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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives in profound and unprecedented ways. We’re all experiencing heightened anxiety about our health and safety, along with the negative emotional impacts of physical distancing. Some people are facing much more extreme hardships, such as the death of a loved one, isolation with an abusive partner, or elevated risk of poverty and homelessness. Most if not all of us are worried about people we love—whether it’s a relative, friend, or our community as a whole.
In the face of something as sudden and far-reaching as this pandemic, we can feel powerless. Although we want to support each other, we often don’t know where to start. But even the smallest acts of care can help others and contribute to renewing our sense of strength as individuals and communities. If you’re looking for a way to take action, we’ve compiled the tips and resources below to help you get started.
One of the best things you can do for your friends and family is simply to reach out. Call, text, and email the people you love, and invite them to talk openly about the fears and day-to-day challenges they’re experiencing. Make a special effort to connect with anyone in your community who may be particularly vulnerable, perhaps because they live alone, they’re at higher risk from this disease, or they struggle with a mental health challenge. Talking about hardship can be uncomfortable, but just acknowledging that someone is struggling truly does help.
You can also support your loved ones in setting healthy boundaries around their exposure to the news. Let friends and family know that while you want them to be informed, you also understand that 24/7 coverage of the pandemic can take a mental toll, and you’re always happy to talk about something else. If you notice that someone is overwhelmed with conflicting or speculative information, you can suggest a reliable news source such as the World Health Organization or recommend focusing on local news sources to stay informed of events and opportunities in their immediate community.
Resources for supporting friends and family:
With schools closed and many adults either out of work or working from home, this is an especially chaotic time for families, and in particular for parents. While you may not be able to help out in person, you can offer to occupy kids with a phone or video call while their parents take care of other responsibilities.
You can also help curate resources for kids who are out of school. Dig into sources like Khan Academy’s suggested homeschooling schedules, Common Sense Media’s curated games and videos for families, and general parenting and education sites like PBS Kids for Parents—and send links to specific activities so overwhelmed parents don’t have to spend time searching for the best-fit content.
Finally, remember to express support for the full range of choices parents might make about what’s best for their kids right now. Some parents will opt out of homeschooling, relax screen time restrictions, or make other adjustments to expectations and routines; you can help just by letting them know you respect those decisions.
Resources for supporting parents of school-aged kids:
Just as this situation is challenging for parents, it’s scary and confusing for kids. If you’re a parent or caregiver, you may be looking for ways to support younger children who are upset by school closures or missed time with friends, or who are anxious about what the pandemic means for their families.
Simple steps can go a long way toward helping kids feel safe. Limit their exposure to the news, and be thoughtful about when and how you discuss the situation and your own feelings. Give them extra hugs and affection, and tell them you love them.
If you aren’t sure what a child needs, start by asking questions and listening. Find out what they already know about the virus and its impact, and correct misinformation with age-appropriate facts. Assure them that the adults in their lives are working hard to keep everyone healthy. Finally, help them feel in control by explaining the concrete steps they can take to protect themselves and others, such as washing their hands, covering coughs, and practicing physical distancing.
Video and phone calls can also be great resources for kids who are feeling lonely. Arrange virtual play dates with friends and family members, and equip younger kids with conversation starters and mental games (like Twenty Questions) to make these interactions as fun and natural as possible.
Resources for supporting kids:
As the coronavirus continues to spread, the experience of losing a loved one to this disease—or knowing someone who has—is sadly becoming more common. If you have a friend or family member who is grieving a recent loss, the first and most important thing you can do is to reach out and let them know you’ll be there for them no matter what. Instead of just offering to “do anything” or “talk anytime,” take a specific action to help them cope, such as ordering their groceries or texting them daily even if they don’t always respond.
When offering support, be aware that this is a unique and extremely difficult time to be grieving. Because the pandemic has impacted almost everyone in some way, people who are dealing with a specific loss might feel that their grief is getting buried in the larger narrative. You can honor their personal experience by asking questions about their loved one, what they’re thinking and feeling, and how you can help. Don’t assume that you know what they’re going through, or that the coping strategies someone else has used will work for them. Instead, tell them you trust them and will support them in doing whatever feels right.
