Staying Sane During COVID-19
A collection of resources from Spirituality & Health
By Ben Nussbaum, editor of S&H
There’s no easy answer for surviving the next few months. Setting some goals can help. Here are mine.
- Avoid contracting the coronavirus. There’s no shortage of resources on this topic. Here’s some guidance from the CDC.
- Don’t live in fear. We can help! Check out some fantastic articles below.
- Keep my immune system in tip-top shape.
- Try to live intentionally in the present moment.
- This one isn’t going to be applicable to everyone, but for me it’s important to help my kids make the most of their time off from school and help them grow from this moment, as much as possible.
We’ll be keeping this page updated with our latest news, tips, and ideas on dealing with COVID-19, and you can sign up for our free newsletters as well. We’re here to help.
Here are our 10 latest stories:
- Pets, Their People, and Coping With the Pandemic
- Pandemic Fatigue: 20 Affirmations for Getting Through Winter
- How to Mourn the Death of a Loved One In COVID Times
- 3 Nature-Based Practices for Battling Zoom Fatigue
- Prepare Your Pandemic Pup for Winter
- 15 Calming Affirmations for Parents as School Starts in a Pandemic
- 5 Ways to Control COVID-19 Anxiety
- A Spiritual Guide to Disaster
- Taking Refuge in the Big Picture
- Keeping Stay-at-Home Kids Healthy
Use these resources and advice from Spirituality & Health's panel of experts to help you navigate the challenges and stresses of life in lockdown during the COVID-19 outbreak, including thoughts on how to boost the immune system, manage anxiety, and help others.
Life goes on—and life never stops giving us gifts. The well-known but poorly named phenomenon called the hedonistic treadmill posits that people have a set chart of happiness, going up and down in a regular pattern, never going particularly high or particularly low for any extended period. Something nice happens, they're happier than usual. Something annoying happens, they're less happy. But then something nice happens again. For a billionaire the "something nice" might be the delivery of a yacht, and for the rest of us it might be a night at the movies. But the billionaire isn't any happier for it.
Real gains in happiness are hard won and inch our levels of happiness upwards in the long-term, not for a day or two. Real gains come from what could be called, in a word, wisdom: the understanding of our place in the world; the absence of struggle against our defining circumstances.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, most people's happiness chart will zig down but then move back up. Seeing a hawk out the window or getting a call from a friend will be enough to create spikes. Eventually the happiness chart will look more or less like it always does.
Hopefully a few people emerge on the other side a little better than they were before—a little wiser, with suffering turned to wisdom.
Here are some resources on perspective:
"It All Feels Like Way Too Much"
Boosting the Immune System
In the midst of all the news about the global pandemic, it’s important to maintain a routine that supports a highly functioning immune system.
Our immune system is bolstered by a variety of lifestyle factors. Getting enough exercise and sleep, keeping your microbiome healthy, and managing stress levels are all crucial for helping your body battle whatever you are exposed to.
Moderate exercise has been shown to support a strong immune system. If you are used to a routine of yoga or other fitness classes, or visiting the gym regularly, you will need to adjust your routine but still stay active.
Sleep hygiene is more important than ever. Turning off screens at least an hour before bed is crucial to give yourself some downtime so that your nervous system can shift gears. Journaling your worries and writing down what you are grateful for are two ways to shift gears and let your mind settle.
Gut health plays a big role in the immune system, so you want to do the best you can with your meals. Taking your time when you eat and chewing thoroughly can also support gut health.
Giving more time and attention to your meditation practice, or starting one, staying connected to friends and loved ones and keeping a sense of rhythm to your days will all keep your immune system strong.
Here are more resources to strengthen your immune system:
Six Veggies (and Recipes) for Optimal Health
5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System
Top 12 Cold and Flu Fighting Foods (if you’re still going grocery shopping)
How Meditation, Mindfulness Ease Chronic Illness
5 Signs You’re Suffering from Toxic Stress
Sleep may be difficult as we navigate the uncertainties born in the wake of COVID-19, but these practices can support a healthy sleep cycle.
By Kathryn Drury Wagner, S&H Wellbeing Editor
One of my favorite quotes of all time is by science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein, from Starship Troopers. He writes, “Happiness consists in getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.” Yet, according to a new study released from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, getting enough sleep isn’t the only key to happiness—it’s also having a regular sleep pattern. The study showed that irregular sleep-wake schedules, which are certainly common to many of us, are detrimental to happiness, healthiness, and calmness. “Our results indicate the importance of sleep regularity, in addition to sleep duration, and that regular sleep is associated with improved well-being,” wrote the study’s author, Dr. Arkane Sano. So for this week’s Healthy Habits, let’s look at some ways to create a regular sleep schedule.
