Close Connections: Quarantine the virus


By Nancy Norman

I notice the older I get, the more my goal becomes eliminating feeling bad.

How about you?

I, like most people, am keenly aware of the virus (I don’t honor it with a full name when I think about it) and its dangers. I periodically pay attention to updates through Colorado Department of Health and Center for Disease Control. But most of the time, it doesn’t occupy my time. WHAT?! I do my best to practice compartmentalizing it.

Compartmentalization, in psychology, is the mental process of keeping upsetting feelings, thoughts, events separated from our everyday awareness in order to avoid feeling bad. Some professionals believe it’s something we do without being aware of it. Others say we can learn how and when to compartmentalize and that will help our mental well-being. Both views are accurate, but I’m talking about the latter practice of redirecting focus on purpose.

It’s important to know when and why you’re quarantining something. It’s also vital to be flexible, to not become rigid to the point of not being able to deal with whatever you put in isolation.

So, back to the virus (or other disturbing things). I ask myself several questions:

  • Is it affecting me or my immediate friends and family? (Sounds selfish, but worrying about things that don’t affect me can keep me from caring about others.)
  • Is it something I can do anything about, and if so, what?
  • Is it something I can be flexible about?

Answers are: Yes, it can affect me or those around me, and I will continue to care about the peoples of the world without having to worry about them. Yes, I can wear a mask and keep physical distance. Yes, I can be flexible by bringing it to the forefront to update any time I need to.

I thankfully learned from my dad to minimize negative stuff. So, I spend very little time thinking about the virus. If it worries me, I put it back in a box called “Later.” If it tries to escape, I rebury it. If it comes up in conversation, I soon ask to talk about something else or make an excuse to leave. It takes practice to compartmentalize it, particularly when bombarded with its presence everywhere I look–including so much misinformation and distorted statistics.

Here’s my friend, Sandi, talking about compartmentalizing as she deals daily with her mom in assisted living. “I think I’m able to pretty much forget about Mom problems while golfing. I have to be doing something I’m totally engrossed in for it to work, though. Watching our fun shows in the evening works pretty well, too. I think the ability to compartmentalize is crucial to mental health! If I carried EVERYTHING in my mind ALL the time, I would certainly go bonkers!”

Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., in Psychology Today, says it this way: “Compartmentalization is not about being in denial; it’s about putting things where they belong and not letting them get in the way of the rest of your life. You can’t just ignore your issues and expect them to go away, but obsessing on them won’t help either.”

Nancy Norman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, musician with The Storys duo and former “Intimacy” columnist for “The Wichita Eagle.” Email her at

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