Physical distancing has also made grieving harder, as the pain of losing a loved one is compounded by being unable to gather with relatives or plan an in-person funeral. While there’s no way to replace those traditions, you can help your friend or family member arrange a virtual memorial or another remote tribute. Even something simple and informal, such as gathering a group to share stories and photos on a video call, can be meaningful and healing right now. You can also encourage them to journal or write letters to their loved one, which may help them process their grief.
Resources for supporting someone who’s lost a loved one:
Many people have lost jobs and health insurance as a result of this crisis, and those who were already without adequate food, housing, or health care are now at even higher risk. Low-income children are especially vulnerable, since school closures have disrupted free lunch programs and other services. If you have the means to give financially at this time, consider donating to your local food bank or to a nonprofit (such as United Way) that’s helping lower-income people cover rent payments and other basic needs. Some of these organizations may also have physically distanced volunteer opportunities; call or check their websites for details.
If someone you’re close to has lost a job, reach out to let them know you’re committed to being there for them in any way you can. Many people also anchor their identities in their work and income, so this is the time to emphasize to your loved one that they’re cherished and valuable no matter what. Remind them of their core strengths, and highlight the small things they do each day to contribute to their family and community. If they are experiencing severe financial hardship and struggling to meet basic needs, you can direct them to resources like United Way’s 211 helpline for information on government programs, discounted services, and nonprofit initiatives that may be able to help.
Resources for supporting people who are financially insecure:
With shelter-in-place orders limiting movement and interactions outside our homes, anyone experiencing domestic violence is at extremely high risk right now. Many people are suffering physical and emotional abuse for the first time, while others are seeing ongoing abuse escalate in ways that specifically target their vulnerability in the current crisis (for example, an abusive partner cutting off access to accurate news about the pandemic, or withholding essential supplies like soap and hand sanitizer).
If you know or suspect that someone you care about is being abused by a member of their household, reach out and stay connected in any way you can. Be nonjudgmental and empower them to do whatever they need to do to stay safe. Support them in small ways, such as ordering food and essential supplies and texting or calling frequently, and establish channels and signals that they can use to contact you if the abuse escalates. You can also encourage them to contact a domestic violence hotline, or do so on their behalf—these hotlines are still operating 24/7, with trained counselors and advocates available via chat, text, email, and phone.
Resources for supporting people experiencing domestic violence:
Physical distancing isn’t a viable option for essential service providers like doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery clerks, gas station attendants, postal workers . . . and the list goes on. These individuals are risking their own health to keep their communities safe and functioning, and they need all the support we can provide right now.
First and foremost, you can show support by taking steps to reduce the strain on frontline workers. Avoid unnecessary errands (including nonessential home deliveries) and ask your usual medical providers about rescheduling routine visits or moving them to phone or video consultations. When you do need to interact with a frontline worker, wash your hands first, give them as much space as you reasonably can, and let them know how much you appreciate their commitment to serving their community during this hard time.
If you want to take more direct action, consider sending e-cards or digital gift cards to employees at your local hospital, grocery store, retirement home, or other essential business. You can also donate to the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund to support efforts to provide frontline workers with essential equipment and supplies. And if you have a friend or family member on the front lines, reach out to let them know you’re available to talk, whether they need a sympathetic ear or a quick distraction.
Resources for supporting frontline workers:
This is a very uncertain time for small brick-and-mortar businesses. Nonessential shops and restaurants are either closed or dramatically altering their operations, and with most people staying home, the foot traffic they rely on is almost nonexistent.
If your financial situation hasn’t changed, see if you can buy online gift cards to support the businesses you would normally visit in person. Keep gift cards to use when stores reopen, or send them to anyone in your life who could use a special pick-me-up, such as an anxious friend, frontline worker, or elderly relative or neighbor. You can also continue to pay in-person service providers, such as hairdressers and house cleaners, as though you were keeping your regular appointments. Just call and ask that they charge your credit card as usual, or mail a check and a note to their business address.
Even if you aren’t able to contribute financially, you can let your local businesses know that you care about them and that you’ll be there as soon as they reopen. Comment on their social media accounts, leave them a glowing online review, or send an email to say that you value their presence in your community and appreciate everything they’re doing to keep their staff and customers safe.
Resources for supporting small businesses:
Some days can be harder than others. Use these strategies from Option B to find strength on hard days like holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays.
A leading trauma expert and clinical psychologist explains why talking about trauma helps the healing process.