Carolyn Hax Live: How to stay upbeat during an outbreak

Mar 18, 2020

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax took your comments about her current advice column and questions about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

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Oh so this is what you look like on a Wednesday. Hi!

I'm happy to report that I've actually bathed in recent memory. Let's just say that, as a family, we're conserving a lot of water these days.

We can all use some virtual non-distancing. Thanks for hosting this in the middle of what was supposed to be your week off.

Happy to. It helps me, too.

Plus, vacation time seemed like something else I could conserve, either until I can use it better or I go barking mad, whichever comes first.

Hi Carolyn. I wrote in to your chat around Sept. 2018 about my fear of being laid off, and you also printed my letter in a column some time later. Here is an update: I did get laid off. And now we are facing a potential bottom-falling-out, mother of all sh*t-shows economy in which finding a job will be the hardest thing ever. Or that’s how it feels right now. So. Not sure what else to say, other than that I’m taking it one day at a time, exercising, not drinking (too) much alcohol, working on my resume, and reminding myself not to freak out. Also doing kindnesses for others, and thanking others for theirs, does help. Believe it or not, staying home for 2-3 howevermany weeks is literally the least of my worries. Thanks for doing these chats and creating a community.

Sure thing, and I like the way you're looking at it. Being stuck where we are, waiting for the other shoe to drop (from a selection of way too many other-shoe options), can be an all-consuming dread, or we can choose to demote it to a lower worry. I know not everyone has that luxury, given the variety and intensity of the hardships--but the economic hardship is obviously a collective one now, and being treated as the emergency it is. So we, collectively, find our railing to hold onto, and then hold on.

Everyone, let's make that the focus here, what do you say? How are you making this okay. Big, small, have at it.

Just one upside to current situation: actual nightly family dinners! I have 3 kids, 2 currently in college. In the past, one or the other had sports, dance etc so we usually ate all together maybe once a week. Now it's been every night. Last night, there was a very lively discussion on species evolution which was hilarious. And my two who tend to get on each other's nerves and bicker are, knock wood, doing pretty well.

Yes. We instituted a daily, family dinner-and-movie night, so that for at least one point in every day, we have to come out of our various corners. 

I've been cooking as a way to keep my mind and hands occupied, but I think we're going to start getting a lot more takeout from local businesses, because they need us to.

Earlier this week a friend commented that she was considering getting her Christmas tree back out to cheer herself up during social distancing. Apparently she wasn’t alone. Putting up Christmas lights doesn’t sound fun to me, but I’ve been finding simple joy in playing dominoes with my husband, pulling out the big box of crayons and creating an enormous table-sized floral garden doodle on the back of some used wrapping paper, and taking long walks outside. What is bringing you light in the darkness right now?

Should we keep using bumble? Give it up entirely til things go back to “normal”? Any suggestions? :-)

Entirely. Please. 

My only other suggestion is to make an effort to get/stay in touch with people you already know, and buoy yourself emotionally that way. I have not received and taken advantage of so many connection requests in one week since I first set up my accounts. For everyone who has watched with dismay as screens and social media have displaced so much of our social interaction, now is the time to say, thank you, Silicon Valley. (I'll go back to resenting you as soon as this has passed.)

Yesterday during a discussion about St Patrick's day I was treated to the mental picture of a preschooler who insisted on wearing her St Patrick's tutu on the daily walk. And suddenly I knew that life was still going to go on just like always.

Thanks so much for the image.

This is a point I keep returning to myself. This set of circumstances may be unique, but the fact of a sudden, dramatic, life-as-we-know-it disrupting change to human life is not unique. Everyone who thought history was too boring to stay awake for in school is missing out on the most calming resource in this or any crisis: Bad stuff happens. And when it does, humanity finds a way. 

Again, this doesn't change what people are feeling immediately. But as a coping strategy for those feelings, it can be useful to zoom way in (hour at a time, I'm enjoying this piece of chocolate) or wayyyy out (the sun rises, the stars are beautiful, we find a way).

1/routine. Set your alarm, get up, get dressed in outside clothes. Sit at your desk. Have your morning coffee. Work. Have your lunch. Work. Have your afternoon tea/coffee. Work. Clock out at 5 or 6pm. Make dinner. Do the laundry. Clean the kitchen. Do something fun. (and repeat) 2/stay clean. Seriously. Take your shower as normal. It will make a world of difference. 3/stay connected. Fb, twitter, phone calls, skype are all your virtual water cooler right now. 4/If you have kids, make them follow a daily routine too. 5/follow professional norms for your appearance if you're going to be on video calls. Seriously. 6/Go to bed at a normal hour. Don't act like every night is a Friday night.

Well, I'm about 0-fer on this, but I agree a schedule can really help if every day feels like building on sand.

My schedule, besides the dinner/movie thing, involves making pancakes more than I have ever made in my life. And my puzzle is coming along nicely. Dogs have been heavily snuggled.

Our neighbors are inspired by the videos of singing in Italy and we plan to do a less musical version: if the weather is warm, we will sit at the ends of our driveways and "visit."

