First off, I live in Massachusetts. We’re pretty much in lockdown, with roughly two thousand new cases of the coronavirus daily. My husband has been working from home for almost a month; I’m a writer who always works from home. Our schools are closed, probably for the rest of the school year. We’re asked to stay home except for necessities like medicine and food. You couldn’t pay me to get on a plane or an elevator. I’m over 60 and so is my husband. Keeping my immune system strong takes a lot of work since chemotherapy, admittedly a long time ago, still leaves its scars.
Secondly, I’m an active person. I love spending time at home, but only when balanced with activity and with seeing people. The gym is closed, of course. Our state parks and trails are closed. I’m finding that my much-relied-upon willpower for working out at home has tractor-trailer-sized holes in it. Did I say how much I miss my gym and my friends and my hiking trails?
So I’m searching for ways to keep myself both safe and reasonably happy. Please don’t think I find this easy. We’re amidst a pandemic! My days go up and down. But I’d like to share with you what sources of comfort I’ve found.
Go Outside, Safely
If the sun is shining, you’ll get some Vitamin D, always a good thing. Stay 6’ away from anyone you don’t live with, of course, which means crossing the street if others don’t get it. Personally, I wear a mask (a hiking bandana) because droplets of virus can remain in the air for up to 3 hours and it keeps me from touching my face. It also encourages others to take this danged coronavirus seriously. Plus, call me contrarian, but if masks keep the virus in for sick people, how can they not keep it out for well people?
Getting outside relieves the pressure of cabin fever and, combined with movement like walking, tends to lower the blood pressure and up the endorphins. Being outside also reminds me the world is large, full of mystery and miracle. Not to mention that it’s spring, a season of freshness and hope.
Ah, another benefit to walking outside: nature is full of beauty, both large and small scale.
Find Beauty Indoors
I received this link from the inimitable Sara Treco, President of Massachusetts State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Joining this Massachusetts group is cheap and easy. iI you’re interested, click here to learn more about the organization, support women in the arts, and treat yourself to local events in MA. Or find a similar group near you by checking out the National Museum of Women in the Arts, my always-must-see museum in Washington, DC.
Learn Something New
There are tons of courses online for us to enjoy. Learning something new increases our self- esteem and sense of worth. Not to mention that’s it’s fun and engaging.
Staying on the art theme, here’s a list of 10 Art History classes you can take online for free, again thanks to Sara Treco.
A course that sounds particularly apt for these times that is free and online is “The Science of Well-Being”, Yale’s most popular course ever by professor Laurie Santos, pictured below. The Boston Globe recently did a piece on Dr. Santos and her course.
Still the Mind and Quiet the Anxiety
In these days of social distancing, getting a massage or a session of acupuncture to relax us and enhance our immune systems is out of the question. However, we can find other ways to calm the mind and relieve some of our anxiety. My personal favorites are doing yoga and meditating.
For wonderful Iyengar Yoga classes online via Zoom, check out the offerings of two experts who’ve taught yoga for more than twenty years, Candace Carey and Joseph Satlak. I’ve taken yoga classes from them for over a decade. You can pay for the classes via PayPal. Their studio, and schedule of online classes, are at Still Water Yoga.
I used to be able to meditate completely on my own. No longer! During this pandemic, my mind leaps around like a medley of frogs, usually with to-do lists I’m not doing and worries about family and friends and the coming elections and climate change and the world in general. Know what I mean? So I tune into a free online site for guided meditations that fit every mood and every amount of time you’d like to spend: Insight Timer. I meditate when my heart starts racing, if I wake up in a crummy mood, if I haven’t slept well, can’t get to sleep, or need to solve a problem. Trust me, there’s a meditation for everything. And they work. I always feel better after meditating.
My husband and I love to go to plays. Now? No can do. But here’s good news: we can all stream the powerful play Pipeline, performed by the Central Square Theater and Nora Company for a mere $10, more if you can afford it. According to the New York Times, “Pipeline confirms Dominique Morisseau’s reputation as a playwright of piercing eloquence.” The play ponders the current day issue of the “school-to-prison” pipeline that too often ensnares people of color in our country.
