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  • Writer's picturePam King Sams

How to Navigate Public Spaces and More

Here is a great article by Anna Goldfarb of the New York Times that gives tips on etiquette as we all learn how to stay distant but kind. While everyone keeps a healthy distance from strangers, acquaintances, family, and friends, ceasing all interaction is impossible.Carolyn Cannuscio, ScD,anassociate professor of Family Medicine and Community Health, told theNew York Timeshow to intelligently, safely, and politely handle social distancing.

We have never experienced a lockdown like this. Public and personal spaces have been transformed almost overnight. With so many new rules to follow, it’s understandable to feel destabilized. But we should still strive to be our best selves as we go about our day. “Acts of kindness and support in a community are deeply important during any national crisis, but not just for our physical survival,” said Dr. Jena Lee, a child and adult psychiatrist and clinical instructor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A. “Helping others permeates a sense of hope and meaning in our shared humanity that is just as vital to our survival.” With that in mind, here’s how to navigate five scenarios you’ll likely encounter during this lockdown. How to talk to your neighbors Be upfront. Come up with a one-line script in advance. “Explain your approach, which may just help other people decide that they, too, need to take social distancing seriously,” said Carolyn C. Cannuscio, an associate professor of family medicine and community health at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Offer alternatives. If someone asks you to assist them in a way you’re not comfortable with, reiterate your choices and see if there are other ways to help. Instead of leaving your home, Dr. Cannuscio said, perhaps you can offer to place an online grocery order for them or drop off something you already have in your pantry. “You are not saying a flat-out ‘No, I don’t want to help,’” she said. “You are saying, ‘Yes, I care about you and want to help, and here are some ways that I can support you.’” Be friendly. Showing warmth during a public crisis can be validating and reassuring. Smiling, making eye contact and waving “not only acknowledges your neighbor but can also communicate a stronger social connection while you maintain distance for the shared mission to fight this pandemic,” Dr. Lee said. How to handle public spaces Be aware of your surroundings. Going for a walk? Be cognizant of joggers, strollers and dog walkers in order to comply with social distancing recommendations. “You will need to be aware of people from a further distance so that you can be prepared to adjust your position to maintain the six feet away, as everyone moves in different directions and speeds,” Dr. Lee said. Consider heading down less trafficked streets and avoiding popular destinations. As always, personal safety is your No. 1 concern, whether it’s related to coronavirus or not. If you feel unsafe, lean on the same instincts you would in normal times. (Yell, run, phone a friend, call the police, etc.) In close quarters, be gracious. In elevators, narrow hallways or stairwells, look to see if anyone is approaching first, Dr. Lee said. Leave enough space and time to respond safely and politely. “If there is no place for you to go, you can kindly ask, ‘Hi, I want to keep you safe, is it possible if you wait so that I can leave this hallway first?’” she said. If someone is in the elevator that opens for you, smile, step back and wait for the next one. If someone comes into your elevator after you have entered, she said you can politely offer them the ride and leave. Even if you can’t maintain distance, protect yourself. If you’re in a situation where physical distancing is not possible, minimizing the time and proximity is the best we can do, Dr. Lee said. You still can observe many infection control measures that have significant impact: Avoid touching your face and wash your hands after any exposure. If you have questions or concerns, contact your local health department. How to navigate the grocery store Have a plan. Before you leave the house, review what you already have in your fridge and pantry and come up with a list of items you’ll need for roughly two weeks. “This approach will help you think through what you need and can spur meal inspiration,” said Megan Shaffer, the vice president of retail operations for the Kroger Company. She recommends checking your local store’s operating hours because some stores are adjusting operating hours to allow their employees more time to rest, clean and stock shelves. Don’t hoard. “When shoppers buy more than what they need for their household, it can result in other shoppers having limited options,” Ms. Shaffer said. Don’t give into the urge to panic shop. “Everyone should know there’s enough food and toilet paper for all if we simply shop