Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Prompt #350 – Writing in Stressful Times: The Covid-19 Pandemic

The idea of a global pandemic is the stuff of science fiction, or at least it ought to be. Right now, however, we’re in the midst of exactly that. Conditions are changing rapidly, case and death toll numbers increase daily, schools and businesses are closed, there are curfews in many towns, all of Italy is on lockdown, here in the U.S. we've been advised that gatherings should not exceed ten people, we're constantly reminded to wash our hands frequently, and social distancing is recommended for all of us. It's a little like living inside an episode of The Twilight Zone.

It’s a known fact that stress, trauma, and unexpected life events can throw us off emotionally and mentally. Writing about our feelings, while not a panacea for “fixing” our issues, can be therapeutic in helping us cope with some of the emotional “fallout” of unanticipated events like this Covid-19 pandemic.

Therapists have been using writing to help their clients for a very long time, and it has been found to have measurable benefits in dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, and grief. Of course, we all respond to these things in different ways. Writing isn’t for everyone, but for many it can be a great help in translating emotion to written language in ways that enable us to define and clarify what we feel as we process through difficult times. This kind of writing has been called “expressive writing,” and it may take any form (poetry, prose, journal entries, letters, and even just notes jotted down on scraps of paper).

Clearly, writing about our emotions is an introspective act, one that offers us a chance to find a place to work through whatever emotions are troubling us. It even offers us a chance to resolve our anxieties and other feelings—at least on paper if not in action.

During this very stressful time when we’re all faced with uncertainties and growing concern for our own and our loved ones’ health and safety, it just might help to write about whatever feelings we’re experiencing. Sharing what we write with close friends and family members may also bring about a measure of emotional healing and peace.

Following are a dozen suggestions for writing during this Coronavirus pandemic. Whether you're a writer or not—even if you've never written a poem in your life or feel that you don't have any writing talent—you might find one or more of these helpful. And, remember, despite working on social distancing or living in quarantine, we have great electronic ways to keep in touch with others and to share our writing without personal contact. You can email, text, and post on social media or websites and blogs. We're all in this together!


1. Your first goal is to simply get some thoughts onto paper. Face the pandemic squarely and try to free write about it. This is similar to stream of consciousness writing. Just write your thoughts as they come to you. Don't worry about grammar, spelling, or any other technical aspects of writing.

2. If expressing your feelings is challenging, try writing a single sentence about Covid-19, and then expand that sentence into a short paragraph. You might try beginning your sentence with something like, “Right now I’m feeling_____________”

3.  Try venting about the pandemic. Rant and rave on paper if you feel like it. Give yourself permission to write anything that “gets it all out.” (Feel free to figuratively stamp your feet, swear if it helps.)

4. Try writing a list poem (or just a list) that focuses on how the pandemic makes you feel and what your general and specific fears are?

5. Write a 10-word poem about yourself right now. Choose your words carefully.

6. Write a 10 or 20-word poem that consists of the words you’d most like to hear during this challenging time.

7. Try writing about your Covid-19 Virus feelings in the third person. Give yourself that little bit of distance so you can look at your feelings as if someone else were experiencing them.

8. Consider keeping a diary and writing something each day (or every few days, whatever works for you). The idea is to commit to writing something on a regular basis.

9. Write letters to yourself or to family members or friends. This is a good way to share your feelings even if no one but you ever sees the letters.

10. Write about all the things that would make this time better for you. Or, alternatively, write about how wonderful things will be when this is over.

11. Make a list of things that make you smile despite the pandemic.

12. Close your eyes for a few minutes and breathe deeply. Concentrate on your breathing. Fill yourself (your heart) with loving thoughts and then write about something (anything) positive and uplifting.

Any of these suggestions may be edited and refined into a poem (or other writing genre),
but remember that’s not the immediate goal.

This will pass, my dear friends.
For now, stay safe and,
if it helps, write whenever you need to and can.

I send my very best wishes and virtual hugs to all of you!