1. Manage the lights.
Cell phone screens, computers, and TVs emit a blue light that can keep you awake. Try to avoid those at least an hour before you turn in. Additionally, Mother Nature’s light can also be a problem in the summer, when natural light can last quite late into the evening. Use dark blinds for your windows, or an eyeshade if necessary.
2. Eat strategically.
Enjoy your last meal at least two to three hours before bedtime, suggests the National Sleep Foundation. Even eating dinner at the same time each night will help you fall asleep at the same time each night, it suggests. If you must have a snack, pick a light blend of carbs and protein, like peanut butter on crackers.
3. Let yourself unwind.
The goal is to have the last part of the day be as soothing as possible. Harvard Medical School points out that caffeine can stay in the system for four to six hours before bedtime. This includes not just the usual culprits like coffee and tea, but also sneakier ones like chocolate and some pain relievers. Other experts suggest refraining from exercise within a four-hour zone of bedtime, as that can also hop you up.
4. Stick to the wakeup time like glue.
SleepHabits.net has some very helpful techniques on picking a schedule that will work for you. Check those out here. But one of the key takeaways is: Get up at the same time, every day, even on the weekends. It feels Draconian but it will help you get to bed on time, which helps you wake up on time, which ... oh, you get the picture. It’s a healthy cycle.
With shelter in place orders cropping up across the country as the coronavirus spreads, it’s never been a better time to focus on your garden—and boost your immune system.
By Tequia Burt, S&H Managing Editor
Greens are not just for salads. With different kinds grown all over the world, greens can taste sweet, bitter, spicy, or earthy and can be used in a wide variety of stir-fries, soups, pasta, smoothies, and more.
Not only are they delicious, but greens pack a powerful health punch. They are an important part of a healthy diet and are usually abundant in a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Eating a diet rich in greens can help you improve your blood pressure, boost your immune system, enhance your cardiovascular health, and even sharpen your mental capabilities.
Greens are easy to grow in the early days of spring and don’t take up much space. Whether you have a garden in your back yard, a deck, or patio, you can grow greens. With shelter in place orders cropping up across the country as the coronavirus spreads, it’s never been a better time to focus on your garden. Try growing these four super greens to both support your health (mental and physical) and stock your larder.
Orach is an ancient green experiencing a comeback after 4,000 years. Though its origins are difficult to pinpoint, it has been mentioned in the texts of ancient Roman philosophers and held the honor of being the most popular leafy green in Eurasia before spinach even appeared on the scene, according to the Baker Creek Heirloom Whole Seed Catalog.
Containing twice as much vitamin C as lemon, Orach is jam-packed with vitamins, including magnesium, anthocyanins, phosphorous, iron, protein, zinc, selenium, tryptophan, vitamin K, carotenes, and dietary fiber. An immune-boosting powerhouse, orach may improve digestion, heart health and is a potent anti-inflammatory.
Orach can be eaten raw or substituted in any recipe requiring spinach or chard. This Thai Green Curry with Red Orach recipe showcases the green’s versatility. It comes in a dazzling array of colors, so not only will you get a vitamin-packed green, but it also looks lovely in the garden or in a planter on the back porch. Orach is adapted to both heat and cold and even grows in poor soil. Start seeds in the spring as early as the soil can be worked. Though it is slower to bolt than spinach in summertime heat, try to sow seeds in a place that gets partial shade. With germination temps of between 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, seeds should sprout within seven to 14 days. Buy seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
Just one ounce of mache, aka corn salad, contains 18 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin A, almost as much vitamin C as an orange, and as much iron as spinach. It’s strong antioxidant effect helps improve immune function and can be a powerful aid in fighting colds and flus. It may also help lower blood pressure, improve eye health and brain function, and ease osteoporosis.
With its slightly nutty flavor and buttery soft texture, mache is a versatile salad green that is popular with foodies and chefs across the country. Try this Mache and Herb Power Salad to take advantage of the deeply nutritious greens and spring herbs.