What’s working for me - my first move was to start reading a mystery series about a Scotland Yard detective who suffers from shell shock after WWI (the Inspector Rutledge series, by Charles Todd), for perspective and inspiration. Thinking about what others have gone through in the past, and realizing what a miracle our daily survival really is really helps me not only to have some faith in the future, but to summon the courage to face it, even if that means just hunkering down in my pajamas, trying not to touch my face or think too much about what that future may be. Oh, and making sure I have plenty of ice cream and chocolate, among other basic necessities of life - and talking/texting with friends and family, though not too much - some virtual social distance helps, we’re all approaching this differently, and at different rates, as someone said last week, and patience with each others’ processes may require some time off from talking.

Hey, our parents and grandparents were asked to fight in wars and withstand blitzkriegs and other horrors. We're being asked to sit home on the couch. We can do this.

It isn't, as long as we acknowledge that financial stress and contagion stress are valid, albeit resulting from very different threats. And that social isolation is not fair in its distribution of punishments.

This is the first time I've "attended" a live chat live. Only question is how to enter a comment or how to be sure I'm in the chat... Also conserving that water.

Welcome to the chat! You're joining a great community. 

You can enter a comment or a question by clicking on the 'submit your question' link. There is one at the very top of the chat and at the very bottom. You will see any new answers from Carolyn as soon as they publish. 

To atone for the complete bummer of a question I sent in: I have seen people rise to the occasion in the last week, shopping for elderly neighbors, buying gift certificates for small businesses, sharing advice and donating to food banks. That last is my hobbyhorse right now. I've been doing a fundraiser, donating the proceeds to a thing I wrote about how to work from home. But anyone can do a fundraiser. Every dollar you donate to a food bank buys three meals thanks to the power of wholesale purchasing. It's way better than donating food! Our local food bank usually does "client choice" (meaning people can choose what they want from a room laid out like a small store) but to stay safe, they are packaging the food and delivering it/carrying it out to cars. Anyway, if you are feeling worried about your community, this is a clear, concrete way that will make a big difference immediately, and help shore up your local safety net for incoming high demand.

My company just instituted work-from-home requirements for everyone possible for at least two weeks, and I just can't help but think of all the folks who are in unhealthy or abusive relationships and are stuck at home with their kids and their partners -- I'm so worried that social distancing could be a catalyst for increased domestic violence or even just exacerbation of mental and emotional abuse. Is there anything we can do to provide people in this situation a lifeline?

Good of you to think of this, thank you. If you have someone in mind, then ask the experts what to do: 1-800-799-SAFE or 1-800-656-HOPE.

Hi Carolyn, Thank you for the bonus chat! I'm over here with your usual mix of terror (hello, late nights) and let's-get-on-with-it. Someone sent me a Twitter post with a list of Not Cancelleds. Beauty was on the list and I've started shoring myself up with beauty/silver linings. I want to encourage others to as well. My biggest one: Staying home means bonus time with my old dog. She's healthy but 14.5. Who knows how long we have together? Well, for the foreseeable future, it's 24 hours a day. Would love to know other's shots of beauty/silver linings if they/you would want to post. Thanks for all you do. Stay well.

Here’s how it plays out for me: I was a bright child, but I was raised to believe that it gave me the inescapable responsibility to be perfect at everything, and if I wasn’t it was entirely my fault for being lazy. Among other life consequences, this gave me a sense that I was fundamentally bad because I squandered the immense talents that I was born with. So if someone says to me “Look at what you accomplished,” I consider it trivial compared to everything I should have accomplished. If I do a good deed, I don’t give myself credit for it because “I’m just doing it to make myself feel better.” If someone thanks me for something I did, I reply graciously, but I tell myself “They’re saying that because they’re a nice person, not because they’re actually grateful.” And if I get mad at myself because I beat up on myself all the time, that proves I’m bad because a good person wouldn’t get mad. Needless to say, I have a raging impostor complex, and criticism crushes me because I feel they’ve exposed my true bad self. Most people who know me think I’m confident and mature, but it’s a con job, and underneath the façade I’m a soggy, whimpering mess.

I will start with this: There are 7! point! 8! (ish) billion people on earth. 

You can stop here if seeing that in this context helps you see the insanity of their expecting you to be special, and of expecting yourself to be special. 

If you need more, though, I'll keep going: Some people are special, of course, and break through the global noise to become known to history. Even these people, though, are both crazy exceptions to the usual rules of human performance (the best athlete your local Little League ever had, let's say, has almost zero chance of making MLB), and also still--still!--mostly lost to history even when they do break through. 

So it's just this whole weird combination of born talent and work invested and focus held and planets aligned and the incredibly dumb luck of anyone's finding just the right outlet for their talents. A great Wapo story posed this question back in Michael Phelps's prime: What if he had decided as a little kid to play basketball? That has stuck with me ever since. 

*It's not just about what you put in.* It's just not. 

So stop torturing yourself for doing/not doing something that probably had a vanishingly small impact on your personal life outcome. 


