Thursday, April 2, 2020

Staying Happy (and Sane) While Social Distancing

Adding some shimmer to our morning 

Make Your Bed. Take a Shower. Get Dressed. 

Every single morning I make my bed. There have been some times in my life that the universe dealt me such emotional blows that it was a struggle to get out of the bed. I learned that making my bed every morning gave me a little win first thing in the morning. It also lessens the temptation that I'll cuddle back in at some point during the day. Later that night, it feels so good to peel back the covers and get climb into bed.

When I first started working from home, I would sleepily make my way downstairs in my pajamas, brew some coffee, head over to my desk and start working. Sometimes I would be so consumed by the projects I was working on, it would be 4pm and I would still be in my pajamas. After a few  weeks of staying in pj's until the afternoon, I realized that I would more productive if I actually started my day as if I was working in an office.  Now that you might be working from home, the temptation to stay in your pajamas may be there but I promise you, you'll have a more work-focused attitude if you actually take a shower and get dressed. Plus, it makes the shift from home to work to back to home clearer.

Structure Your Day Along With Breaks

When you work from home or if you are furloughed, it can feel like the day is just one open block of time. I felt that way. What helped me was to write out a schedule for my day, including breakfast, lunch and exercise times. You may already have conference calls that create blocks of time, but to help you focus, create your own structured day. It helps to follow a schedule, especially when each day feels like Groundhog Day.

Pray / Talk With a Therapist

My faith has always been an important part of my identity. Prayer and the moments with God are sacred to me and as much a part of my morning and evening routines as brushing. my teeth. As a Catholic, I believe in the power of novenas and prayers (even when things haven't gone "my way.") At different times in my life my faith has provided strength, comfort and relief when I needed it the most.  When I feel desolate or scared or I feel sorry for myself, I find a quiet space and imagine myself sitting across from God telling him how I feel. Yes, I will ask for protection or help in achieving what I want but I also ask for His grace in helping me get through whatever is worrying me.

I've also processed some of the worst periods of my life with the help of a therapist. Sometimes there is nothing that anyone can say or do to make the situation any better other than giving you the opportunity to release what's heavy in your heart.

Set Three Goals for Yourself Every Day

I spoke with one of my girlfriends this week and she lamented the fact that she is getting bored and starting to feel a little depressed living alone and working from home. We talked about setting three goals for each day. They can be little goals like emailing someone that you have been putting off or ordering groceries online or larger goals like editing your closet or updating your resume. 

Clearly Define Your Work Space and Your Work Day

If you are starting to work from home, create a space for yourself if you can, that is away from the bed or couch. When I started The Happygirl, I would curl up on the couch and write but I would get distracted, turn the TV on and sometimes even fall asleep. I was so cozy. I had to break that habit so I could be more productive. I made myself use the dining room table (and in time, a desk.) While I wasn't as comfortable as I was on the couch, I was much more productive.

One of my friends who has a studio apartment in New York, propped up his ironing board and is using that as a standing desk (clever!). If you know that you will be videoconferencing, set your phone camera to selfie mode to see what others see behind you. I've had several videoconferencing calls this week and it's such a strange experience to peek inside someone else's life. You get to see their home or kids or pets and sometimes, it's an awkward experience.

Tip: Another great option for videoconferencing is the XSplit VCam (on sale $19.99) which allows you to replace or blur your background without buying an expensive green screen.  More on the XSplit here

Be Gentle With the People You're With

L, and I have been home with each other (and the baby) social distancing now for one month. It wasn't long before we started getting on each other's nerves.   If you're at the point where you are thinking "OK, one of us needs to go back to work. NOW!" then it's time to have a sit down to talk about how you can make this quarantine better for each other. If you're short with someone or feeling the brunt end of someone else's frustration, remember that being with your family members or roommates 24/7 is new for most of us and you'll figure out a new normal.

