Going to Plan B: When COVID pulls the rug out from under you

Going to Plan B: When COVID pulls the rug out from under you
Going to Plan B: When COVID pulls the rug out... 07:17

Karina Lopez leaves nothing to chance, and we mean NOTHING. "I am a planner. I'm a planner by nature," she said.

Correspondent Susan Spencer asked, "What sorts of things would you plan?"

"One of the things that we love to do with our friends in particular is our Friendsgiving. And I would plan every last detail. I mean, down to what everyone would be wearing, or a color scheme."

Hardly a surprise then that Lopez is a professional wedding planner, based near Buffalo, New York. And guess whose wedding she's been planning her whole life? Her own: "Probably since I was literally a little girl. Maybe I was five years old."

Lopez and her fiancé, Curt Rogers (who's also her business partner), set their sights on a pull-out-all-the-stops multi-day affair last summer with 200 guests. "We were going to kick off the weekend with a welcome party on the Friday evening," Lopez said. "Saturday was gonna be breakfast and lunch, and then the wedding at night. And a great brunch farewell on that Sunday."

"Wow! How did it go?" Spencer asked,

"It didn't!" Lopez laughed. "Something called COVID hit, and we had to postpone."

And COVID hit both would-be newlyweds … hard. "I have never been that sick in my life," said Lopez. "I mean, it felt like I had gotten run over by a car. And I had the worst cough I've ever had in my life."

Forget that wedding. "I think I had a breakdown in bed, while I was sick with COVID," Lopez said. "And I just, like, started hysterically crying. I just knew that it wasn't gonna happen. And then, of course, immediately after I felt guilty for crying about it, because people were dealing with serious issues."

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Like much of 2020, the wedding was put on hold. CBS News

The cloud of uncertainty introduced by the 2020 pandemic has touched everything, and the impact of that uncertainty on many people, said psychiatrist Pavan Madan, is that it can breed anxiety.

Dr. Madan said an inability to plan weighs heavily on his patients these days. He works in the university town of Davis, California, where a lot of students find their futures on hold. "They've gone back and moved in with their family, which was unexpected and unusual for their stage in life," he told Spencer.

Dr. Madan's advice is to put big dreams aside for now, and focus instead on the small, more manageable details of daily life.

So, Spencer asked, "You should get up at 9:00, and then you should have breakfast at 9:30, just to get structure back?"

"I use more of a collaborative approach," Dr. Madan said. "Just refocusing in a way that makes people think about what's important for them and how they would like their structure to be."

So, when was the last time you put something on your calendar and honestly felt like it would happen? Never mind a wedding – how about a dental appointment? 

For a lot of people, what is on their calendar – even a lot of blank days – may define them. "In a way, yeah. We are what we do," said University of Delaware psychology professor Philip Gable.

We need plans, according to Gable, who sees them as essential to happiness. Plans, he said, "give us direction. They give us hope."

And when we can't plan, time itself can seem to crawl. "When people are experiencing negative states, negative feelings, then they will experience time tending to drag," Gable said.

"So, this accounts for people not being able literally to remember what day it is?" asked Spencer.

"Also, we've lost a lot of our rhythms. A lot of those patterns that separate the weekday from the weekend create that sense of 'Blursday' – the sense that it's all one day, yeah."

Indeed, "Blursday" may be the most popular day on the pandemic calendar.

Spencer asked, "So, as you look at Blursday, where exactly in the week does it fall?"

"Could be tomorrow, or it could've been yesterday," Gable replied.

"Are we hardwired to plan and to look ahead all the time?"

"We are, actually. Human beings are unique; they're unique in their ability to think about the future."

But Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer said something else also is at play – what she calls the "illusion of control."

"it started when I had been in a casino, and I see people talking to slot machines," Langer laughed. "And it occurred to me that they actually thought they could control the outcome. And this was kind of silly. You can't control things that are chance-determined."

But that need for control drives us to plan, even today when so much is unpredictable. Professor Langer said it's like pushing the "close door" button in an elevator. Believe it or not, most of those buttons don't actually do anything; they're installed only to make us feel better. 

"Pressing the button takes very little energy, [and] doing something often feels better than doing nothing," Langer said.

"Would you recommend that we have faith and just keep pushing those buttons?" asked Spencer.

"I think wholeheartedly I recommend pushing that button, unless it means pushing people out of the way to get to it!"

So, keep pushing, and planning, but knowing that these are uncertain times. "Plans are guesses," said Langer. "But what we need to recognize is that if something leads us in a different direction, that could end up even better for us."

Spencer said. "I just talked to a young woman who had to postpone her giant wedding. Concrete plans like that, I think, may be a little bit more difficult to get past."

"Surely there are advantages of delaying the wedding," Langer said. "You delay it, you have more time to look forward to it, more time to change your mind if that's the direction in which you want to go!"

Maybe not what Karina Lopez wants to hear! But in spite of everything, she is optimistic … and still planning. "What do you have to look forward to if you're not gonna plan for anything?" she said.

"The alternative would be you're just setting yourself up," Spencer said.

"Yes. Which is why perhaps you do have a Plan B, and a Plan C, that you know for sure can happen," Lopez said.

"So, the answer to any doubt about planning is to do more planning?"

"Yes!" she laughed.

      
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Story produced by Amiel Weisfogel. Editor: Carol Ross.