“More time with Daddy!”  

That was my seven-year old son’s immediate response when I told him his school was not going to reopen this week.  He didn’t quite understand the significance of the soon-to-be virtual learning that would begin in our home, but his quick and heart-warming response revealed what is truly important to him. 

The shuttering of schools and businesses has forced all of us to reassess our priorities. For many, it has been a painful and difficult process.  Instead of more free time, we’re finding that we actually have less.  It almost seems counterintuitive. We are not driving anywhere or going out except for picking up essentials, and yet it feels more challenging than ever to complete all of our daily tasks.  I’m not even talking about a desire to do home improvement projects or finally reading the novels that have been sitting on our nightstands. Our daily balancing act is teaching us the importance of time-management, all in the context of not knowing how long this epidemic will last. The uncertainty creates stress, and we know chronic stress is not good for our health. The images on television and social media create fear and stir anxieties that can easily impact our mental well-being.

My other son, only two years younger, has been saying this is like a “zombie apocalypse.” The reality is, the coronavirus epidemic isn’t an apocalypse in the colloquial sense.  Rather, it is more along the meaning that Arianna Huffington has written about describing the Greek etiology of apokalypsis – which is unveiling or revelation. In a sense, the suspension of normalcy we are experiencing is forcing a reveal.

I am disappointed in the cancellation of some networking work events.  I’m troubled that my kids aren’t having social interaction with friends that I think is needed for their development. I’m saddened that I won’t be able to celebrate Easter in the traditional sense with our extended families, or to visit my mother’s grave on the anniversary of her death.  Yet, I’ve also had this enormous gift of time to spend with my family.  The new reality means we are now together all day, every day.  That’s not something any of us are used to.

What has been revealed to me? Trying to be a more “glass half-full” than “glass half-empty,” I have focused on positive ways the stay-at-home order has brought joy to my life.  I’ve been baking more in the past three weeks than the past three years, resulting in more than a few laughs. There’s been more walks in the neighborhood than I can count, keeping my health in check and my mood upbeat. And I think I’m becoming an expert on board and card games.

The biggest change in how we live at home is that we have been eating every meal together as a family. We don’t even do that in the summer. I’m making “daddy’s oatmeal” and we debate whether it’s too hot or too cold. In five years from now, this time together is what my sons will remember, and I am grateful for this experience despite all that is going on around me.

Experts tell us to “control what we can control.”  That’s my focus to manage this crisis and it can be yours too. I can’t control what other people are doing, but I can make sure everyone in my household stays home and stays safe. I can control how I spend my time during the day and what I focus on. Keeping that in mind is helping me manage the challenges and the stress that comes with our lives being turned upside down.

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  • John Whyte

    John Whyte, MD, MPH

    Dr. John Whyte is a popular physician and writer who has been communicating to the public about health issues for nearly two decades. He is currently the Chief Medical Officer, WebMD. In this role, Dr. Whyte leads efforts to develop and expand strategic partnerships that create meaningful change around important and timely public health issues. Prior to WebMD, Dr. Whyte served as the Director of Professional Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at the Center for Drugs Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Whyte worked with health care professionals, patients, and patient advocates, providing them with a focal point for advocacy, enhanced two-way communication, and collaboration, assisting them in navigating the FDA on issues concerning drug development, review, and drug safety. He also developed numerous initiatives to address diversity in clinical trials. Prior to this, Dr. Whyte worked for nearly a decade as the Chief Medical Expert and Vice President, Health and Medical Education at Discovery Channel, the leading non-fiction television network. In this role, Dr. Whyte developed, designed and delivered educational programming that appealed to both a medical and lay audience. This included television shows as well as online content that won over 50 awards including numerous Tellys, CINE Golden Eagle, and Freddies. Dr. Whyte is a board-certified internist and continues to see patients. He has written extensively in the medical and lay press.