Carve Out Some Private Time

One of the things that is working for us, is that L and I give each other some space. We are being very strict with social distancing so we won't go anywhere that there are people. I'll put Waverly in her car seat and just take her for a ride. We listen to music and I point out the boats or the trucks or the birds. This give L some private time. He does the same for me. If you can't get out, give each other some space even just to take a nap for a little while. 

Move. Walk. Stretch. Get Out of the House

One of the keys to keeping sane, is to move, to get some fresh air. Go for a walk if you can. Breathe in the spring air (with a mask on). If you can't go out because of the crowds, do an at home workout. I love kickboxing and have started to do it again with a DVD that I loved several years ago. A friend in DC takes an online dance class. Whatever you can do physically, do it. Move and get your blood pumping. 

Eat Healthy

I crave mac & cheese when I'm feeling like I need to be comforted. It's so tempting to cave and eat comfort foods. Sure, have a treat in moderation but strive to keep your nutrition at a healthy balance. Eat fresh food if you have it. Right now I can't get enough strawberries and pink grapefruit. When Waverly naps, I make myself a tea and read through a couple new cookbooks.  I'd like to think that when this is over, that we will be healthier than when we started the quarantine. 

Stimulate Your Mind

It would be easy to binge watch new series or old favorites but we're trying to limit our screen time. I've started doing the NY Times puzzles again as well as taking Duolingo lessons. With Waverly, I love the virtual tours. For several weeks now, we have also been doing a 48 piece United States map puzzle. At two years-old, she can do it all by herself. The capitals are a little harder but at least she is learning something. I can see how proud she is when she completes the puzzle. 

Take the Opportunity to Clean Your Space

With all of us at home, our house started to get super cluttered with toys and books and games kind of everywhere. We had boxes from deliveries sitting in the living room and blankets always seemed to be in piles on the couch. Two weeks ago, I made a list of cleaning projects. Some were small like folding the blankets on the couch at the end of every day or putting the boxes in recycle every night. There were bigger projects too like cleaning out the pantry and the refrigerator, starting from bare shelves. Cleaning up our space feels good. I feel like I have so little control over what's happening in our world. At least our home is clean.

*I also wipe down all of the surfaces we come in contact with every day, from the front door (inside and out) to bathroom and kitchen counters, remote controls and our phones. In addition, I was our clothes on sanitize mode every night. 

Limit Your News Intake

I have insomnia and I often read the news when I can't sleep.  Last night I watched two videos from doctors regarding the virus and how it will kill us. This was such a bad idea. I've decided that while I need to know what is happening with the virus, I realize that I'm overstimulating myself with too much news. I now read the news in the morning and once in the late afternoon before I sign off from work. My mind feels much more relaxed now.

Make Video Dates With Friends and Family

If you're feeling isolated, make a date with your family and friends with a video chat.  This week our family celebrated my niece's birthday and while we weren't there together, it still felt good to see each other. Think about someone who made need a spiritual lift and set up a date of your own.

The Pirate & Vampire Bagel Set from Rubinstein Bagel in Seattle

Support Your Local Small Businesses

One of the things that we are concerned about, is the small business crisis. We are doing our best to support small businesses that we love. both locally and across the country. Last week we ordered a delivery of Rubinstein Bagels from Seattle. It felt like Christmas morning when the bag of bagels and schmears arrived on our doorstep. If you can, support your local restaurants or other small businesses that are still open (online) or for delivery. 

Infuse Your Day with Humor

I have been struggling with the feeling of isolation so I have made a concerted effort to bring more joy into our home. Waverly and L and I have been playing together more than we ever have and we try to remain as happy as we can. Whether it's covering ourselves in super shimmery lotion or singing out loud to "Benny and the Jets," we are striving to keep our sense of humor and levity.

We also make time for dance breaks throughout the day. Just now Waverly and I danced like mad to "Jump in Line" until we fell into a laughing pile of giggles on the floor. These are the moments that I hope Waverly remembers from this pandemic.