This tender green is an excellent cold-weather crop and doesn’t require much care. It is so cold hardy that it can even be grown in winter and can even withstand temperatures below zero. Though it often grows wild in cornfields and can be foraged, mache can also be grown in your garden or in a container. Since warmer temps can slow germination, it’s best to sow mache seeds in the ground as soon as you can work the soil. Since it is commonly grown in the U.S., seeds aren’t hard to find in local garden centers or from online vendors.
Molokhia—or Mulukhiyah, molohiya, mloukhiya, Egyptian Spinach, or Jute depending on where you are in the world—is a highly nutritious green common in Middle Eastern and Egyptian cuisine. It provides loads of fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and selenium, as well as vitamins C, E, K, A, B6, and niacin. This supergreen reportedly lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, digestion, sleep, bone health, and eyesight, as well as boosts the immune system, and reduces inflammation.
With a texture akin to okra, molokhia is usually made into a soup or stew and can be eaten alone or with a protein. Though it is perfect for planting in cool springtime temperatures, unlike most other greens, it thrives in the summer heat! The seeds can be sown directly in the ground in the spring after all chance of frost has passed and after 60 days harvested throughout the summer. When cold fall weather arrives, the green begins producing small yellow flowers and starts to bolt.
Molokhia is not commonly grown in the U.S, however, you can find seeds on Etsy. Try this recipe for Jute Mallow Soup to get all the benefits of this supergreen.
Mizuna—or Japanese mustard greens, spider mustard, water greens, or kyona—is a cruciferous vegetable related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Cultivated for centuries in Kyoto, Japan, mizuna is a cornerstone of Japanese and Buddhist culinary traditions.
Rich in vitamins A, C, and K, mizuna is a highly nourishing green. It contains multiple antioxidants, including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer kaempferol and quercetin. What’s more, mizuna’s high levels of beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin can improve eye health by fighting cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and protecting your retina from oxidative damage and age-related macular degeneration.
With its slightly bitter and spicy flavor, mizuna can be used raw in salads or cooked or pickled. The fresh peppery flavor complements a variety of other greens and salads, and it is delicious in soups, stir-fries, pasta, and even on top of pizza. For a vegetarian pasta dish, try this Mizuna Pesto recipe.
One of the most bolt-resistant brassicas, mizuna is an excellent cold-weather crop and should be sowed early in spring. Find mizuna seeds at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
If you need a mantra to get through these times, try this one: Be well. Be well. Be well. Yoga can be a big part of successfully riding out the wave.
By Julie Peters, S&H Staff Writer
If we can slow down, take a deep breath, and get present, even for a few minutes, it helps our bodies remember that part of its job is to fight sickness.
It might seem strange, but there’s never been a better time to start doing yoga or ramp up your yoga practice.
Yoga boosts immunity in a few ways, but the major one is that it helps us calm down. Right now, many of us are in our sympathetic nervous system—in alarm mode. Even if we are doing our best to stay rational and reasonable, our systems are pretty sure survival is the top of the priority list right now. Think of your immune system like a laboratory: It needs time to take in a new pathogen, look at it, try a few different treatments, and figure out how to cure it. The lab can’t work like that when the building is on fire.
If we can slow down, take a deep breath, and get present, even for a few minutes, it helps our bodies remember that part of its job is to fight sickness. For me, moving more dynamically with my breath in a flow-style yoga class helps me corral my rapid thoughts and feel better. Some people will benefit more from yoga that gives our bodies a chance to get still for a little while, like yin or restorative. Whatever works for you, do it! It will help you keep your mind calm and your body healthy during a very stressful time.
Many yoga studios have closed down, but there are lots of online options for you to do a class from the comfort and safety of your home. My studio, Ocean and Crow in Vancouver, has been live-streaming some classes to allow our students to feel like there’s a little normalcy in a crazy world—even if you’re attending from home. (Details here.)
More wisdom from Julie: a healing meditation; a mindfulness meditation; a fantasy sleep meditation.
Depending on where you live, the great outdoors beckons. It’s easy to keep social distance when you’re alone in the woods.
By Kalia Kelmenson, S&H Editorial Director
One fascinating aspect of shinrin-yoku is how it works on the immune system.
As I walk through the forest, the dappled light illuminates the path ahead of me. A light mist swirls through the topmost layer of branches. I breathe in the gently scented air as pine leaves create a soft landing for each of my steps. I’ve come to the forest as a way to remember my breath, to reconnect with the truth in me.
As our days are filled with more and more technology—a constant state of “connection” with every bit of news, meals our friends are eating, and status updates—our stress response has been thrown out of balance. Our compulsion to check our phones and stay in the loop is taxing our nervous system and our immune system.