responsibly,” she said. “Buy what you need and be considerate of others.” Pay attention to what you’re putting in your cart. Many families receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits, which are only redeemable on certain items and brands. If you’re not one of those families, avoid buying anything with a WIC shelf tag. These products are intended for the more vulnerable members of your community and supplies may be limited. If you are dependent on these services and have questions or concerns, call or text the national U.S.D.A. National Hunger Hotline. A representative will help you locate meal sites, food banks and other social services near you. You can also contact your local SNAP office and local WIC office for additional information. Maintain distance and practice good personal hygiene. Try your best to maintain distance from employees and other shoppers. Be diligent about washing your hands before and after you go to the store. Commit to buying any products you pick it up or touch. Whether you’re paying for your groceries with cash or credit cards, know that “forms of tender can be high touch points,” said Laura Strange, the senior vice president of communications and external affairs for the National Grocers Association. “Wash your hands afterwards or use some hand sanitizer if it’s available after you have some of these transactions.” Stay home if you’re sick. If you’re running low on food or other supplies, use a delivery service or reach out to a friend to see if they can help. Reach out. Not every store is adopting the same policies or protective measures. For instance, some stores are asking customers to bring their own reusable bags and others are asking them not too. “It’s still very fluid,” Ms. Strange said. If you’re uncertain about current protocol, call the store or check its website for the latest information. [Read more: Who Knew Grocery Shopping Could Be So Stressful?] How to respond when you’re overwhelmed by communication Give some leeway. Do not expect immediate responses from anyone you contact. Similarly, don’t expect yourself to respond to calls and check-ins right away. “Let your people know when you have the bandwidth and when you don’t,” said Summer Brown, a family and marriage therapist. If you’re inundated, decide which mode of communication is the best for you — texts, emails, calls — and respond only in that medium. If you have anyone particularly needy in your orbit, regularly review how the communication is going. Suggest adjustments if the frequency of calls isn’t working for either of you. When you do talk with friends and loved ones, Ms. Brown said, it’s not a good idea for people to dump their feelings on someone or let yourself be dumped on. It helps to ask for consent first: “Is this a good time for me to vent for 10 minutes?” If you need a break, let people know you aren’t up to speaking. Ms. Brown said we should be authentic, honest and genuine when setting limits. “Hold your ground,” she said. “Don’t get swayed by their tantrum to your limit setting.” This goes both ways: Accept if someone else declines your invitations to talk. Allow them the space they need. How to respond to your own anxiety Manage your own distress. “So often we act like our anxiety is the responsibility of our spouse, our friends, or anyone we encounter who could possibly calm us down,” said Kathleen Smith, a therapist and the author of “Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down.” “You may not have caused the anxiety, but what you do with it, how you handle it, is your responsibility,” Dr. Smith said. There are plenty of ways to self-soothe when you feel yourself spiraling: meditation, practicing better sleep hygiene, and regular exercise can all help manage stress and anxiety. Mindfully share your anxious thoughts with friends and family. “This might look like saying, ‘Let me share what’s been a challenge to me this week.’ Or, ‘here’s what’s been bothering me. I’d love to hear your own thoughts,’” Dr. Smith said. This is a more thoughtful way of asking for help than panicking. “It also helps the other person stay calm,” she said. “They’ll be less allergic to your anxiety and better able to assist you.” If you need additional support and guidance, apps like Talkspace and BetterHelp can provide affordable online counseling sessions. If you already have a therapist you feel comfortable with, see if they’re offering therapy services remotely. Push pause on social media. Take a beat before you pass your worries onto others, even online. “If I’m feeling hopeless or angry about how people are responding to a crisis, I do not broadcast my anxiety on social media,” Dr. Smith said. “I sleep on it and then ask myself the next day, ‘What thoughts do I think are important to share on social media?’” “The world needs our best thinking now,” she said, “not just our reactivity.”

Above photo credit: Elizabeth Bick for The New York Times

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