this virus hasn’t taken away is nature,” Mirgain said. “Opening a window and looking outside, bringing in a plant could be connections with other living things.”

Mirgain adds older populations could also use past experiences as a form of strength to overcome the difficulties coronavirus has caused.

“They have been through wars and other struggles,” Mirgain said. “I encourage them to remember all that they have gotten through and how they went from surviving to thriving. Sometimes when we open up to those strengths, it gives us courage on how to best navigate what’s ahead. Every storm passes. We’ve been through so much. We will get through this, too.”

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