One way to counteract all this “techno-stress” is to spend time in forests. Dr Qing Li, an expert in forest medicine and Medical doctor at Tokyo’s Nippon Medical School, has published his research on how shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, can bring healing to anyone who practices it. His book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help you Find Health and Happiness he outlines the history of the practice as well as the many benefits if offers.
Li explains that shinrin-yoku can:
- Reduce blood pressure
- Lower stress
- Lift depression
- Improve energy
- Improve pain thresholds
- Boosts the immune system
One fascinating aspect of shinrin-yoku is how it works on the immune system. In his research, Li looked at how the activity of our natural killer (NK) cells are affected by practicing forest bathing. He writes, “natural killer cells are a type of white blood cell and are so-called because they can attack and kill unwanted cells, for example, those infected with a virus, or tumour cells.” He found that both the number of NK cells and their activity increased significantly both immediately after practicing forest bathing, and up to thirty days later.
Li became curious about why our immune system was affected in this way. He knew that the five senses were involved in the effects, and he posited that our sense of smell as our “most primal” sense could be the reason. Trees emit a substance called phytoncides that are responsible both for protecting them from bacteria, insects and fungi, and also are “part of the communication pathway between trees: the way trees talk to each other.” Forest air, in addition to having high amounts of oxygen, are also full of phytoncides. Li found that exposure to phytoncides resulted in increased activity and number of NK cells as well as decreased stress hormones.
Another substance we are inhale in the forest is a “common and harmless bacteria, Mycobaterium vaccae.” This bacteria has been found through multiple studies to increase energy levels and lift mood. Through these connected pathways, it also boosts the immune system.
The benefits of spending time in a forest are many varied. Li insists that if you live in a city, you can practice by visiting a park, or even a tree-lined street. In addition, diffusing essential oils that include forests scents and having indoor plants will all offer some benefit. The next time you feel yourself headed toward burn-out, plug yourself into a forest instead of your phone.
Managing Fear and Anxiety
Being anxious and fearful in the face of a pandemic is the most natural response possible. At the same time: Anxiety stinks. It’s unpleasant to experience, weakens our immune system, and short circuits our rational brains. Maybe most importantly, it’s hard to get away from our own fear bubble and help other people when we’re overly fearful and anxious.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, our longtime contributor and the host of our podcast, “Essential Conversations,” wrote:
Are people naturally good or naturally evil?
I put this question to myself as I listened to an NPR report on Greek citizens seeking to stop Syrian refugees from coming to Greece through Turkey. What shocked me most was listening to the chanting of Greek citizens at the border: “We don’t care about the babies! They’re not our babies!”
When and why does our compassion for all babies get replaced by callousness toward “their” babies?
The answer is simple: When we are afraid. ...
There may be no cure for COVID-19, but there is a cure for the far more deadly fear virus threatening the survival of humankind, and that cure is fearless love.
Read his full story here.
Here are some resources to keep fear and anxiety at bay during these scary times:
5 Ways to Control Coronavirus Anxiety
3 Sense Practices to Calm Anxiety
5 Ideas When Things Are Beyond Your Control
5 Ways to Moderate Your News Intake
5 Kinds of Breaths Everyone Should Take
5 Practices for Calming Racing Thoughts
"It All Feels Like Way Too Much"
Try these two ways to access calm strength within ourselves.
by Kalia Kelmenson, S&H Editorial Director
Recently, on a very good day, I was talking to a friend about the experience of feeling fantastically alive, and also having a deep sense of calm. My well of patience felt bottomless and I was able to handle all of the twists and turns the day handed me.
A few days later, however, I was operating on less sleep, more caffeine, and markedly less calm.
Turns out, we can all cultivate a sense of ‘still waters run deep’ within ourselves. Rick Hanson, senior fellow of UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center, describes how the ability to regulate our sense of inner calm has great bearing on our ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks. In his newest book, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, he describes key capacities we can hardwire into our nervous systems so we can better handle the stresses of living in our fast-paced modern world.
Hanson writes that we can meet our basic needs of safety, satisfaction, and connection by “recognizing what’s true, resourcing ourselves, regulating our thoughts, feelings, and actions, and relating skillfully to others and the wider world.” He explores capacities such as grit, intimacy, generosity, and courage. At the core of regulating ourselves, he insists, is our ability to remain calm through the storms of life.