Your people were nuts about you and excited, and lost their hold on reality. They also, I can guess with reasonable assurance, thought quite highly of themselves and unwittingly used you to express that. It was a profound disservice and I'm sorry they did that to you.

And if none of this is even remotely persuasive, then please--once their lines are less tied up by the covid-anxious--find a therapist who is a good fit for you, and talk this stuff out. You are fundamentally worthy of a life no more burdened by other people's unreckoned-with BS than anyone else's. 

Silliness. My beagles and I had a mosh pit/dance party to the Dropkick Murphys' streaming St. Patrick's Day concert last night (sans audience, natch). And since the Murphys' piper couldn't make the concert due to travel restrictions, one of my dogs generously stepped up and filled in with ear-splitting 'AROOOOOS' at various points. Never on the beat somehow but a respectable effort nevertheless.

I just want to add here that my dogs have gotten more handsome every single time I've come back into the room to see them, sometimes after I've been gone for only five minutes. And I tell them so.

When I went out to get the daily miracle that is the Washington Post this morning, I looked up and saw a beautiful crescent moon and a lot of stars...and it occurred to me that pollution is decreasing due to fewer planes and cars out.

Watching the sunrise! I am lucky to be in a place where I can see the sun come up each day.

Thanks for the off-cycle chat. You look great on a Wednesday -- or any day. I just wanted to say that I got a junk email advertisement on Friday morning from a dating site (to which I've never subscribed) saying (paraphrasing) don't you want someone to hunker down with in the time of coronavirus? You could meet someone right now and then you won't be alone through this! Seriously, if I just met them, THERE WILL BE NO HUNKERING!!! :-) Just me and three cats and that's the way it's going to be. Take care. Thanks.


Appreciate Springtime! Even if you are not an outdoorsy, tree hugging type being outdoors walking your dog, walking yourself, pulling a few weeds and getting some Vitamin D will do wonders!!

Also note, for those who are purchasing virtually, on Amazon Smile you can designate a charity for contributions - mine has been the local food bank for years. Also, over -tipping for delivery people, substitute payments for those people or establishments you can’t now patronize, direct donations to the food banks, etc. But the biggest gift, I think, for right now is to follow the advice of Dr. Gupta, which I read last night, and which really hit home - to act as if you are infected. From what I read, we’ve got one chance to “flatten the curve,” and to try to lessen the impact of all of this. Not everyone can stay home, and we really owe it to those who can’t to do whatever we can to keep them as safe as possible (and ourselves, too, lest we become yet another burden for them to carry).

Gupta and Fauci are going to sleep for days when this is over. Well-earned.

Separately! In our own homes! Seriously, who knew that being a work-at-home introvert scientist would turn out to be a superpower?

Hi Carolyn, I know in addition to your sage advice, you like to share practical things people can do in situations where they feel helpless (like pandemics). Just wanted to share something I found helpful from the cfpb (consumer financial protection bureau). Protect yourself financially from the impact of the coronavirus

Shout out to all the government types - local, state, and fed who are manning and womaning the support systems in this time of social distancing!

Seconded, thanks.

I know this is a pretty big "we." But please remember "we" isn't everyone. Health care workers can only fantasize about staying at home. Ditto basic municipal services, delivery people, law enforcement, and more. Everyone is dealing with different hardships and fears. Some are objectively worse than others though.

We are in our early 70's and always live in social isolation - we go out once a week to the grocery store - last week was not successful - we don't have a car and our closest store ($20 round trip Uber ride) was picked clean by 11am - . My normal depression has deepened and I have managed to socially isolate from my husband as well. He doesn't seem bothered by it. Upside to my petty problems I have lost 5 pounds in 3 days (which I can well afford to lose. Only 20 more to go!) I have no one to talk to and no where to vent, so I'll vent here if I may. I really don't want to dump my drama on anyone else. Thank you for listening (if anyone is).

We're listening. Thanks for coming here.

Please look into grocery delivery. Amazon will find you, yes, if no one else will?

I also highly recommend yoga and meditation for your depression problem--which is not! petty!, so please don't dismiss yourself that way. Learning these in person is ideal, of course, but I think we left ideal behind a long time ago. (Dawn of time, or thereabouts.) Yoga With Adriene is good for beginners, with a lot of verbal coaching on specific body positions and corrections, and it's free on YouTube.

Walking outside is also an underrated drama-burner, and it's something we can still do, as long as we're physically able and not in crowds.

Finally: In my experience, some of the best crowd-source-ists on earth visit this chat. Can any of you come up with an online community for our venter to vent on? I'll post as I see them. Thanks.

With the time many people are saving from not having to commute, take kids to activities, etc, think about the reaching out and kind things you can do for others. Reach out to your friends, particularly those with physical or mental health issues., and those who live on their own. Text. Call. Video chat. Send snail mail. If there's a silver lining in this situation, it's the ability to slow down and remember what's important.

Right, thanks.

Is snail mail okay, though? Even if there's a clear answer out there now that I've missed, this is still an example stuff we need to get onto the habit of checking first. At a reputable site.

One source of beauty that I check daily is NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day. Today's is especially good. Friends at work enjoyed it as well. (I'm still at work, but still affected by the shut downs of concerts, museums etc.)

