About 8 years ago I was on a bus in Australia on the way to the airport. I was making my way through my first trip abroad and I had just missed my flight to New Zealand. I didn’t have a working cell phone and my credit card was being denied because I had failed to call my bank prior to the trip. I was worried the cost of the flight change would wipe out a major chunk of my savings and cut my trip short. I was worried about needing to call my parents to ask them to send money. I was worried about the dog I had left at home. I was worried about the ‘I told you so’ when I came home with my tail between my legs, not being able to travel without a real adult. I was scared I wasn’t a real adult and wouldn’t know how to calmly handle whatever came next.
Then, I had another type of thought. I realized I could spend the rest of the bus ride bouncing my leg, picking my nails, and imagining every worst case scenario but no matter how much stressing I did it wasn’t going to change the outcome. What happened when I arrived at the airport was going to happen, with out without the preceding anxiety. I could lose it or I could laugh, either way- the ending would still be the same.
As someone who had spent a fair portion of her late teens and early twenties anxious, this was a novel concept to me. I could just choose to not be anxious. So I laughed. My travel companion looked up from the flight itinerary she was rereading for the 100th time that morning and, knowing instantly what was so funny, she started laughing too. Our trip plans changed a lot in the next few hours and the changes ended up being the best part of my time abroad.
While a little bit of travel trouble pales in comparison to the pandemic and fear the world is facing, we still sit on the edge of that same choice right now.
We can fall into the chasm of anxiety. We can choose to spend our days pacing the house feeling scared, bored, and sorry for ourselves. We can choose to spend our quarantine fretting over our elderly parents or immunocompromised friends. We can worry about food availability and hoard things at the expense of our neighbors. Or, we can choose to not be anxious.
We can make the choice to spend our quarantine reconnecting with ourselves and the people we love the most. Technology allows us the opportunity to continue to connect with others through this. While that connection can provide us calm and joy in the midst of chaos, the most important connection remains that with yourself.
Panic will get us nowhere. Choose to dance in the rain. Take that anxious energy and channel it into finding center within your own being. I have a few ideas to help you keep your center as we weather this storm.
Try yoga. Yoga is a wonderful blend of deep breathing, presence, meditation, and movement. The act of focusing on your breath and your movement will bring you into the present moment and will allow for a reduction in anxiety. You can find a number of yoga videos on YouTube and many studios are offering live-streaming of their classes during the outbreak. If funds allow, I encourage you to try a live-streamed class and support a small business.
Find your strength. The Via Institute on Character offers a free survey to help you discover the character strengths you already have. According to their website, research shows people who use their strengths are 18x more likely to be flourishing than those who do not use their strengths. Learning how to better utilize the character strengths you already have can improve happiness, boost your mood, and contribute to greater success at school and work. Plus, it’s always fun to take quizzes that teach you things you didn’t know about yourself.
Learn a new skill. As an avid traveler, knowing a fair amount of Spanish has been pretty invaluable while abroad so one thing I will be doing during my quarantine is working to improve my language skills with Duolingo. DIY projects like cheese or soap making will be incredibly useful and- bonus- will reduce your need to go to the store in the future. You can learn just about anything with Google and YouTube these days. I know many of you could also stand to get in the kitchen. Stop being so afraid that you will mess it up. You probably will at some point, and it’s okay. Just like any other skill it takes practice to be competent.
Read a book. One of my favorite things in the world to do is string up my hammock and dive into a good book. It’s a perfect combination of getting out in the sunshine, relaxing, and stimulating my brain. Literally one of the best memories of my life is laying down in my hammock in Joshua Tree National Park after a long hike with Michael Pollan’s Cooked. I’m actually currently listening to his short book Caffeine right now. I love Audible books because they allow me to ‘read’ a lot while walking the most adorable pup on the planet or doing chores around the house. I’m also on a mission to improve my sustainability so ebooks and audio books present a great opportunity to reduce waste.
Take a class with Coursera. There are tons of free educational courses you can take to learn something new, enhance skills or knowledge you already have, or explore something totally unknown just for fun. Lifelong learners have an improved sense of well-being, protection from mental health difficulties, and an enhanced ability to cope with potentially stress-inducing circumstances. Sounds like just what we need right now. Not only that, learning improves self-esteem, competency, social integration, and provides a sense of purpose and hope. Coursera even has a course on positive psychology which I’m sure will be especially useful in the coming months.
Plant a garden. Spring is here and it’s the perfect time to learn how to fend for yourself a little more when it comes to food. Not only that, there is no store bought tomato that will ever taste as good as those you grow yourself. Even those with limited outdoor access can grow veggies with container gardening. Starting a compost is another wonderful way to reduce the waste going to a landfill and you can use the soil it produces in your garden. Compost soil is known as “black gold” because it’s super dark soil and incredibly nutrient-dense. The more nutrients in the soil, the more nutrients in the food it grows.
Sit back and think about your life. How are you finding joy? What are you grateful for? How can you inject more of that into your life now and as the world returns to normalcy? This isn’t the time to think of what you don’t like about your life. Try to focus on what the positives are and how to build from there.
Be in nature. This doesn’t have to be at a park or on a hike where you may come into contact with others. This can be in your own backyard. Take off your shoes, walk barefoot, and really connect to the earth. Studies show time spend in nature reduces the activation of the sympathetic nervous system- the part of the nervous system that puts you in fight-or-flight mode. Just being in nature will reduce your anxiety if you do it for long enough. If you have a tent- I say spend some time camping out in your backyard under the stars. Your kids will love it. If you don’t have a tent, check with your local Buy Nothing group to see if anyone has one you can have or borrow. Just remember to avoid contact with the kind soul that drops it off.
Work on your meal ideas list. Selfishly, I needed to add this in for my clients. Remember the probably thousand times I have told you to work on building a list of commonly consumed dinners? Now is the perfect time to do it. Spend some time looking up recipes and use social media or email to ask your friends what their go-to dinners are. Have a good combination of quick and easy recipes as well as things that may be a little more labor intensive but are worth it for how tasty they are. The more you build out this list, the easier your weekly meal planning process will become. Bonus points if you make a grocery list next to each recipe.
Okay now it’s your turn. Let me know in the comments how you are using this time to become more connected to yourself, your loved ones, and this planet.
Stay home and stay healthy, friends.