When our sympathetic nervous system is activated by a real (or perceived) threat, we will generally have one of three reactions: fear, anger, or helplessness. Hanson explains, “Because the need for safety is so vital, it’s equally vital that we regulate ourselves to meet pain and threats with calm strength.” When we can do this, we will be able to navigate whatever twists and turns we face along the way. Here are two ways to access this calm strength within ourselves.
Relaxing and Centering
We all know how crazy life can get. Sometimes saying ‘no’ to things is wise, but there will be times when we need to keep going, maintaining our level of engagement in life, but in a calmer way. To do this well, we have to be able to access our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which governs our ability to relax, digest, and settle down. Hanson suggests that in order to “establish a calmer baseline for yourself plus recover more quickly after stress, set aside a few minutes or more to relax deeply many times a week.” He also suggests finding moments in your daily life, especially when things are getting heated, to calm yourself down. Some ways to activate your parasympathetic nervous system are:
- Extend the exhalation. Your exhalation and PNS are closely linked, so by simply making your exhale longer than your inhale, you activate your ability to be calm.
- Release tension. You can focus on one body part, perhaps your jaw or your shoulders, and imagine your breath filling that space and draining away any tension in the exhale.
- Use imagery. We have the ability to amplify and lessen stress to a larger degree by how we handle the internal dialogue we have around different situations. Focusing on images can short-circuit this internal, often negative feedback loop.
Recognize Paper Tiger Paranoia
We have evolved to have a heightened awareness of potential dangers. Our ancestors who did not fear the tiger that could be lurking in the tall grass did not survive. Fear of the unknown, often showing itself as anxiety, is harmful to our health in the modern world. Hanson writes, “to feel safer, we need to stop inflating threats and start recognizing all our resources. Then we don’t have to be afraid of not being afraid.” Try these steps to harness runaway fear:
- See threats clearly. Hanson suggests choosing a worry—any worry. Try journaling or talking with someone about the following: How big is it—get down to the nitty gritty, exploring the worry fully. Then consider how likely it is to happen, and be honest with yourself about the chances of this big worry really happening. Next, consider how bad it would actually be if it did happen. Finally, take all that in. Hanson insists you will most likely be relieved after this exercise, and that the scary, nebulous fear might not be that bad after all.
- Once you see the problem from a truer perspective, consider the resources you have to handle it. Consider resources in your mind—inner strengths that you’ve harnessed to handle past difficulties. Then mine resources in your body—ways you feel strong, capable, and full of energy. Finally, look to resources around you in the world. Friends, family, and mentors are all great places to draw strength from.
At the end of each of these processes, consider using Hanson’s HEAL technique, described here, to access the full experience of feeling calm and capable and to effectively rewire your brain’s response. Taking these steps to reshape our habitual patterns will support us in feeling more able to weather the invariable storms of life.
It’s natural to be feeling stress, anxiety, and fear during the COVID-19 crisis. Luckily, there’s a powerful balm available to us—mindfulness meditation. Consider this: A study published in Experimental Biology 2018 found that even a single mindfulness session provided lasting mental and physical benefits. “Our results show a clear reduction in anxiety in the first hour after the meditation session, and our preliminary results suggest that anxiety was significantly lower one week after the meditation session,” wrote the study’s lead author, John Durocher, PhD. The benefits extended beyond the mind, too, into quantifiable changes in the body. Participants “had reduced mechanical stress on their arteries an hour after the session,” Durocher wrote. “This could help to reduce stress on organs like the brain and kidneys and help prevent conditions such as high blood pressure.”
Another researcher, Herbert Benson, found that mindfulness meditation reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity, and called it a “relaxation response.” A relaxation response, as opposed to the fight-flight-fright many of us are feeling when faced with news about the coronavirus.
The good news is that mindfulness meditation can be done almost anywhere, and for free. Here’s how to try a very simple practice. Get into a comfy seated position, close your eyes, and focus on the breath. As the mind pulls away—and it will, and that is completely fine—gently focus back to the breath. According to Harvard, a daily practice of mindful meditation for at least 10 minutes a day, twice a day, will give the best results.
For more, here’s a simple, anywhere mindfulness meditation, and here’s Ram Dass on cultivating mindfulness.
With news this intense and upsetting, we need to monitor our own consumption very carefully.
