"Don’t forget: It’s okay to take a breath, too. Be gentle with yourself," the former first lady wrote on Instagram

By Sean Neumann
March 23, 2020 10:39 AM

Michelle Obama on Sunday sent a message to Americans, many who are remaining indoors, as they grapple with ever more information about the novel coronavirus pandemic: “You aren’t alone.”

The former first lady’s message, which she shared on Instagram, was two-fold.

As people are largely stuck indoors, “social distancing” as part of a worldwide effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, she wanted to send assurance that the global community is uniting — and give a reminder to look out for neighbors who might be struggling because of the standstill in society, with many businesses temporarily closed and events canceled.

“These past few weeks have been scary and difficult for many of us. We just don’t have a roadmap for what we’re currently experiencing—that in and of itself can bring up feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and fear,” Obama, 56, wrote on Instagram. “Whatever you’re going through right now, I want you to know you aren’t alone. Even as we practice social distancing, this new normal is something we are figuring out together.”

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She shared tips on how people can help their community while in isolation, including volunteering and donating time — and money — to local efforts. (Health officials have said that avoiding large gatherings and staying home as much as possible is key to slowing new infections of the virus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.)

“Contact your local school and sign up to volunteer with their food distribution program,” one of Obama’s suggestions read. “Know a teacher or two? Reach out and ask how you can help.”

Obama also suggested offering to pick up groceries for those in the community who are at a greater risk of contracting the new coronavirus. People over 60 and those with pre-existing health conditions, such as an autoimmune disease, are more vulnerable.

“Search online and get involved with neighborhood groups that may already be assisting,” the former first lady also wrote.

Her Instagram post suggested ordering takeout food from a local restaurant, buying a gift certificate for that restaurant to use later or donating to a local business in the community, as small businesses struggle to stay operational during the crisis.

Other public officials have been giving tips on how to stay safe, stay sane and stay active during isolation.

First Lady Melania Trump will be appearing in a national public awareness campaign, the White House said last week.

Former President Barack Obama has been sharing articles that explain the importance of taking drastic action to “flatten the curve” and slow the spread of the coronavirus so as not to overwhelm hospitals while researchers work on possible treatments and a vaccine.

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Former First Lady Michelle Obama
Scott Olson/Getty

There have been more than 33,000 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. as of Monday morning, according to a New York Times tracker, and there have been 428 deaths.

More than 15,000 have died worldwide with about 351,000 confirmed cases of the virus as of Monday morning.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s leading expert on infectious diseases and a key part of President Donald Trump‘s coronavirus task force team, told the Today show last week that self-isolation efforts to contain the virus will likely last “at least several weeks” more.

Ivanka Trump, a White House senior aide, on Monday also shared words of encouragement via Instagram.

“We’re all in this together,” she said on her Story. “We’ll emerge from this stronger than before and maybe more deeply or profoundly connected with our own humanity.”

In her own Instagram post on Sunday, Mrs. Obama noted that her suggestions were “by no means an exhaustive list!”

“And don’t forget: It’s okay to take a breath, too,” she wrote. “Be gentle with yourself. Log off when you need to, take a break if you can, and let others know when you’d like a little help.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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