Books, books, and more books! I’ve been dipping back into my science fiction collection, begun forty years ago, and pulling out novels I haven’t touched since then as well as some newer ones. It’s a great escape. Science fiction is filled with people who face insurmountable odds, work hard and smart, and come out the other side of the problem. Just like we need to.
Games work well, too. Crossword puzzles for me! Scrabble. Maybe other board games or picture puzzles or Sudoku. You might decide to try the brain-training app, Lumosity, that purports to increase your skills in short term memory, math, spatial reasoning, estimation, word proficiency, and more. You sign up and pay monthly for this site.
And, of course, television. Ask your friends what they’re watching. Trade titles and dive in. It’s okay to take a break from the news. In fact, it may be necessary.
Mourn, then Set New Goals and Expectations
I’m just starting to think about this myself, since I’ve had to give up four goals coming up that involved hiking trips and I’m still mourning the loss of these adventures with friends and family that I’ve spent months planning and putting in motion and anticipating with joy. I’m sure you know the feeling. It’s important to allow ourselves the space to grieve whatever our losses are, even the mundane one of having our usual structure in place, before we can move on with interest to shifting into new patterns.
I’ve got one new goal already, which is writing more now that I’m stuck at home. An article I wrote, “Low Back Pain Relief” just appeared in PrimeWomen, an online magazine. Give it a glance and see what you think. And, well, I’m writing this blog post aren’t I?
Refreshing the Spanish I learned in college is another goal. I’m working online with DuoLingo (free) and Rosetta Stone (not free.) I set daily goals, like half an hour of practice a day, five times a week and voila! I feel like I’m doing something productive, learning, and spending at least that amount of time not thinking about you-know-what. Also, it provides a kind of structure to these sometimes formless days.
I’m also giving myself permission to spend more time just escaping through walking or entertainment (see above).
To the extent you can, consider helping others. Call neighbors who may be more at risk than you to see how they’re doing. Maybe start up an email group for your street or neighborhood to provide a forum for people to exchange information and videos about the virus, or to offer and ask for services to help one another. Now is the time to be kind. Now is the time to help one another.
The benefit accrues not just to the receiver of kindness, of course, but to the giver. It helps me get out of my own head and it makes me feel good if I think I’ve done something useful. Enterprising folks in my neighborhood have organized to sew masks, caps, and gowns for local first responders. (If I could sew, I’d join them.) Instead what I’m doing is writing postcards to voters in key swing states because, atop everything else, there are, you may recall, a gajillion critical local, state and federal elections coming up this year. If you lean Democratic, you can contact organizations like Swing Left and Vote Forward to help out with letter or card writing or sending texts. Basically, whatever kind of volunteer activism they’ve got going on, you can connect up with.
When I do these activities, I feel not only like a good citizen. I feel hopeful.
Having never used FaceTime before, I’m now a devotee. Some of my best moments of the past month, talking and laughing, have been spent with friends using FaceTime. Another friend has become proficient at hosting Zoom sessions and so three of my hiking buddies and I “met” with each other to discuss the trip we’d been planning and, sadly, had to cancel. And one can join Zoom for free now.
Hearing how people are faring in other states, or countries, brings us together. Seeing beloved faces of family and friends that we can’t go see in person makes a huge difference in lightening the weight of worry. Yesterday, I face-timed (could have zoomed) with my best friend from first grade, a woman whom I haven’t clapped eyes on in at least forty years. We talked for an hour, something I hadn’t expected, something wondrous. And today I got to send her a picture, the one person on the planet who could best appreciate it the way I do because she was there in the Brownie troop when I made these Christmas stockings all those years ago.
If you don’t like using either of these newer technologies to connect, pick up the phone. Write letters. Send emails. Instagram. Whatever works for you to make you feel connected and less alone during the trials of social distancing and the fear of contagion.
So, wash your hands and the plastic stuff from the grocery and the rest of the outside world, don’t touch your face, and be well. Let me know what you’re doing to stay sane during these days that feel anything but.