By Kathryn Drury Wagner, S&H Wellbeing Editor
Remember the days when we were “only” stressed out by an upcoming election—and maybe some pole dancing at the Super Bowl? With COVID-19, stress levels have skyrocketed like never before, so self-care is no longer optional. It’s essential. While I’ve written in the past about the benefits of moderating news intake, let’s revisit that topic in light of our current coronavirus situation and resulting news avalanche.
Start the Day Mindfully
If you normally wake up and flip on the morning TV news or wake up and grab your phone to look at the headlines, consider starting the day with a gentler on-ramp. Save the news check for after you’ve had time to shore up your mental reserves through a mindfulness practice, yoga, or a walk (if possible in your area).
One and Done
In 2018, Time reported, “one in 10 adults checks the news every hour, and fully 20 percent of Americans report constantly monitoring their social media feeds—which often exposes them to the latest news headlines.” That behavior, the American Psychological Association says, increases anxiety.
So now, more than ever, check the news once a day only. We need to stay informed so we can comply with what health officials and local authorities are asking us to do. But with news this intense, one touch-base a day is plenty, so news doesn’t become an obsession or add fuel to the fire of fear. If you are particularly prone to anxiety, ask your partner or a trusted friend to keep you updated on strictly need-to-know basis.
Also, “quality over quantity” has never been more important than now. Consume news from reputable sources only, then move on to other activities. For a positive spin—well, as positive as we can be right now—check out GNN, or the Good News Network. Established in 1997, it’s on a mission to report something that will make us smile.
Turn Off Notifications
If you have created news alerts or push notifications on your phone, consider disabling those for now. That way you can seek the news out on your own, not have it following you around all day.
And End the Day Mindfully
Turn the area around your bed into a sanctuary—with pillows, books, cozy socks, faux candles, whatever, but do not look at that phone! Nothing will pop you awake at 2 a.m. faster than scrolling through your phone at bedtime, Googling the symptoms of coronavirus.
"Mindfulness is about slowing down enough to put a gap between stimulus and response."
By Kevin Anderson, PhD, psychotherapist
One of the most basic ways I teach people about mindfulness is to pause, focus on the body, and notice a small part of the body that feels even a little itchy. I tell them when they find an itchy spot to not scratch it. Just be present to the itch. See if it gets stronger, fades, or stays the same. This is a simple introduction to noticing things in the present moment without reacting to them immediately.
With all the emphasis on not touching our faces during the spread of this coronavirus, I’ve been realizing how often I feel a bit of itch in my eyes, perhaps after looking at a computer screen for a while. For decades it’s been automatic to feel the itch, rub my eyes with my fingers, and make the itch go away. In our current environment of concern about COVID-19, that same automatic response could kill me!
Mindfulness is about slowing down enough to put a gap between stimulus and response. The itch on my face is the stimulus, the rubbing of my eyes is the automatic response. Staying mindful about not touching my face requires feeling an itch and either ignoring it or making sure I rub my eyes after washing my hands or using a clean tissue rather than bare fingers to rub my eyes. The don’t-scratch-your-itch mindfulness lesson turns out to be an important survival skill!
Times of crisis can be advanced mindfulness training, and not just for avoiding touching our faces. The “itch” of anxiety, panic, fear, uncertainty can all show up in us. Mindfulness with these itches requires noticing them but not going on a ride with them every time they show up. There are many other disturbances—financial, practical, work-related, spiritual—that can be stirred up by an unusual crisis. Mindfulness begins with noticing those disturbances and letting them be present. Why let them be present? Because by the time we notice them, they are already present. We can say to our worry, fear, or disruption: “I see you. I accept that you are here.”
How does saying “I accept” help? The “I” that accepts is not the small-i that lives dominated by fear and lower energies. It is our highest self that can lead the way into how to be present to difficult times.
Coaching Children Through the Crisis
We don’t often talk about parents as being leaders. But I think this is a great moment to remember that if you're a parent, you lead by example. Your kids are going to be looking at how you handle this moment and taking their cues from you. There’s no question that any kid old enough to remember the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020 will look back on it as a formative moment. Some of their memories from this moment will be cast in stone.
I don’t give parenting advice because that seems monumentally hubristic. But I'll tell you what I'm doing in case any of it helps.
- Letting my kids know I’m excited to spend more time with them. Their house is their sanctuary, so I don’t want them to feel like they’re a burden. (And I actually do like having them around.)
- Keeping them on a basic schedule. Waking up at roughly the same time, doing their remote learning in the morning, and so forth.
- Emphasizing big, complex crafts. (Mainly just because I love doing that kind of stuff with them.)
