All this sheltering-in-place has made some of us soft and flabby. Now that we’re taking off our masks, we’re also sucking in our guts.
It’s all those snacks we ate out of boredom or anxiety or to lift our sagging spirits. All those microwaved meals scarfed down in front of the TV because we were burned out working from home or playing teacher for our kids. It’s the lack of gym access or motivation to get off our duffs and do some squats and planks and brisk walks that has morphed us into something doughy.
And don’t get me started with cable news. We may have gorged on that, too, digesting angry words from talking heads who spouted their opinions over the airwaves. Poison to the brain.
After digesting these poisons, we might have loaded up on supplements to keep us out of doctor’s offices. Pills for heart health and brain health, pills to keep our joints mobile and our hormones balanced. We may have even reached for Zen in a bottle, when all we really needed was to turn off the television and get moving.
Others among us managed to resist the lure of treats and television, opting instead to ride a bicycle, walk the neighborhood and climb actual or metaphorical mountains. These more adventurous souls braved the Farmers’ Market, prepared their nutritionally dense food while classical music wafted over the airways, and ate their meals seated by a window with a garden view. You’ve seen these people. They radiate calm, as if lit from a candle within. Zen in a body. Maybe you’re one of them.
I strive to be like that. While my landlady chows down in front of the television watching her angry television shows and I’m in the kitchen preparing my dinner, I strive hard to remain calm. Sometimes I succeed. I hum uplifting tunes to drown out the angry voices. Or I quietly close the door between the rooms.
Other times, I find my blood pressure rising, my heart rate accelerating, my stomach muscles clenching and I’m chopping my vegetables a little too harshly, banging the pots and pans a little too loudly. When she cranks up the volume on the divisive rhetoric, I find myself trumpeting my own opinions from the peanut gallery.
I can choose not to be in the kitchen. In my own room in my cottage I can eat muesli and fruit from my Japanese bowl, drink Tulsi tea from my palm-sized cup. I can fortify my softer self with something that doesn’t require kitchen use. Bite-sized brownies, for instance. After all, my landlady has a right to her entertainment choices.
Although, when I glance at her thirty bottles of supplements lining the counter—including the bottle of Zen—I want to offer my advice. Turn off the TV.
Instead, I retreat to my cottage to eat in peace. I tune into soothing music rather than the news. I make an effort to start the day with a meditation and end the day with inspirational texts, and in between, walk in nature. If I succeed fifty percent of the time, I try not to scold myself for the other fifty. I can’t change my landlady’s behavior to suit my comfort levels. All I can do is try to be an example of what I’d like to see reflected in other people.
You may have seen the bumper-sticker version of Gandhi’s quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
What Gandhi actually said is: “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
I can let my anger fuel me into trying to change my corner of the world. Or I can be the candle burning brightly. To preserve my health and sanity, I choose to be the candle, to start by changing the world within.
As humans, we’re meant to roam with our tribe, something our primitive brains seek to ensure because there’s safety in numbers. Now, with the threat of coronavirus, the government is forbidding togetherness except with people in our immediate household. If you live alone, you may feel further isolated from human touch.
Please know, you are not alone. We’re all a little afraid, a little anxious, a lot unsettled.
But here’s the good news: there’s something we can do to change fearful thoughts into a sense of calm, to shift from feeling unsettled to feeling grounded. And this is where I want to turn our focus now.
Here are five tips to help you navigate the next several weeks as you shelter-in-place.
Claim your power
While sheltering-in-place may leave you feeling powerless, based on current knowledge, the only way to flatten the curve of the rapid rise of coronavirus is to stay at home. So, in a sense, it’s an act of power. You are taking back power by defeating the spread of this virus. And together, we can do this. Think of yourself as a superhero! Strike the pose every morning when you get out of bed. If nothing else, it may make you feel silly, which is a very good way to start the day.
Choose your words wisely
The words you use have an immediate effect on your mind and body, and on the minds and bodies of those around you. When feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, replace those scary, stressful thoughts in your head with uplifting words and phrases such as:
I look forward to the time when I can see my loved ones in person.
I’m so grateful for the internet and telephone, so I can keep in touch with family and friends.
This moment in history is an opportunity for us all to support one another, offer healing thoughts and prayers, and discover how strong and resilient we really are.
Above the clouds, the sun is always shining.
Distraction is an antidote to fear
Rather than ruminate on something you can’t control, find ways to distract your mind to give those fired-up synapses a rest. Here are twenty distracting activities to try:
Check in on a family member, friend, or neighbor via phone, text, or email.
Mail a letter to a friend. Who doesn’t love receiving a handwritten letter!
Send an email to a loved one, saying “I probably don’t say this enough, but I love you. I’m here for you.”