The minute the ground thaws, I will work in our garden with music on the outside speakers. Looking forward to that like never before!

I work from home at a table facing our front windows on a regular basis (for the last 6 years). I have seen many, many more people out walking and running, alone and in family groups and/or with dogs, than I ever used to see. If the physical distancing leads to some good family time, outdoor time, exercise, that's a good thing, and maybe these new habits will even continue when the restrictions ease.

I work in tax preparation. We are still working, currently in semi-isolation in our offices. If I have to work from home I can. As far as I can see, I'll get paid through all of this. If the government sends me a check, sure I can use it, but I plan on sharing it with charities to help those who aren't being paid (I'm already contributing a little). Please think of that if the government ever gets its act together.

Everybody in the family must do a daily one hour chore together, preferably outside. Fold laundry, organize the basement, prepare the garden, family game night. Then they can scuttle back to their troll holes.

"scuttle back to their troll holes": I feel seen.

I am trying to practice gratitude - thankful to be working from home, thankful to have food, etc. I'm getting dressed, starting work on time, and keeping on a schedule like the poster above. Area of improvement - stop staying up late and goofing off and drinking wine; get up early and exercise instead, like during a "regular" week when I'd have to get up and be somewhere. We have also scheduled a twice weekly conference call with good friends to watch a dumb reality show together and BS.

Hi Carolyn, Thank you for years of excellent advice. Our wedding was supposed to be this Saturday in CA, surrounded by loved ones from across the world. Now, my fiancé and I are stuck far from any family or friends in the very isolated town where we work. We know many others in the world are suffering more that we are right now, bu we're still sad. Heartbroken, really. How do we cope with the upcoming weekend when everything we had planned, hoped and paid for is now off?

You just accept that it suh-suh-sucks and you go on. Feel sad. Do something nice for yourselves. If it's not too soon/too close to home, start planning (without dates, obviously) what you'll do instead when you're able to gather your loved ones again. Will you get married soon anyway, or will you postpone? If you marry now, will you have a party later? A renewal of vows? What would getting married now look like if you decided to do that?

You can also find someone to complain to (like you did here) and dump it out. I did that with my dad and sisters on our running family group text, which is something else we've done to help us get through this lonely time, going on four days now. I whined for several detailed paragraphs about the vacation I had to cancel. They did the same with their can't-say-this-elsewhere-because-others-are-suffering-more unloading. It's not a much anticipated wedding in CA with people you love, but it was something.

This is not a terrorist or another country or a bomb or a greedy capitalist, it's a microbe whose only goal is to reproduce and stay alive. Everyone on earth is facing the same challenge. We must all work together toward a solution. I'm hoping this will show us how much we are dependent on each other, regardless of political boundaries.

I think your hope is well on its way to be realized. Thank you.

Please let's also remember to connect with people who don't have virtual tools -- the neighbor who has only a land-line phone, the folks who can't afford or don't want an internet connection, the folks who find technology difficult to use (think, arthritic hands, low vision). Make a pot of soup, then make a real phone call, chat a few minutes, and tell them you will put a container of soup on the doorstep. No germ connection but real human connection. Another group that needs extra love and attention are those who are losing or have just lost a loved one. The fog that entails on a good day is made more complex and surreal by the (necessary) limits on visitors, screenings at hospitals, limits on funerals, etc. Extend yourself a little to reach out, mail an actual-on-paper card, run an errand, etc.

I vent all the time to myself. Write it all down, get the poison out on paper or screen, file it, repeat as necessary. It works for me, I feel better and it doesn't burden anyone else.

Assuming you can go online, go to to learn about this series of websites for people who live in your neighborhood. You can connect with folks who live around you and in my nextdoor site there are also lots of people offering to get groceries, do errands, and other misc. stuff for people affected by this lockdown. The site is a place where you can learn about neighborhood happenings from parties to crime to lost pets and more and there are rules to keep discourse civil. I enjoy our neighborhood's site immensely, there are some wise and funny people on there.

DO NOT, under any circumstances, start reading Stephen King's "The Stand" while in quarantine.

The five of us watched "The Shining" (1980) the other night. Is that good King hygiene, or bad?

I'd forgotten how gonzo that movie was.

In two weeks, things will be different. We don't know in what ways, but pretend for a moment it's April 2 and we're looking back on this chat. Time will have addressed most of the anxieties we have now, with new problems and solutions continuing to emerge. So ... curiosity, not control. ~~ Auntie E.

"curiosity, not control": I'll have to think on this more, but at first glance it looks suspiciously like the answer to everything. 

From what I’ve read, everything is evolving regarding knowledge of this virus and how it is transmitted - below is a link to Dr. Fauci’s comment from a week or so ago. In the meantime, though, I’m not sending cards or letters in the mail. And washing my hands after opening mail or packages. Minimizing anxiety as much as possible. 

I am sending one happy link every day to a short list of friends and relatives. I usually find good options in the Hax comments section.

They're good, I agree. Thank you.

Pull everyone into the daily routine of prepping and cooking, table-setting, washing up , etc.