- Stressing how fortunate we are. We’re not in any of the high-risk categories; we’ll pull through the financial hardships.
- Talking with them about hardship. If there’s one overriding blight on our modern age, it’s the failure to appreciate what we have. Whatever privations we’re going through are still pretty minor compared to the sorts of hardships our great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents endured.
(If you’re running out of ways to keep them busy, here are some activity ideas from artist Penelope Dullaghan, a two-time S&H cover creator.)
Kids stuck at home due to coronavirus pandemic? Here are some ways to keep them mentally and physically fit.
By Kathryn Drury Wagner, S&H Wellbeing Editor
With so many school closures, kids across the world are staying at home and/or doing remote learning. A study just published in The Lancet notes that “Although these measures and efforts are highly commendable and necessary, there are reasons to be concerned because prolonged school closure and home confinement during a disease outbreak might have negative effects on children's physical and mental health.”
Kids who are out of school tend to be less physically active, The Lancet reports, have increased screen time, irregular sleep patterns, and don’t eat food that is as healthy. If you’ve been affected by a school closure in your area, here are some ways to keep your kids healthy both mentally and physically.
Exercise With Them
If it’s possible to get outside, head on out. This is the perfect opportunity to take a walk or bike ride together. Shoot some hoops in the driveway, try out that jump rope—the activity itself isn’t as important as simply moving children’s bodies. Outdoor exercising address the mental health problem of feeling confined or having a lack of personal space and helps keep their cardiovascular systems healthy. If the weather doesn’t permit this, have a dance party in your kitchen or do an online yoga class together. For very young kids, try physical games like Simon Says.
The entire world is feeling anxious right now, so it’s only natural that kids are prone to anxiety and depression. Try this “Video: Meditation for Kids.”
“Children are constantly exposed to epidemic-related news, so having direct conversations with children about these issues could alleviate their anxiety and avoid panic,” the study notes. It’s much better for kids to hear things from you, their most important and trusted resource, than from a TV blaring, a radio in the car, or for older kids, scrolling through social media. Limit the amount of news you take in as an adult, too, so you can stay calm for your family. Remember, you are the gatekeeper for your brain. (See “5 Ways to Moderate Your News Intake.”)
Strengthen Family Bonds
According to the study, “Home confinement could offer a good opportunity to enhance the interaction between parents and children, involve children in family activities, and improve their self-sufficiency skills.” Take the opportunity to play board games, listen to a fun podcast, snuggle and read, and do chores together. To ensure the family is eating healthfully, cook together and encourage older kids to practice their own cooking skills. (Here are some healthy snack ideas for kids, based on Ayurvedic principles.)
While this is a scary time for parents, and for kids, try to focus on any of the silver linings we can find. Many of us often wish we had more quality time with our families, so take advantage of this moment in time.
Self-Care During Troubled Times
Before coronavirus, self-care was seen as optional, a way of feeling better. These days, we've learned quite quickly how important self-care can be in fighting boredom, feelings of isolation, overwhelm, grief and fear.
Make sure to take time for self-care every day during the COVID-19 crisis, especially if you are on the front lines as a nurse, postal worker, doctor, delivery person, etc. We need you! Self-care may be meditation, or it might be giving yourself a facial. Whatever makes you feel cared for, pampered, and a tiny bit more relaxed.
Here are some ideas for self-care:
How to Ground and Refresh with a Bathtime Ritual
The Ultimate De-Stressing Daily Routine
Tantra is about connection, a precious commodity in the world right now. You can use tantra even if you're alone to feel connected with distant loved ones.
During this time of self-quarantine, how can you remain connected to your sensual self?
One answer to this question can be found in the ancient art of tantra. Though most Westerners associate tantra with sex, tantric touching can also provide a way to delve into your erotic side, according to Cliff Rees, who facilitates events focusing on meditation, intimacy, sexuality, boundaries, and presence.
As Rees explains, through tantra, we can “weave or integrate all the different parts of life into a single, coherent whole.” Furthermore, he notes that sex is only roughly 20 percent of the Kama Sutra. “The other 80 percent is about how to live a much more fulfilled, happier, connected life,” Rees adds.
“Tantric touch simply means connecting with another with your whole self as opposed to the superficial, nervous touch that our culture primarily teaches us,” Rees says. “Most people immediately start doing something when they touch another person. Let yourself really connect with that person before you begin moving your hands.”
