Staying Grounded in a Pandemic

If you’re going to name your website “Grounded Life,” you’d better embrace it when life gets, well, really grounded. Not just in the sense of earthy, rooted, close-to-the-ground, and balanced… but in terms of halted, unable to take flight or, as the dictionary puts it “not allowed to participate in social or recreational activities.”

Here we are, all of us, living a grounded life.

I am definitely “grounded” in the sense that I’m now, as of last week, a home-schooling homesteader who does indeed #stayhome as per government orders. I’m also grounded in the sense that travel plans in the near future that would have allowed me to see my loved ones are now likely going to be cancelled.

But I confess I’ve been less grounded in the sense that originally inspired “Grounded Life”:

grounded |ˈɡroundid|

adjective

      1. balanced, sensible, down-to-earth
      2. rooted, established
      3. aware, knowledgeable, present in one’s life

And I know I’m not alone in this.

In just a couple of months, the unfolding global Covid-19 pandemic has altered modern society in ways that most of us could never have imagined. Never before in our lifetime has a pandemic of this scale swept across the planet. In most countries in the affluent North, people have not experienced the emergency measures that are now being put in place: entire countries and states shutting down, planes grounded (there we go again), factories and schools and workplaces closed, restaurants and bars and gathering places empty. Our most basic familiar routines have been interrupted, above all the one that usually brings us the most comfort: the way we come together and interact with other people.

If you find yourself struggling, it’s really just proof that you’re a human being with a head and a heart. We’ve moved into a new era where many of the old rules of how things are supposed to be no longer apply, and uncertainty, grief, anxiety, anger, denial, or depression are all pretty normal responses to the situation.

As Scott Berinato writes, what many of us are experiencing is “anticipatory grief” —

“that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain… There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety.”

Below are some tools I’ve found helpful for staying calm and balanced during this time. They are not practices I have myself already effortlessly mastered; I have honestly speaking been quite shaken. But I take notice when something quiets down that shakenness and stress, or makes me smile, or reminds me to breathe deeply. And I share those simple tools here. Take what’s useful to you and leave the rest.

 

Practice EXCELLENT Self-Care

We might be in this for the long haul. Your best protection against the virus — and helping us all to flatten the curve — is taking excellent care of your physical and mental health, today. Move your body every day (there are so many free resources out there now; I’ve used the Down Dog yoga app, which is free until April 1st). Eat a varied diet, including fresh and nutrient-dense foods. Boost your immunity with foods like citrus that are high in vitamin C, garlic, turmeric, green leafy vegetables, fermented foods, nuts and seeds, and berries. Protect your sleep hours like a mother tigress. If you’re an introvert like me, you also want to find ways to take some time for yourself, in solitude, even if you’re self-quarantining with family or roommates. Connect with a loved one every day through phone calls, video calls, virtual coffee dates, or emails. Pamper yourself, whether it’s a soothing lavender bath or a family nap on a rainy afternoon.

 

Spend time outdoors, moving your body, every day

This one is a non-negotiable for me. Spend time outdoors every day, and spend time in nature every day if you can. When I’ve spent too much time staring at news and feel out of sorts, the best remedy is a walk in the woods (which we’re still able to do, thankfully), or putting my hands in the dirt in the garden. During that second week of March when the scale of the epidemic in Europe and the U.S. began to get clear, my husband and I completed our garden extension project at record speed simply because being out in the sun and double-digging new garden beds was the one thing that made us feel better.

 

Ration news and social media use

This one can make an enormous difference for your mental health. Yes, it’s important to follow the updates of local health officials and be informed about what’s happening at the national and global level. But no, you don’t need to know the case count at every moment (most of them are not accurate anyway because we’re not testing everyone). I’ve set myself on a schedule where I check the news three times a day — morning, afternoon and evening — but try to focus on my daily life and the things I do have control over the rest of the time.

 

Have routines, but also do something special every day

Like millions of other parents, my husband and I are now home-schooling our daughter. In part to maintain a sense of normalcy and structure for her when so many things are decidedly not normal, we’ve established a daily rhythm that we try to stick to.