I've tried, I've tried.

Though to be fair to the lads: They all contribute when asked (I'll shoot for "unasked" with my next litter); they all can cook a basic dinner (fettucini alfredo, burgers ...) and breakfast; two of them bake. Twice a year, maybe, but I witnessed it with mine own eyes.

Any other good skills to pass along? 

A local church is going to be having zoom virtual chats. I don't even regularly attend church but might check this out. I wonder if the couple who are alone at home and depressed might tap into some virtual more chats - like this one but this is not the only one around. Not necessarily church of course but I'll bet there are more and more of these soon.

I thought that it's counter-recommended for depressed people to take up meditation for the first time, because of the tendency of the mind to cycle through negative thoughts. Whereas people with a well-established meditation practice are more likely to be able to redirect those thoughts. But whatever works !

I hadn't heard this, but posting so people know to research the possibility before starting a meditation practice. Thanks.

I am struggling (as are we all!) to adjust to our new normal, but also struggling not to harbor resentment towards all these people talking about self care, and getting to spend more quality time with their kids, or whatever silver lining they are finding. My husband is still working on site; once he goes to "work from home" he'll likely get laid off shortly thereafter. In the meantime, my job has become far more demanding and now I have a toddler at home. I literally cannot do my job right now. Every moment is consumed with deep stress and panic. There isn't time for anything. No one is catching up on streaming or enjoying the wonderful classical music streaming in this household. I'm an academic, and all these childless people and men are posting about having a "covid 19 writing retreat" and I want to scream. I'm not sure what my question is, but I feel pretty alone and like all the other people in my situation don't even have 2 minutes to post on social media or write into a chat.

Yes, yes--we haven't even touched on this today, but this is shaping up into a situation of extremes, where some people are stranded with nowhere near enough company, stimulation or responsibilities, and some are stranded with overwhelming amounts of all three. We are all "alone" in our pods, our snapshots of where we were when everything stopped--but none of us, none, is alone in a given circumstance. You are one of countless parents of young children who are about to scream and afraid they'll never stop screaming ... but don't even have that luxury with kids to care for, and their mental health to protect.

I urge you to do some immediate triage. Stress and panic mean 0 gets done, when the simple act of making a list, and crossing off what isn't *absolutely necessary,* can mean your top item gets done. Maybe top 2. And that's better than stress and panic.

I know you know this, too, but I'm going to say it anyway, so if nothing else you can turn your resentment on me, which is as safe place for it as any: People are working to find these silver linings because they are under significant duress. A toddler and a heavy workload and no child care help are staggering weight to carry, and I won't take any of that away from you. Boredom and isolation and time to sit with your fear are also heavy. 

Once you do the list triage--please, do the list triage--I urge you also to think of self-care. Really. You can adopt it in 5 minute increments. Or 2 minute. It's not a luxury, it's the thing that makes you capable of making the essential things happen.

If absolutely nothing else, and if you can, and unless it makes things worse for you (sensory makeups are so varied), I think that's all the disclaimers ... then please add music to the background of what you're doing. It's a potential lift that doesn't take any time away from other things. 

I grew up like this too. Reading “The Drama of the Gifted Child” by Alice Miller saved my life.

The viruses do not live ling on a dry medium like paper. By the time it is delivered, all is well, or at least non-contagious. LINK

Call your county senior center or social services .They may be able to hook you up with rides to the grocery store or free or low cost delivery. I know this is just one little thing, but it might be manageable to get a little help.

Go to the daily Hax column and vent in the comments. Tell us all about it. We will reply with virtual (((hugs))) and whatever other support we can offer. Just mark it Off Topic by clicking on the little box in the corner, and vent as needed.

For people depressed and want to start meditation, I would recommend using a guided meditation from one the apps you can get on your phone (Calm, Insight) or online. The guided meditation has enough direction to help you not "cycle through negative thoughts." Think Thich Nhat Hanh and Tara Brach can help guide.

Not counter recommend at all. Might help to have a coach (virtual or otherwise), since the non-judgmental part can be a bit hard to tackle, but I have never heard anyone say it wasn’t appropriate. If anyone feels scared off, or worries that you can’t watch your thoughts and let them pass, go for a guided meditation, which gives you a focus.

My thought on chores is that kids of both genders should be doing every single chore in the house as soon as they are old enough to do them whether there is a pandemic or not. The rationale is that the child is going to some day live on his/her own and will need to be able to perform all of those functions. How will the kid know what to do if they have not practiced lots? Saddest thing when my kid went off to college: I had to do all the chores. On a happier note: I really did not like how she did most of them so now they get done the way I want them done. (But I did prefer not having to do them) ;)

You're right about all of it, except I have one quibble: "How will the kid know what to do if they have not practiced lots?" We all have to figure out some things we haven't been taught. And now there's a video tutorial for everything.

This is amazing! I've NEVER been present during a live chat, I always read the transcript afterwards. Who knew there was a little red box at the bottom that says "Live Now" and new things just - appear - at the bottom! And somewhere all of you are sitting at your computers or phones, RIGHT NOW! Hello everybody!