He adds, “Really connecting with another is a great way to calm yourself and, in that calmer state, you become more self-aware—more capable of both knowing what you really want as well as what you’re looking for in your relationships.”
Using tantric touch can also lead to a better sex life in general, Rees explains. Sacred sexuality is the recognition that deeply connected erotic interactions can produce much greater self-awareness along with far more satisfying relationships.
“We can learn an enormous amount about ourselves by moving slowly, staying connected, letting one’s self be truly seen during sex,” Rees observes. “It’s vastly more fulfilling than the sexual interactions that most people have.”
Try the following tantric techniques to more fully and deeply connect with yourself and your partner, whether you’re in the same room or not.
Tantric Eye Gazing
For those who now find themselves solo while practicing social distancing, Rees recommends experimenting with eye-gazing, a simple but very powerful tantric technique. If you and your partner cannot be in the same physical space, you can connect virtually with someone else via a platform such as Zoom. Another option is to engage in this practice alone by looking at yourself in a mirror.
To begin, sit still with your eyes open. Drop whichever of your masks you’re currently wearing to whatever extent you can and let yourself be deeply seen.
Another technique for deep calming is to simply sit comfortably with eyes closed for five minutes while breathing in deeply through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. To get an even deeper connection, consider placing one hand over your heart and the other hand on your pubic bone as you breath in and out.
For those who are not practicing “social distancing” with an intimate partner, Rees recommends sitting in yab-yum position together either clothed or naked.
In this position, the man sits with his legs crossed and the woman sits on his lap while facing him, wrapping her arms and legs around him. (For a same-sex couple doing this exercise they can decide who takes which position.) Both partners then embrace each other fully and gently synchronize their breathing. While this position can lead into sex, the primary point of this exercise is to achieve a deep, intimate connection between two people.
says engaging in tantric practices such as tantric touching has strengthened her relationships. Since connecting with Rees and Dr. Charity Benham as part of a polyamorous triad, she says Tantra has truly changed her life.
“Not only has my sex life improved, but my relationships are so much richer because I am more grounded. Tantra relies on dropping your masks and focusing on the core that is you. I call it going back to ‘Original Mel,’ she says. “It is so freeing to have that center. While the roles I play are different—friend, lover, partner, mom, actor, daughter—I am always clearly the same Mel in those roles. That has not always been the case for me.”
Recipes for Self-Quarantine
For some, COVID-19 has put free time back into busy schedules. And many people are seizing that silver lining, using the extra time to cook, nourishing ourselves and our loved ones. If you're looking for recipes that are deeply comforting to cook, serve, and eat, you've come to the right kitchen.
Here are some of our favorites:
Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto
This colorful root-based dish is a wonderfully healthy way to enjoy “starchy foods,” whether as a finger food, a side dish, or a fancy shared plate.
By Julie Morris
You can easily turn this dish into a main meal by serving these delicious roasted roots on a bed of cooked grains, like quinoa, along with a few dark salad greens like baby kale or spinach for good measure. To give it even more color (and a wider array of antioxidants), use rainbow carrots, if they’re available.
Turmeric Roasted Roots
Serves 4, (when served as a side dish)
1 pound small carrots, peeled and trimmed 1 pound small parsnips, peeled and trimmed 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon maple syrup 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon Sea salt and ground black pepper 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut-milk yogurt (or another nondairy variety) Zest and juice of 1 lime 2 tablespoons hemp seeds 2 tablespoons torn fresh mint leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
2. You’ll want the carrots and parsnips to be about 1⁄2-inch thick and 4–6 inches long, so depending on the size of the roots, leave them whole or slice them into halves, quarters, or evenly sized sticks.
3. Place the cut roots into a mixing bowl, along with the olive oil, maple syrup, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Spread the roots on a baking sheet in an even layer and roast for 25–35 minutes, tossing once or twice during the cooking time, or until the roots are tender and lightly browned.
4. While the roots are cooking, combine the yogurt, lime zest, lime juice, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Mix well and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.
5. When the roots are fully roasted, spoon most of the yogurt sauce over a platter, add the roots, and drizzle the remaining spoonfuls of sauce on top (for a less-dramatic presentation you can also just toss everything together). Sprinkle the roots with hemp seeds and mint, and serve warm.
Brain Boost: Toss the roots with 1/2 teaspoon of schisandra powder after they’ve been roasted.
Excerpt adapted from Smart Plants © 2019 by Julie Morris, with permission from Sterling Epicure.