What a dystopian moment the world has been thrust into! While our main source of information is the news and social media, we need to cultivate ways to transmute the horror of COVID-19 and find coping mechanisms that are positive and healing for ourselves and others. There is a lot we can do, even isolated in our own homes, that give us control. We may need to ride these troubled waters for many months still, so the sooner we can establish positive new patterns of activity, the better we’ll fare.
Share Those Rays of Light
Let’s be thankful for what we do have: one another! Maybe we can’t meet for dinner or a night out, but we have phones and email to stay connected with loved ones. We can use social media to balance the plethora of negative news with stories of resilience, kindness, and hope. While we have little sense of control right now, let’s not add to the terror.
Laughter truly is good medicine, so seek out humorous cartoons and videos and share them widely. Watch lighter fare in the evenings to recover from the daily news cycle. Laughter is a good contagion to spread!
Step Away from the Internet
It’s addictive and toxic to witness our world in freefall 24/7. But it can overwhelm our nervous systems. Sure, check in periodically, but don’t let it dominate your time.
Spread the Love
Do spend some time phoning friends and family to support them and help them and yourself process what everyone’s going through. We are social animals and need to stay as connected as best we can without exposing others to risk. Phone calls and, better yet, video chatting may be the best way to help and not harm. Reach out especially to elderly relatives and neighbors, immune-suppressed friends, and those who live alone because they are particularly vulnerable to loneliness.
When We’re Shut Inside
Those who can work from home are lucky to still have that purpose, focus, and income. If you are able to work from home, the challenge, then, is to juggle your time, particularly if you have a family. Working earlier and later than usual is one strategy. For any kids and pets, try to maintain their routines as best you can. For younger children stuck at home, help them do arts and crafts, games, schoolwork, and physical play outdoors, if at all possible. Imaginary play is the best medicine of all, indoors or out.
Let children help in the kitchen, age-appropriately. It’s important for little ones to contribute and have purpose. Help them start a little garden plot, or if you’re in an apartment, help them plant and tend a flowerpot or grow some herbs.
Seek Respite in Greenspace
Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing, ecotherapy…. Call it whatever you like, but getting outdoors, even for a walk around the block, helps alleviate stress. It lowers blood pressure and helps with immunity. If you have access to a park or woodlands, get there. Listen for bird and insect songs, the amphibians’ croaking, the wind through branches. We are fundamentally natural beings, and being in nature is healing.
Creativity in the Kitchen
With access to food delivery backed up for weeks in many areas, shop if you must with great care. Wear gloves if you have them. Wash hands assiduously. We have learned that COVID-19 can survive on surfaces for days. If possible, quarantine your non-perishables for 3 days before use. For fresh produce, after washing your hands well, rinsing produce in water alone is recommended. Now is an opportunity to use up what you already have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry — it might be long overdue anyway! Get creative and don’t worry if you don’t have all the ingredients a recipe calls for. Use recipes merely as a guide; substitute ingredients if you can, and don’t worry if you need to omit some.
Right now, it’s more essential than ever not to waste food. And we don’t need to. My husband, Giordano, always jokes that we really eat but a handful of foods, just prepared in a million different ways! There are lots of ways to make appetizing dishes with those leftovers and neglected veggies and fruits:
Have some cooked whole grains and beans? Rolled oats or a small white potato or sweet potato? Then you’ve got more than enough to make burgers. Throw in a cup or two of grated raw carrot or beets or any cooked veggies you have on hand. Season them with your favorite spices and dress them with your favorite condiments. Customize to make them American, Italian, Indian, Mexican — you have infinite varieties to play with. Use my beety burger as a guide. While they’re delicate, my aloo gobi burgers are tasty too. Dress them up with whatever’s on hand and…yum.
If you’ve got an onion, celery, carrot, or a leek, you have soup. Add some tomato and white beans or chickpeas, a potato or two, cabbage or leafy greens, and parsley or rosemary for an Italian twist. Add green pepper in your dry sauté, black or red beans, tomato, corn, chili, and cilantro for south-of-the-border flavor. If cauliflower, lentils, peas, and potatoes seasoned with curry powder are what you have on hand, you’ve got yourself a South Asian spin. Soups, loaded with water and fiber, are filling, substantial, and very nutritious. Here are a few of my favorites:
There’s nothing like a one-dish meal. If you’ve got steamed or frozen veggies on hand and a couple of cooked potatoes, slice everything up and layer them, bathe them in a simple plant-based white sauce, then top with breadcrumbs for a bubbly, tasty gratin. Here’s my recipe for pastel gratin as a guide.
Be Grateful for the Little Things
This is a dark and difficult moment, to be sure, uniting us all and reminding us that we are one human family and stand or fall together. Things may get dicier as this virus spreads. We need to dig deep within ourselves to stay balanced to ride the waves of what’s to come. If you are a person of faith, that is a place to find solace. A meditation practice can also help you get perspective and stay calm. There are many, many meditation options and online resources to get you started.
And here’s a little exercise that helps me sleep soundly and have a lighter, more compassionate heart: every night in bed I think of three things I am grateful for, no matter how grim everything else may seem. This simple gratitude practice may help you too.