Hi! [waves at screen]

Can I go back to posting things people are doing without sending the overwhelmed into a spiral? I am not being facetious. I don't want to pile on the already piled-upon health workers and toddler-caregivers.

Let’s all drive our representatives crazy at state and federal levels pushing for the issues we care most about. For starters, making SURE all registered voters can vote on Nov. 4th no matter what COVID19 does. Maybe we could even tackle global warming! Finally (many) citizens have time to actually call/write our leaders and fuss! Such a fine civics lesson for kids stuck at home. We could change things for the better!

While the Federal government may be abdicating its responsibility (at least at the top), local governments (State, County, and Municipal) are stepping up and will continue to do so. With no guarantee of additional funding, in already stressed times. Don't label all like that (I work for the county which reported the first case in the country, we started acting then and have not stopped).

Fair point, thanks.

I'll be honest, "don't date" and what have you rings a bit hollow from somebody who's married and has people and pets living with them, to someone who lives with neither. Check in on your single and otherwise-distanced friends who live alone (e.g., military spouses) and whose social lives have been reduced to, at best, virtual/not-in-person means. Please don't let this be yet another time that married folks disappear into their bubbles and ditch their supposed friends.

This is a time where I think it's more practical for all of us just to decide to self advocate, instead of try to suss out who's responsible for whom and wait for others to behave accordingly.

Certainly anyone you know to be vulnerable--*for any reason*--needs you and others to be proactive about staying in touch. Beyond that, though, there is a minefield of imagined value judgments and assumptions that doesn't serve anyone. Is this single person in need of outreach, or better positioned than others to be the reacher-out? Are these married people comfortably nestled into their bubble, or are they tormenting each other with the amplification of everything that was straining them before they went into lockdown?

Again: If you're lonely, then make the effort to get what you need, including to remind your "supposed" friends you're riding this out alone. 

And of you're comfortable, then respond to people who are reaching out to you for things they need.

And don't date. It's not about mean or smug or hollow or whatever, it just is.

Please suggest changes if you don't think this is fair, thanks.

This seems like a good time to remind everyone that Meals on Wheels delivers, um, meals to seniors and some other folks who can't leave their homes and has local affiliates in almost every part of the country. I'm sure they're getting overloaded, but check your local affiliate (easy internet search) to see 1: if they can help you get access to food or 2: if you can help them with a donation. There's also a discussion forum for it; click "Discuss" at the bottom of the page to access discussion for the current day's pic.

I'm a therapist, and I often include a mindfulness element in my work. I've definitely found that for some people, closing eyes and focusing on breathing (for example) can create space for intrusive thoughts, images, and sense-memories. That can be scary, and it can be damaging. While the eventual goal can include an ability to mindfully modulate thoughts and emotions, it's important to recognize that for some folks that's not an immediate goal or possibility. In such cases, virtual or IRL guidance can be crucial.

My aunt lives in a retirement community and they have basically shutdown -- a terrible thing for older folks who rely on each other for company etc. She is unable to go to the grocery store, and there is a LONG wait for delivery from local grocery delivery services -- anyone have any ideas how to get groceries to her (I am not local)?

Is there a local Council on Aging you can call? I know my area is all over this with a pop-up food bank and volunteers making deliveries, so I'd start by seeing where her jurisdiction is on this.

Marconi Union's "Weightless"-- available on Youtube. 1 hour and 8 hour tracks. Good relaxation and sleep aid, pretty video too. I would link to it but I don't want people drifting off before your chat ends.

I'm drifting off and it seems to be okay.

To the person who posted this: reading your thoughts was like reading my own brain before therapy. That's exactly how I thought. Discredited anything I accomplished because either a) that was easy, anybody could do that, or b) (if it was hard) that shouldn't have been so hard! It was crystallized for me when I was up on a ladder cleaning my gutters, and on the way down the ladder I glanced down and saw something else that needed work, and immediately started beating myself up for not getting that done. I couldn't even give myself credit for ten seconds! Therapy was tremendously helpful. A good therapist will reflect positive things back to you, and with time and practice you can develop the habit yourself. Basically, your brain is lying to you and you can re-train it. This is not just happy talk, it really really works.

 Cincinnati Zoo is bringing the Zoo to You!
"The goal with the daily live sessions is to provide fun and educational content to people who are stuck at home.”

Use a timer. My first child was born when I started working from home, he's never known anything different. Tell your toddler you need to focus for ten minutes and then when the timer rings, you will be with him and not your phone for ten minutes. Then do it, even if you only needed one! more! minute! He will respect the timer if you respect the timer. Also, you would be surprised at how well even a toddler can respond to "I need help and I can't do this alone." Feeling like part of the team and not a burden helps kids a lot. My oldest is running around repairing things, giddy with being allowed the power drill. My youngest is a butt barnacle, CANNOT be alone, but she can sit beside me and make art to cheer up daddy, do her worksheets (she's "working from home," see), and sort socks.

Thanks for all of this, and special credit for "butt barnacle."

