Facing Pandemic Panic? Pick up a Book

Getting lost in a book can help you escape the chaos of this coronavirus pandemic.

I was on vacation when everything went south with the coronavirus pandemic. My mom and I had planned a trip to Hawaii. As an airline magazine publisher, she would conduct business there the week after our Pacific island vacation. I was just along for the ride.

What started as a trip to escape the stress of the mainland turned into its own stress trip. My mom, who was supposed to be off the clock, started getting emails and phone calls left and right (from five time zones away, no less) about business halting and advertisers panicking. Nobody knew how their livelihoods would be affected by the coronavirus, or if their jobs would survive.

This is not how I wanted to spend my vacation. We were supposed to be ESCAPING the stresses of the developed world, not diving into a global panic! Of course, I was worried about my mom and her job, and I seethed at how unfair it was to her that her vacation was being ruined, too. I didn’t want to hear this. I didn’t want to be a part of this. And I certainly didn’t want to panic.

So what did I do?

I grabbed a book (two, in the end) and I didn’t come out until the coast was clear. Even until we went home. Even now as we’re sheltering in place.

Stay with me here: when you feel like the world is coming crashing down around you, for whatever reason, you may feel the need to escape. Some people like adrenaline rushes, some people like to go back to bed, and some people like to binge-watch TV series. I like to dive into a book. Because when you can’t get yourself out of anything else — your location, your brain, your body, your circumstances — you can get lost in a book and find something new there.

I know how important it is to stay updated on events happening around the world, but with 24/7 coverage and statistics, theories, and maps changing all the time, it can get overwhelming. Rather than feeling like I am informed and prepared, I feel steamrolled with information (reliable or otherwise) and tips and tricks for not touching your face or debates about whether you should clean off your grocery bag. Even at the job I’m lucky to keep, I am sharing, editing, writing, and posting articles and blog posts about communications responses, creating hybrid conferences, and responding to this world-shaking pandemic. So what’s my personal panic response plan?

I read.

I don’t see this so much as sticking my head in the sand and being tone-deaf to the world’s current events, but rather as a coping mechanism in response to it all. We all need to keep going through all of this — what other choice do we have? — and that also means we all need to figure out how to ground ourselves when we are shaken by global trauma. And for me, that means going down a rabbit hole, up in space, back through time, or into a different world so that I can reset my brain and my perspective.

One thing I’m noticing as a benefit is that as I try to understand plots and characters, I am learning new ways to understand the world and other people. Reading opens up new avenues for compassion. Getting lost in a book also tells the anxiety and exhaustion that’s gnawing on my brain to take a hike as I spend my energy on imaging a world that feels a little bit better to me right now than the one I currently inhabit.

Stories have kept us entertained even before they could be written down. Genealogies, oral traditions, songs, fables — stories have been with us almost as long as language has been with us. So it shouldn’t feel tone-deaf or silly to want to escape into the familiarity of an old favorite or into the thrill of a new adventure. At this point, it’s part of our DNA. Books can’t solve your problems. They can’t make troubles go away. But in this pandemic, nothing can. At least a good story can open our hearts, rather than close them — and that makes everything a little more bearable.

So right now, when it feels like your whole world is falling apart (or anytime it feels like the whole world is falling apart), and you’re scared of the uncertainties and the unknowns, find refuge in what has been with us for millennia. Pick a story. Open a book.

Be in the know with Grotto