Don't freak out

That's Rule No. 1 in my family and at least one other. It's simple, but it's not easy, especially now. Plus, a bunch of other things worth your time.

My wife and I met during college. We dated during our senior year and for a while afterward.

Then, we broke up. We didn’t reconnect until our 20th college reunion.

After that, we moved quickly: got engaged in a few months, married in less than a year. Now, we have a preschool-aged daughter and we live in the ‘burbs.

We have some other friends, a husband and wife, who took a different path. All four of us went to college together, but they skipped the whole “two decade hiatus” thing, and got married and had a family almost right out of school.

The result is that they’re our peers, and great friends—but they’re also 20 years ahead of us as parents.

I’ve turned to them a lot for advice, and one of the best things they shared early on was what they call Rule No. 1 in their family: “Don’t freak out.”

It’s applicable to almost challenge. We taught it to my daughter almost as soon as she could speak, and it’s shorthand in our family now, too, when people get upset: “What’s Rule No. 1?”

Like a lot of things in life, the rule is simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I admit: It’s been an effort for me to follow Rule No. 1 consistently over the past few weeks—as COVID-19 has grown from an abstract negative news story (somewhere else), to a bizarre, aggressive disruption in all our lives.

But it turns out that a while back, I wrote a column for about things to do when you’re feeling overwhelmed. (I’d completely forgotten about this until recently. That happens a lot since I’ve written something like 3,000 columns.)

Some of the advice seems anachronistic in light of our current predicament: “go take a walk,” or “take a night off for dinner with friends,” or “go to a movie if you can swing it.”

(Ah, the way we were.) But some of the ideas remain very applicable:

  1. Take a physical or emotional time-out. On it.

  2. Work out. I’ve kind of fallen off the wagon here, and it’s probably not unrelated. I’ll add this to my list.

  3. Pray or meditate. I’m glad to have found this four-year-old article because I mentioned in it that I occasionally used to go to a Catholic church run by the Jesuits near my office in New York. I hadn’t forgotten going—but I would have had a hard time remembering what saint it was named after.

  4. Phone a friend. Funny, I talked twice yesterday with the very same friend I mentioned in this article in 2016. (He also went to college with the four of us I mentioned above.)

  5. Talk things over with your significant other. LOL, my poor wife, cooped up with me now and hearing EVERYTHING going on in my head.

  6. Write stuff down. I don’t keep a diary, but I’ve basically littered the Internet with my thoughts over the past decade.

  7. Clean up. Yeah, I need to do more of that.

Those are just my strategies. I’m sure a lot of people reading this have even better ones. (Feel free to share.) But honestly, whatever it takes.

There are very few situations in life that are improved by losing control and freaking out. So thanks to my friends, my wife, and my daughter, for reminding me when I need it most about Rule No. 1.

Like say, right about now.

9 other things worth your time

  • “A prestigious scientific panel told the White House Wednesday night that research shows coronavirus can be spread … just by talking, or possibly even just breathing.” Related: the government is expected to advise officially Friday that almost all Americans should wear masks whenever they leave the house. (CNN, The Hill)

  • First government official to be fired: The captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, whose letter asking to offload sailors from his ship due to a COVID-19 outbreak leaked, was relieved of his command. (Stars & Stripes) [Added the word “leaked,” which was omitted due to a typo.]

  • Italy’s official death toll from the virus stands at 13,155. But that might be vastly undercounting the number of deaths, by thousands at least, because so few people actually get tested before they die. (The Wall Street Journal, $)

  • The death toll in France jumped 1,500 in one day — but authorities say that’s partly because they’d undercounted previously, not counting all the people who’d died in nursing homes. (Bloomberg)

  • Advice: Try not to go to the grocery store (get delivery instead). But if you’re without options, go at off-peak hours, stay 6 feet away from other people, and use the self-checkout aisles. Bring wipes and run your credit card through a reader instead of handing it to someone else. And of course, wash your hands. (The Wall Street Journal, $)

  • “Banks are warning that a $350 billion lending program for struggling small businesses won't be ready when it launches Friday because the Trump administration has failed to provide them with the necessary guidelines and has set requirements for the loans that are unworkable.” (Politico)

  • The USNS Comfort hospital ship arrived in New York to great fanfare, but it’s treated only three patients so far, none of whom has COVID-19. “‘If I’m blunt about it, it’s a joke,’” said Michael Dowling, the head of Northwell Health, New York’s largest hospital system.” (New York Times)

  • Some European heads of state are using the crisis to declare absolute power, including Hungary, Serbia. Also, Turkmenistan which isn’t technically in Europe, but I’m adding it here because it’s now illegal now even to say the word “coronavirus” there, apparently. (Associated Press, Fox News)

  • A Harvard student has an idea: why not just give everyone a 4.0 for the semester. (The Crimson)

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