Local radio had a suggestion while they were on the air with the SPCA and the "pet of the day"-while you're home, foster a shelter pet. The ones that are picked up as strays, especially, so the shelters can get a read on their temperament and how well they do in homes.

Thank you for your incredibly kind response to my self-centered rant. Typing it helped, listening to music is helping even more.

Fox it all, you just made me cry.

When my boys went off to college, I was amazed there were so many parents (especially parents of boys) who were *shocked* that it was the students' responsibility to clean the shared bathroom. I remember turning to my son and saying, if you want to start a business, here's a great opportunity!

This did, too, for an entirely different reason.

Meals on Wheels has been hit hard and isn't keeping up with their regular load of clients in most communities.

Got it.

Those on the bored end of the extreme spectrum, maybe a volunteer opp here?

This in my inbox this am, from the Washington Post: LINK

I've already watched it three times, I report with zero shame.

I think it's a great movie to watch during this uncertain time. It teaches us to avoid creepy twins in deserted hotel hallways, snow covered hedge mazes (especially at night,) and ax-wielding writers. I mean, if that's not useful information, what is?

It also teaches us, as my dudes pointed out, that the sound of a commercial size can of peaches being dumped out is the grossest sound there is.

I think saying "don't date" is pretty ridiculous. Certainly people should take reasonable precautions - do not go on a date at a crowded bar, keep a good distance of time between social interactions, don't meet someone if you have even the tiniest hint of feeling unwell, etc. The point of social distancing isn't to completely eliminate transmission; it's to "flatten the curve" and slow things down. People don't need to be perfect or live under complete quarantine; they just need to limit their activities significantly, and be careful about it when they do go out or socialize. If people are only socializing one-on-one and are only doing so every few days, that's going to dramatically slow the spread of the virus compared to business-as-usual. But to tell people who are single and/or live alone that they have to go without any kind of intimacy or human interaction or touch for possibly up to 18 months? That is actually pretty cruel, and not really supported by the medical evidence. Even most the stuff I've read from public health experts says you can date, you just need to be cautious.

I'm not saying "go without any kind of intimacy or human interaction or touch for possibly up to 18 months." But this is the time to shut down. You can do two weeks, a month. You can do this and reassess as things evolve. No one is going to be "perfect," but everyone is giving up something, and no one is being "cruel" by asking everyone to do what everyone can. The parents keeping their kids away from Grandma's house are not being "cruel" to Grandma. It's not useful to attach an emotional motive to what we're all being asked to do.

Sorry. If you're currently single, then you ought to be staying that way until the spread of this virus slows. It's not a judgment about whether you deserve companionship or would enjoy it; it's just common sense. We are dealing with a highly contagious virus and going out of your way to have personal interaction with a near stranger is exactly what NOT to do right now. If it helps, you can remember that plenty of couples and families are having way more together-time than they want right now. Way. More. Together. Time.

Don’t have the link, but worth googling after you’ve watched the aquarium visit.

[checks to see if she can end chat now]

I too tend toward social isolation, and found myself becoming the stereotypical angry white male a few years ago. I said I have to do something about this. I tried various things but the most successful was reconnecting with my faith community which I had walked away from years before. In my opinion, it's OK to do that even if you don't have faith -- it's a pre-established community that is there for you. Go for the community, maybe you will find faith, maybe not. But in the process you will ease your isolation and find that you have many new acquaintences and maybe even a few friends. This probably won't be an immediate help right now (because of social distancing and closures) but when this gets better, give it a try. Or something else. We all need one another.

Yes, yes. And a newcomer now can look into Zoom options. Thank you for your candor and courage.

Besides cooking lessons, I'm also going to give my 10th grader cursive lessons. Her grade school stopped teaching it for 3 years, then started again. Yup, my kid missed the window! I also plan on teaching tub caulking, mending, and financial planning. And I am fortunate enough to have friends who are teachers, so I'm going to ask if they can skype some tutoring our way.

Sign up for and you get notification for when the Space Station will be passing over your area. It’s really easy to spot when you know where to look! I still get goosebumps but then again I’m pretty space nerdy.

Long-time reader here, since back in like 2000. ..blinks. 20 years. Yikes. Anyway, my group of friends normally participates in an ongoing Slack chat which helps enormously, but we've also started doing electronic board games via Discord after work. Even if we only have 3-4 people, hearing other voices and having a specific focus on the game we're playing for an hour or two helps tremendously.

Here's the thing: a lot of people unavoidably can't self-isolate - health care workers, grocery store workers, first responders. That means the burden is on those of us in positions were we *can* self-isolate need to do so as much as possible, which includes not dating during this period. Those who are doing essential jobs during this crisis are sacrificing a lot to do it. The least we can do is go a few weeks without in-person interaction.

A group of friends and I have been going to the same bar every Monday to do trivia for a year plus now. We were all a little bummed out at the start of the week, even though we're all committed to social distancing, to have to forgo something that we love. But late that afternoon one of the group was like "I got this y'all, I've got 10 trivia questions, you make two teams and submit the answers to me." And we did it! Each team was on their own video chat. It was hilarious and cathartic and we're going to keep it up for as long as we have to. Every week we'll rotate who "hosts". You can do things, you just have to be a little creative about how you set them up virtually.