Make a Plan for When This is Over

This is what I fantasize about.  I think about L and I taking Waverly to Walt Disney World. I think about hugging my friends. Brunch at my favorite places. Playing with Waverly at her favorite outdoor spaces. I have a long of things I want to do when this is over. I think about all of the people I want to see and the things that we will do when the world is right again.  What are you looking forward to when this is over? 

Monday, March 23, 2020

When this is over

I've been in a funk the last few days. We have been isolating ourselves for about three weeks now. This is such a strange time.  I realized that I had to change my thinking so this morning I got down on my knees and I prayed.  I thanked God for His help getting me through this surreal time. During my talk with God, I asked Him to help guide me in changing my perspective. I realize that I need to be grateful for this time of quiet, for this reset me for me, my family, and really for our world. Maybe this is what we needed. A pause. 

When this is over, I will hug, my God, will I hug. I will inhale the scent of the people and things that I missed. When this is over, I will take advantage of every moment of freedom I have to just go to the market and not worry if someone sneezed on an avocado. When this is over, I will absorb every bit of Mass. I will be happy to watch my two year-old play with friends and share cheese puffs with each other. I look forward to cleaning off her little orange fingers with water rather than sanitizing gel. 

When this is over, I will tip my servers twice the cost of the meal. I will relax in my seat on the plane and instead of isolating myself with earbuds and an eye mask, I will happily listen to my seatmate's stories. I will make every effort to be kind and sprinkle kindness and grace wherever I go.

And I will hug and I will hug and I will hug.

Until then, I am going to do everything I can to ensure that we ride this out as healthy and as HAPPY as possible. I hope the same for you too.


Monday, March 16, 2020

How We're Riding Out COVID-19

Waverly and our ever present packets of hand sanitizer wipes

It didn't start out scary. The news from China was bad but it didn't directly affect us. Then the outbreak happened at the nursing home here in Kirkland, WA, just two or so miles from our home. Still, we thought, OK, it's contained to a health care facility. Then there were reports that student nurses were exposed at the health care facility, and priests who administered final rites, as well as emergency responders. All of these people were exposed and they have families who were exposed.

Then things started to snowball. Our school district announced the closure of our schools until the end of March (at the earliest). Companies instituted work from home policies until the end of April. Catholic masses were cancelled. So were community events. Italy and Spain had increasing counts of COVID-19 cases. We started to comprehend the scope of the pandemic. Friends of ours in areas of the country which were unaffected reached out to ask if we were OK or if the media was making this out to be bigger than it was. "It's scary," I said. "It's that bad. Be prepared to hunker down." Being the epicenter of this now pandemic feels like something from a film that I typically wouldn't go see because this sort of thing, even fictional,  makes my anxiety skyrocket.

My anxiety level started to reach a scary point. I worried about our exposure, our family and friends around the country, our investments. I took one look at our retirement plan when this started and vowed not to check it again for a while. I worried about our niece who was spending a semester abroad in Spain. I worried about how this pandemic would actually end. When would it end? I couldn't sleep and reading the news made my heart beat uncontrollably fast. If I didn't get control of the thoughts that raced through my mind, I realized I was going to be in the same wrecked emotional state as I was in 2009 when my word collapsed around me.

One thing that I was especially worried about was our two year-old daughter, Waverly. Would she sense something was very wrong? We sat her down to talk about germs. At two, I don't know how much she understands but we've always talked to her as if she understands what we are saying. One thing we didn't want was for Waverly to take on any of the panic that we were starting to feel. We wanted her to feel safe, secure and happy.

I took four deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth. I remembered one of my coping mechanisms in 2009 was to write out my thoughts, what scared me. I knew I couldn't control what was happening in the rest of the world but I could control what happened with my immediate family.

I took control of my fear and turned it into something constructive.  I got our home ready for the pandemic. I bought what we needed to quarantine ourselves for the next six weeks. I prepared for our physical and mental health. Hopefully, that will not only be the healthiest thing for our family but also our community.