Visualize a relaxing place you’ve visited, or one you invent in your imagination, and bask in that image for twenty minutes.
Do crossword puzzles.
Learn a new language.
Play cards and other games. Monopoly can go on for days.
Check out e-books and streaming videos from the library website and have a movie night, snuggled on the couch.
Play with children and pets. If you don’t have children or pets, play like you are one.
Take a walk outside to broaden your perspective and get those feel-good ions from nature.
While walking, see how many species of trees you can name.
Read uplifting literature or motivational biographies.
Watch movies or television shows that make you laugh or that feed your soul. One of my favorites is the old Dick Van Dyke show. Van Dyke’s physical comedy never fails to make me laugh out loud.
Write a poem or song or short story or some other form that’s all your own.
Teach something to someone else.
Start a virtual book club.
Do 2 pushups. The next day do 3. Keep adding one a day.
Declutter your living space. Or at least your desk.
Habits help you feel grounded
What habits have you developed or would you like to develop?
Rising at the same hour every day, eating at specific times, going to bed at the same hour every night: these habits help normalize life. You can add other habits, too, such as writing for fifteen minutes every day after breakfast. Make a big X on a calendar every day you complete the habit, and don’t break the chain of Xs. Make it a game with yourself!
Take tiny steps. Doing only 1% can make a huge difference in the long run. Which brings me to my final tip.
Tiny actions cause a ripple effect in the world
You’ve probably heard of the Butterfly Effect. A meteorology professor at MIT, Edward Lorenz, posed a question: “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” He ran a computer program simulating weather patterns and then left his office to get a cup of coffee while the machine ran. When he returned, he noticed an unexpected result which led Lorenz to a powerful insight about the way nature works: small changes can have large consequences.
What small change can you do today that can result in a more peaceful, joyful world around you in the future?
I don’t know about you, but just the evidence of hoarding in local grocery stores has amped up my anxiety. It’s a clear manifestation of people’s fear. In Whole Foods one evening, the produce section was empty except for one banana that two guys fought over until they realized the banana was banged up.
What if, instead, we bought what we needed, trusting in abundance rather than scarcity, and left enough for everyone?
What if we smiled at the cashier and expressed our appreciation for their hard work? In turn, that cashier may brighten the next person’s day.
What if we found humor in the day to day and sent out ripples of laughter?
What if we practiced meditation, prayer, or another contemplative practice to radiate peace and calm? Every day at noon, sit for twenty minutes. Tell your family and friends to sit, too. I’ll be sitting, focusing on peaceful images and thoughts, or just observing my thoughts as if they were clouds drifting by, or a movie reel unscrolling. We don’t all need to be in the same room to spread calming vibes into the universe.
Together, with tiny actions, we can help our community heal. And who knows: we may very well set off a tornado of good feelings around the globe.
Blessings to you and yours.
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A writer friend wrote a poem a day during Poetry Month in April. He said, “I get an idea for a poem, write it in the evening, polish it the next morning, and then,” he brushed off his hands, “done!”
Oh, how I envied him, getting to done.
My problem is, I’m always doing. I’m rarely done.
I rewrite the first page of my novel endlessly.
I check out five books from the library, and before reading any, I check out five more. The towering stack taunts me.
I flit from one project to another at work, and if it wasn’t for external deadlines, I’d continue to flit and polish and perfect and whatever it is I do to avoid getting things done, while my To-Do list grows longer than Rip Van Winkle’s beard.
I need to get to DONE!
Part of my brain thinks along these lines…
If I finish (fill in the blank), then what? There might not be another novel in me. The book I want at the library might not be available, so I better check out everything. If I don’t do (fill in the blank) perfectly, I’ve failed.
This is poverty mentality. It’s scarcity thinking. It’s a trap.
Another part of my brain reminds me…
Half-baked is better than burned.
There will always be another book to read.
A job that’s good enough and off your plate is preferable to a job that wears you down in your quest for perfection, which, as the saying goes, does not exist.
And no, you don’t need to take on more than your plate can carry. The eyes-are-bigger-than-the-stomach syndrome results in nothing more than heartburn. No joy in that.
Why can’t I get things done???
I could just throw away my To-Do list. Done!
But then I’d turn into a sloth who watches Wheel of Fortune into the wee hours, if such a feat is possible.
It seems to me, three things are holding me back from getting to Done. See if any of these resonate with you:
1. Lack of Time
I mean, come on! I’ve got THINGS TO DO. Look at the list! How can I possibly get them all done?
Well, I can’t. At least, not all at once.
If I decided to run a marathon, and the most I’d ever run was from the couch to the refrigerator during a commercial, would I lace up my Skechers and line up at the starting block with well-seasoned athletes? Probably not. Besides, I don’t even run from the couch to the fridge, because I live in a miniature playhouse and can just reach over.