A friend of mine who is retired and lives alone has been keeping a diary of his perceptions of the quarantine and emailing it to a group of his friends as a way of staying connected. Even if only a few can respond in any day he still is connected and need not feel alone.

Coping's offer reminded me of a wonderful BBC series along the same line called "Foyle's War." It's a view of what WWII was like in England if you were "on the ground", so to speak. What people actually experienced during a truly terrible time.

Penguins! Stairs!

Seriously. Get to know someone through messaging and phone calls. Give it ten intense days (max), while self-quarantining. If you get to the "will you hunker down with me for the duration of this pandemic?" stage, then give it four days of video chat. By then, you will both know if you are symptomatic, and then you can safely move in together.

New portmanteau? Asymptomatico.

I am one of the lucky folks out there with a job that will not be negatively impacted by the Coronavirus and associated quarantine measures. But not long ago, I subsisted shift-by-shift working service industry jobs, and I've been thinking a ton about all of my former co-workers who are going to be severely impacted by all this. A thought occurred to me that I'd like to share -- what if everyone who is fortunate enough to be in my position reaches out to just ONE person on the other end of the impact spectrum and offers some financial assistance? I did this to one former co-worker who is a single mother of two and also happens to be my favorite bartender. For years and years she's made my local pub feel like an episode of Cheers. Buying her family a few weeks worth of groceries is the least I could do. So I say to all of the lucky ones -- spare what you can and pick one person to help! Think about the impact if we all did this! This is what keeps the world turning in times of crisis. Good luck out there, everyone.

The luck is ours to have you here, thank you.

Will the Friday chat still be held per usual?

Sure. Tho I think "usual" is out the window.

Sincerely, I love the Hax Chats and all the Nuts! Thanks for being here on a Wednesday and I'm glad we can lift each other up. You all are great. We can do this. And what a beautiful audience, maybe the best on all of WAPO?

The appreciation is mutual, and I'm so grateful for all you contribute--"audience" somehow sounds too passive, given how much you do to upgrade this from a column to a community.

I'm going to go now, my energy is flagging and I'm sure Yu has a pile of other work accumulating. Thanks so much for stopping by, and I'm sorry I couldn't get to everything in the queue. I'll see you Friday, or about 45 pancakes from now.

We live on a cul de sac with five other houses. One of our neighbors collected all our cell phone numbers and created a text chat group where we can share information, ask for help (shopping, moving bins), or just see if someone wants to join us for a socially distant walk. We have another neighbor not actually on our cul de sac who only has a land line, so we're sharing information with them by phone.

A feral cat in our neighborhood chose me to be her friend. She's sleeping peacefully in a sunny warm custom box with her own sunroof on our front porch. I feel honored. And happy she chose me.

I just put on pants and a bra. I don't like it ;)

A sincere thanks to you, Carolyn for this chat and all the others that have brought so much fun and good advice to my life. I started following this chat when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. While I loved my service and wouldn't change it for the world, I was frequently incredibly lonely. I lived in a pretty large country in a tiny village and a dwelling that had electricity, but no running water. The nearest volunteers were hours away and hard to get to. Reading your chat provided a level of "normalcy" to my life that I really needed. I'm definitely drawing on those experiences of isolation (and happy that here I can speak to everyone in my native language!) to try and get through the next couple of weeks/months, but I just wanted say how incredibly grateful I am for this chat and community.

Group cry. Thank you on the community's behalf.

You aren't alone! Today is the first of many days where I'm working from home with my husband doing the same and two boys under the age of 10 hollering at their games in the living room. So, I'm reduced to working out of my craft space for some peace and I am so annoyed that I'm being interrupted constantly and surrounded by all kinds of projects I'd much rather be enjoying right now. And, crud, I just remembered the washer buzzed half an hour ago. Anyway, I'm sorry you're feeling stressed out by everything going on, but please don't feel like you're the only one who is definitely not appreciating all the "let's treat this like a vacation while simultaneously maintaining a rigid schedule for keeping our kids academically on track" world of social media right now. I raise my mug of gone-cold coffee to you in solidarity!

I'm loving that strangers I pass on the street in my daily walks smile, nod, or even say hello (from 6 feet away). It's feeling like a small town in my NWDC neighborhood right now.

Please give a thought to those of us who have been caught up in border closings and international flight bans and can’t get home. I was in Morocco in the middle of an organized bike tour when the government cancelled all international flights as of tomorrow. I have been camping out at the airport for two days hoping to be able to get home and self isolate.

Many thoughts. Check back in Friday? We'll gladly be your vent-ees. 

But some of us are paying a lot more than others. We owe it to them to be as mindful as we can of that fact, and not drive up their costs any more. It’s that simple, and that difficult, but we have to try. What that means, in practice, will be different for each of us, and we need to respect those differences - this is hard for all of us in different ways, but we have to remember, now more than ever, that none of us is an island - and act accordingly.

Yes, this is a really clear and accurate way to put it, thank you.

In This Chat
Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.
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