*If you haven't been touched by this pandemic yet, you may think this is overkill. This is what made (and still makes sense) to us. And no, we didn't buy toilet paper in bulk. This baffles me.

How We're Riding Out COVID-19

✢ We are sheltering in place, venturing out only as needed to the market or for some fresh air and a change of scenery.

✢ L and I are both working from home and we decided to pull Waverly from her toddler group as well as swimming class. (Both were located in places with a lot of people in environments that are difficult to keep clean plus Waverly likes to lick things and especially now, that's just a big nope.)

We wash our hands. A lot. I keep disposable gloves in the car for when I need to get gas.

✣ While I haven't seen this mentioned, I made the decision not to buy any fruits or vegetables that are exposed i.e. lettuces, squash, avocados etc. I made this decision as I was at the market and I watched a woman cough into her hand, then touch a number of heads of green lettuce and then go on to squeeze a selection of avocados searching for the perfect one.

We have postponed all travel through the summer

✣ When we do go out to the market or somewhere else for essentials (or just to get out of the house!), we leave our shoes outside, we change our clothes as soon as we get home and do a daily load of laundry on sanitize mode

We use debit or credit cards when we do go out for supplies. We're trying to limit our contact with cash. When we need to input our PIN or zip code, I use the corner of the credit card to touch the buttons

✣ I am big believer in Vitamin C and other immunity support supplements. I'm on my second box of Nuun Immunity tablets which contain Vitamin C, Zinc, Tumeric, Elderberry, Ginger and Echinacea.

✣ We have stocked our kitchen with"feel-better food" including matzoh ball soup mix, tea, ginger ale, chicken broth, saltines and popsicles

We're checking in with friends and family members. We're also giving each other some alone time. If you're now spending 24/7 with your partner / roommate / kids and that's a new experience, give each other a breather every now and then. It doesn't matter how big your home is, if you're stuck in a space long enough, you're going to irritate each other. Protect your relationships. Take a walk outside, get some fresh air and remember that this isn't your new normal forever

✣ One thing you may keep hearing about is an emergency or "Bug Out Kit," things you would need in a pandemic or other emergency situation. Here are some things that we have included in our kit:

It's a fine balance, isn't it? You want to prepare and stay safe but not panic. It's hard. I think this is going to change us as a nation and as a world. It's changing the way we feel about what's important to us. It's about being healthy and being with the ones we love. 

I hope you are staying healthy and happy both physically and emotionally.  Happiness will come back, like it always does. Your investment plan will slowly rebound and you will once again be back at work and school. For now, take this time to practice being grateful for your health and the people in your lives. 


Monday, February 17, 2020

thought for the week February 17, 2020

It's an unfortunate part of life but there will be times when things will go so wrong because of someone else that it's impossible not to think of some horrible fate to come down on them. I've been there. I've had those thoughts of revenge. It didn't feel fair that things could go so wrong in my world and yet the person who I felt caused me the pain, felt nothing,

The problem with this kind of thinking, however, is that the only person it affects is you. The person who did you wrong, who took your promotion or boyfriend or parking space doesn't feel a thing. They have most likely forgotten about you. By thinking about them and plotting revenge, you're not letting the story end. When you keep replaying something in your head, you strengthen the neural pathways carrying those memories and you just make them stronger.

This is the exact opposite of what you want. Whoever has wronged you, misaligned your life plan or in some way has made you angry, doesn't matter anymore. Let it go. The best revenge is to focus on your life and your decisions going forward. Let them be them. Wish them well if you can. It may seem impossible at the moment to wish someone well when they made your life hell, but I've done this and the weight of holding a grudge is too heavy of a weight to bear. Banish them and what they have done to you from your mind. Focus on living your own happy life. Every time they pop into your head, change the path. Recite a song lyric, say the alphabet backwards. Do whatever you have to do to stop the thoughts that don't serve to move your life forward.

Maybe not now, but I promise someday when they pop into your head, you won't feel sad or angry. Maybe, just maybe you'll wonder if they are now as happy as you.
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