At the same time, weeks and weeks of the same routine while quarantining at home would drive anybody mad. I was also raised in a family that loves to plan events and outings and turn anything into a special occasion. So we’ve been trying to do something special or different every day, to shake things up a bit. Whether it’s a hike to see waterfalls or a dance party or a special dish we prepare, it makes the day stand out from all the other days and keeps boredom at bay.

 

Give/Care/Contribute, in whatever way you can

Plugging in and contributing, feeling that you’re helping others, is one of the best ways to combat the feeling of isolation that comes from social distancing. Here are some ideas.

  • Join the effort of sewing face masks for health care workers
  • Donate money, food, or supplies to local food banks or other organizations working with vulnerable communities
  • Find your local Mutual Aid organization. Bernie Sanders just gave a shout-out to Mutual Aid today! Here in Western North Carolina, Co-operate WNC (which I work for) is coordinating a regional Covid-19 community response, including training neighborhood organizers to help connect needs and resources at a neighborhood level.
  • Find another way to help the elderly or the vulnerable in your community, such as shopping for groceries and medicine for them.
  • Brighten someone’s day who’s lonelier than you.
  • Grow vegetable seedlings for the “Covid gardens” that are popping up in everybody’s back yard this spring.

 

Slow down

We’re a society of busyness addicts. Remember how we’ve always complained how busy we are and how much work we have? Well, you know what? Life has finally slowed down for many of us. Social engagements have been cancelled and workplaces have shut down or sent us home to work in our sweatpants. Take the silver lining and allow yourself, for once, to just take things a bit more slowly. It will feel odd at first because we’re so accustomed to being productivity machines that are “on” at all hours. But really: we are in a pandemic and you really, really can just slow down for a while.

 

Eat As Well as You’re Able To

There’s nothing quite like foods you love to drive away the quarantine blues.

The time might come when we will have to subsist on the bulk rice and beans we all have stored in the cupboards. But as of now, grocery stores are still open, and your local farmers are figuring out creative ways to still get fresh, local food to you (here’s how our awesome local farm organization, ASAP, has organized an interim farmers’ market). And for once, we have a lot of time to cook!

In my home, I’ve made a list of our “feel-good foods” and try to cook as many of those as I can, while limiting trips to the grocery store. We’ve made miso soup and fresh salads from the garden greens and butternut squash lasagna and the most soothing, turmeric-rich pot of dal imaginable. We’ve made French toast with whipped cream for breakfast, and banana bread with coffee for an afternoon treat, and I assure you, the world seems a lot more hopeful after each one of those treats..

 

Know that We’re going to get through this together, and the world after Covid-19 may be a better place

No, we didn’t want change to come in this way. But now that the world as we know it has been radically altered, now that business-as-usual has been stopped on its tracks — what an opportunity to stop, look around, and think of different ways to coexist and care for each other and this planet.

As Nafeez Ahmed writes,

“Getting through coronavirus will be an exercise not just in building societal resilience, but relearning the values of cooperation, compassion, generosity and kindness, and building systems which institutionalize these values.”

Everywhere, people are rising to the challenge and practicing solidarity. Every day, we learn about acts of kindness and bravery in the midst of the crisis. People are reaching out to their more vulnerable neighbors, Mutual Aid networks are springing up, people with sewing skills are sewing face masks for hospitals, landlords are pausing rent for their tenants.

Covid-19 has already achieved what climate activists have been wanting to see for a long time: governments and people coming together in a concerted, all-hands-on-deck effort to halt the virus; airline travel reduced, car travel reduced, people staying home and consuming less. Satellite imagery show the clouds of pollution over China, Italy, and now the U.S. are clearing up due to Coronavirus lockdowns. Maybe one outcome of the pandemic will be that we realize we don’t need most of that stuff anyway.

What else is possible?

May you and yours be healthy and safe, and may we emerge stronger together on the other side.

With love,

Mari

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