But I can run for one minute. And if I add a minute a day, by the end of the month, provided it’s not February, I’m running 30 minutes a day. Or thirty-one, if it’s January.
What if I applied that same logic to the dreaded To-Do list?
Let’s say I start at 10 minutes a day. I can get a surprising amount done in 10 minutes.
That stack of magazines? I’ll plow through them, ripping out articles I want to read, tossing the rest in the recycle bin. Done!
I’ll read two of those articles. Done!
I’ll edit one page of my novel. Done!
I’ll weed out a file cabinet. Vacuum. Make salads for lunch. Draft a blog post. Done, done, done, done!
Add a minute a day, and by the end of the month, I’m spending 30 minutes on tasks. Think of how much I can accomplish in 30 minutes! Makes the head spin, doesn’t it?
There’s just one catch: Anyone who’s read my ramblings for any length of time knows I’m commitment-phobic. I’d sooner watch Wheel of Fortune than commit to 30 minutes on a task, because if I commit to 30 minutes of anything other than TV, I might actually get something DONE. God forbid.
Plus, I have the squirrelly belief that I can do everything all at once to perfection.
Talk about high expectations. No wonder I’m burned out. No wonder I can’t get started. Which brings me to hurdle number two (and three, but let’s not skip ahead):
When I print out my To-Do list at work, it’s as long as one of those receipts from CVS pharmacy. My eyes glaze over. My stomach tightens into a hard ball. I have the urge to surf the net, spiral down the email rabbit hole, or cram something sugary in my mouth.
I’ve discovered I can accomplish three tasks a day. Not fifty. Not five. Three. If I complete three tasks and have time left over, I tackle another. Three items on a To-Do list leaves plenty of white space. Room to breathe. And for an introvert like myself with limited energy to spare, breathing room is good.
Many days, I accomplish more than three tasks. But tricking myself into focusing on three helps me overcome the feeling of overwhelm.
What if my boss expects me to accomplish more? Well, if I work X number of hours a day, and there’s just one of me, and I need to eat and go to the bathroom X number of times during those X number of hours, the math might not add up. In which case I’ll say: “This isn’t sustainable. If you want me to be accurate, and finish the jobs you’ve assigned, something needs to go.”
Yeah, in a perfect world.
Some bosses are open to that kind of honesty. Luckily, mine is. If you’re not so lucky, all I can say is: pace yourself. Remember, doing more than is humanly possible isn’t sustainable in the long run. And no job is worth dying over. At the very least, don’t overload your plate on your off hours. While many organizations expect an employee to be plugged into the system 24/7, it’s my firm belief that we worker-bees need to educate the powers-that-be about what’s realistic, and what’s in the realm of: “in your dreams, bucko.”
But I digress.
Which three things do I choose to tackle on a given day?
Whichever three would keep me up at night if I didn’t accomplish them. Not everything on the list is numero uno. Some are fives. Or sevens. I start with the most important, and work my way up. This applies to my task lists at work and at home.
Sometimes, that number one item is so important, I can’t muster the energy to start. Like submitting my short story to a literary magazine. Or rewriting my novel.
Which brings me to point three:
In his book “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles,” Steven Pressfield writes:
“Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us. Resistance means business. When we fight it, we are in a war to the death.”
Yeah. That bugger, Resistance, disguises itself as perfectionism, procrastination, laziness, fear, and whatever it is that keeps us from acting on those projects that feed our souls.
For me, the disguise is perfectionism.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Picard’s famous command was: “Engage.” He meant, begin. Go forth. Picard never added, “But only if you’re positive you’ll make zero mistakes.”
No, settled in his captain’s chair, legs comfortably crossed, he commanded, “Engage.” It was outer space, fer crying out loud! He didn’t know where the ship was headed, or what lay ahead, or how he’d deal with whatever crisis occurred—and there was always a crisis. Didn’t matter. With a casual flick of his finger, Picard was ready to brave the unknown.
Occasionally, someone on board would request, “Permission to speak freely,” which, if granted, gave the officer a free pass to say whatever was on his mind without being punished.
What if I applied Star Trek logic to those Things I Want To Accomplish that makes Resistance sneer? With those nifty words, “Engage,” and “Permission to fail,” and “Granted,” I might actually get to “Done.”
Wow. What a concept.
So, for those of you who have hung in reading this 1,466-word post, my formula for getting from To-Do to Done is:
Make your task list manageable and realistic
Choose the three most important tasks to work on
Do the work in a set interval of time
Give yourself permission to fail
When you’re done, let it be. It’s as good as it’s going to get.