These are unusual times. Despite warnings from epidemiologists we were overdue and unprepared for a pandemic, I didn’t think about it unless writing post-apocalyptic stories.
Okay. I suppose I’ve had more practice thinking about this stuff than most, but very few of us prepared for a pandemic to happen.
When the first few cases of COVID-19 were reported in Washington State, I wasn’t too worried. The infected had flown in from China. When word got out a nursing home in Kirkland reported their first case without contact with a person who had traveled, the time to worry had arrived.
The virus is among us, uncontained.
My husband and I are shrinking further into self-imposed isolation. I’m “high risk” with my psychotic immune system, and despite people’s jokes that the time to weed out the weak is here, I’ll do what I can to thwart Darwin’s theory. We stocked up on non-perishables, grocery shop online, and rely on kind friends willing to run errands and leave stuff on the doorstep.
All of this isolation means ramping up self-care and finding novel ways to socialize.
Stick to a Routine
It’s tempting to sleep in, forget to brush your teeth or shower, and reach for the most comfortable clothes possible. You’re not seeing anyone in person, right?
One hallmark of depression is a lack of self-care. Mental healthcare professionals push patients to re-establish a routine for a reason. It helps. Try to keep a normal(ish) routine and don’t give in to the temptation to let things slide.
Your activities may need to be adjusted. Commit to waking up at the same time during weekdays, swap out jogging and YouTube exercise for going to the gym, maintain your hygiene, and eat on a schedule. Many churches hold live-streaming sermons, and some offer live chat so community members can connect.
If you’re one of the many people new to telecommuting, consider designating a specific area of your living space for work. Use your camera in remote calls as much as possible. Don’t apologize for being interrupted by pets or children. And for the sake of all that is good and holy, don’t use the bathroom while you’re on a call.
Break for lunch to take a quick walk and clear your head. Get up at least once an hour to refill your drink. Define work hours and try to adhere to them. It’s easy to get sucked into work and put in sixteen hours.
Embrace the Internet
Working remotely with clients requires video conferencing, frequent email communication, and adopting their internal chat tools. Now I these same techniques to socialize with my friends.
I use my Zoom account for virtual face-to-face time with family and friends. I’m coordinating a virtual book club with friends, so we have more to talk about than COVID-19. My grandparents are in their 90s, and technology is a little confusing to them, but they enjoy being able to talk face-to-face.
My husband and I also video game with my brothers and friends. We play Gears of War 5, which I prefer over Fall Out or Left4Dead.
I cut myself off social media for Lent, and the timing was perfect. Many people use Facebook to share incorrect information or a meltdown. While I’m all for venting one-on-one, avoid social media diatribes.
Exercise Is Essential
One of the best mood boosters is exercise. According to a recent study, you don’t need to do much exercise to feel the benefit. They suggest high-intensity exercise, such as running, for fifteen minutes or lower intensity exercise, such as walking or mindful yoga, for an hour.
As long as you following social distancing recommendations, outdoor exercise is best.
For those of you new to the world of outbreaks, the social distancing definition recommended at the moment by the CDC is avoiding gatherings and maintaining at least six feet from other people. Because COVID-19 can be transmitted through coughs and sneezes in the air, this is a smart policy. Note that six feet of space are not helpful if you’re in a poorly ventilated building.
Consider practicing meditation or yoga.
Try apps for meditation such as Calm or Headspace. I use Insight Timer. They offer a ton of free content, so you can find the technique or person’s voice that works for you. I recommend Andrew Johnson’s recordings on Insight Timer, which range from three minutes to an hour.
If you’re trying yoga for the first time, MBSR yoga is a great way to go. Mindful Hatha yoga instructors frequently remind students to listen to their body and skip anything that doesn’t feel okay. You can sit in a chair while you practice. Here’s one of the two versions I use.
Thank God for Nature
In the morning we walk up to four miles with our dog, Kevin. We move at a fast clip. Between the hills and the stairs, I don’t always pay attention to the beauty around me. But sometimes it hits me.
Earlier today, we walked across UW campus and took in the cherry blossoms from a distance. Despite the craziness going on in the world, nature is still doing her thing. Spring is here, and the signs of new life spread warmth through my chest.
Annie is of a more dignified age, and we walk her closer to home. Crocus blooms, daffodils, and cherry trees are around every turn.
I suggest hiking because the investment in equipment is minimal. Check out your state’s online resources for hiking, such as the Washington Trails Association. One of the few benefits of social distancing is it’s a nice excuse to go for a ride and immerse yourself in nature.
Don’t Eat Like a Teenager
Food cravings are normal, particularly in times of stress. Cortisol increases cravings for fatty and sugary foods because they’re cheap fuel for periods of flight or fight. Unfortunately, we can’t run away from a pandemic. Sugar actually increases cortisol, we remain stressed out, and a vicious cycle ensues.
Eat plenty of fresh vegetables, try offsetting sugar cravings with fresh fruit, and eat whole grains as part of your balanced diet. Treats are fine occasionally, but try to resist the impulse to binge.
I recommend avoiding caffeine (exacerbates anxiety), alcohol (a depressant), and other substances (for obvious reasons).
If you’re stuck avoiding people because of personal illness or because you’re a caregiver for someone who is high risk, you’re not alone! I hope you find these tips helpful and find creative solutions to connect with your community.
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.