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Maintaining Peace of Mind in the Time of COVID-19

By: Vanessa Vogel Batt L.Ac. MSOM

It’s been three weeks since the state of California issued “shelter in place” orders to its 40 million residents. Since then thirty-nine other states have followed suit, bringing the total number of states with stay home orders to 40. It is estimated so far that 297,000 million US citizens have been ordered to stay in--a whopping 90 percent of the country’s population. Even in those 10 states that have not issued official quarantine orders, many residents are in fact practicing social distancing under guidance provided by local governments.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has made the unimaginable, a reality, in a very short period of time. The experiences we are all sharing can only be described as novel, as in the adjective meaning new, interesting or unusual. This brings us to an old Chinese curse may you live in interesting times. Who will argue these times are not interesting?

As hundreds of millions of us in the US and more than a billion people across the globe remain largely confined to our homes for an extended period of time, we can develop new routines and strategies to maintain our peace of mind.

In New York City, Derek and his partner make sure they go to bed and wake up at the same time. Each night, no matter the weather, the couple takes a long walk before retiring for the evening. With this routine, the pair keeps a sense of normalcy.

Here we offer some of our favorite suggestions for your self-isolation routine.

Physically Isolate but Stay Connected

A big part of staying grounded through social distancing is staying socially connected. Physical isolation from others does not have to mean social isolation.

How perfect that available technology today allows us to stay in touch with anyone, at any time. On-line groups, social media, videoconferencing via Zoom, Google Hangout, Skype and FaceTime are saving the day. Maybe some of us find that we are more in touch with family and friends than ever before.

The prevalence of online support from our trusted sources is skyrocketing. Messages from our health care practitioners, spiritual teachers, friends, and other important social groups abound. They are true gems, shining ever more brightly because of their necessity. 

Take time, too, to think of who can you help by being in touch? Who can use a friendly ear or even just a short note to let them know you are thinking of them?

Eat Right

The best thing you can do at the moment for yourself, and for society, is remain healthy. These are epic times and you are a part of it. For an exercise in self-exploration, consider your daily decisions as epic as well. When we are dealing with intense emotions (grief and fear may be common now) the decision to eat a healthy lunch, as opposed to snacking on junk food, for example, takes on extra importance.

Mealtime is the perfect time to exercise judgment. In an effort to minimize over-eating, there are several hacks. First, keep regular meal times. Eat at a properly set table, and eat only when in this dining area. Start with a small portion of food and take more only if you are not full. Try these foods that combat stress

On the flip side of this, now is not the time to make harsh demands of yourself. If you gorged yourself on your stockpile of carby foods within the first day of your quarantine, give yourself a break. We are facing something unprecedented here, and we are all doing our best. Particularly, if you are someone who has issues with food, now is not the time to be overly demanding of yourself. In the words of body positivity advocate Megan Jayne Crabbe, “it’s OK if your body changes because your routine has.”

Start Your Day Right

An excellent way to start the day is to center yourself, before checking social media, and tuning into the news. This can take the form of meditation, stretching, breathing exercises, or taking a walk. Even if only for a minute, close your eyes and flood yourself with positive intentions and images. Take it a step further and offer the world your beautiful thoughts.

Before connecting with the rest of the world, first nourish yourself with a good breakfast and cup of hot tea or coffee. This type of self-discipline helps you feel strong, allowing you to calmly digest the day's news, at your pace, when you are ready. It also puts you in a position to help others who may need your compassion that day.

And again, remember to stay flexible with yourself. In life, there are some days when even getting up and and out of bed deserves an acknowledgment. Do what you can and be happy with what you do.

Less News, More Music

While staying informed is essential in a pandemic, being glued to the TV or the Internet is counterproductive. Set aside dedicated time to read the news and peruse social media. The media we consume is powerful as is the food we eat. News and media organizations are tasked with creating an enormous body of content in the forms of articles, video, and social media posts, much of it with headlines designed to grab our attention--often through sensationalism and fear. You don’t have to read all of it.

In addition to limiting your time spent consuming media, also choose your sources wisely. Be mindful of how you feel when you watch videos or read articles or posts. If you feel enraged, polarized, scared, or confused perhaps it’s the integrity of the content you’re taking in.

To stay informed, going directly to the source can also be useful. Be sure to check facts with the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization directly.

On the flip side, DO take in plenty of music. “When we satisfy our desire to eat, sleep, or reproduce, our brain releases dopamine—the "feel-good" neurochemical involved when we experience pleasure and reward. Turns out this same chemical is released when listening to music” according to an article in Psychology Today

Take it from an Astronaut

Who better to advise on dealing with isolation than someone who lived for a year in space?

In these days of COVID-19 astronauts are stepping up to share their advice.

“When you are living and working in the same place for days on end, work can have a way of taking over everything if you let it,” says retired NASA astronaut Scott Kelly in his well-read New York Times article. “I deliberately paced myself because I knew I was in it for the long haul — just like we all are today,” he says.

To maintain a healthy pace, Kelly recommends carving out time for non-work activities and one could argue this includes working on yourself. So be sure to always give yourself a break.

“You can be successful in confinement if you are intentional about your actions and deliberate about caring for your team,” according to astronaut Ann McClain. “When we work together, we will continue to be #EarthStrong."

People from all corners of the earth are sharing an extraordinary journey together, changing our personal lives and transforming our societies. Striving to maintain a peaceful mind does not mean you must become the Buddha, it simply means you seek balance when you feel overwhelmed or disturbed. The gift of great trials is that they always inspire us to let our humanity and ingenuity flourish. Use the time now to develop your healthiest self by remembering the words of an ancient Chinese adage He who returns from a journey is not the same as he who left.

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