At Home with the Coronavirus

Image of the coronavirus courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control

As the coronavirus spreads, staying away from crowds and public spaces is our best defense. Wherever we call home—whether it’s a house, a condo or an apartment—we’re going to be spending an unprecedented amount of time there, making major adjustments to the way we live.

Companies have closed their doors, asking their employees to do their jobs remotely.  Until the virus is under control, Americans will be working from the den or the living room and conducting meetings via Zoom.

The home is getting busier, too, as schools and colleges shut down. Parents need to provide comfort and reassurance, while dealing with the pent-up energy of children with no access to the playground, and with adolescents who need their space and independence.     

A report in The Lancet shows that during a quarantine, boredom and isolation bring on psychological distress, especially among teens and young adults.  Yet you can turn that around by teaching these young people what everyone knew a generation or two before the internet:  Solitude is the best breeding ground for creativity, and boredom is the mother of invention. Encourage your offspring to dance, play their favorite music, draw, or listen to audio books—or repair something around the house.   

According to the BBC, people stuck at home in Wuhan, China, ground zero for the coronavirus, streamed exercise videos,  went clubbing online, and started virtual book clubs.   This helped fend off anxiety and depression.

Those who live alone need to focus on self-care as well.  During a community quarantine, you can get out the yoga mat, download a mindfulness app, do crossword puzzles, watch your favorite films, or start a journal, focusing on positive memories.   

Our advice: Keep up to date on precautionary measures but limit your online exposure to panicky posts on social media and to constant news about “the plague.” 

 Geoffrey Fowler, a tech columnist for The Washington Post had this to say  about our over-reliance on the web and the often unhelpful messages we’re getting from advertising and our latest apps:  

“My San Francisco self-quarantine is an experiment to see how far an app-operated life can stretch. The experience is easy, but it hasn’t put me at ease. Video conferencing fails 50 percent of the time. The online tools I’m using — Slack, Microsoft Office, Dropbox — treat work as paramount, so it never really goes away. I’m paying double for food delivered by apps. My Apple Watch, which tracks physical activity, beeped with a message: ‘Geoff, you can do better.’ I turn on my Apple TV, and the outbreak is there, too, pitching Contagionthe trending movie about dying from a disease spread in part by touching your face. (I indulged the paranoia.)

“Then there was the morning my broadband went out. Quarantine might not seem like a big sacrifice, but my experience shows it’s no snow day. It lays bare the vulnerabilities — and the vulnerable — in our online-everything economy.”

This is an ideal time to develop analog skills of conversation, self-reflection and imagination.  At Reinventing Home, we’re working remotely — but we’re also going back in time to explore our pre-Internet lives.  We’re listening to Brahms, playing Scrabble and old-fashioned board games (carefully disinfecting our Monopoly houses), and reading actual books with spines.  Remember that home serves as a haven and a sanctuary in uncertain times.  And consider these suggestions on how to find your inner balance and be more resilient in the days ahead.

Learn How to Wait

Photo by Adli Wahid on Unsplash

One of the hardest things for many who find themselves cooped up at home is not knowing when this period of isolation will come to an end.

 The writer  K.J. Dell’Antonia  learned to stop fretting and go with the flow during the swine flu epidemic in June 2009.  She and her family had just travelled to Beijing to adopt a toddler and suddenly found themselves  locked in a hotel room.  Day after day,  K.J. had to deal with the concerns of her husband, mother, and children, aged 3, 4, and 6.

 “Quarantine is one of the many waiting rooms of life, and its own special circle of hell for people raised with the illusion that we control our destinies,” she wrote in The New York Times. “We prefer to believe that anything can be overcome if we just try hard enough. But there is no trying in quarantine. There is only the sitting, and, if you wish to retain your hold on your sanity, the letting go. What comes next? No one knows. That’s why we have quarantine in the first place.” 

To survive our current public health emergency, she says, we will have to relax and give up our fixation on control.  As you’re grounded by the next phase of the coronavirus,  you’ll be  Zen boot camp — learning to deal with a daily dose of frustration and uncertainty.

Here are some insights from Zen practice that you can apply to daily life.

Start with Mindfulness.  Step back from your fear and concentrate on one thing at a time—on making the bed, preparing breakfast, getting through whatever work you have to do from home. Take life one moment at a time.

Adjust your Expectations. Be aware that everyone is under stress right now and trying to deal with the same difficult emotions.  Give people the space to come to terms with their reactions in their own way.  Everyone needs time to “reset” these days.

Go with the Flow.  The news will change each day, so accept that life is going to be one constant readjustment. Cultivate an open mind, and try not to succumb to “end-watching”—waiting tensely for a situation to be resolved. Suspend your usual expectations and do the best you can.

Find a Healthy Distraction.  Download a yoga or meditation app, go for a walk, watch an uplifting movie, schedule a phone conversation with a best friend.  There are times when it’s best not to work and not to engage with the current situation.

Remind Yourself You’re Only Human.  Be kind to yourself when you get anxious. The next few weeks will be roller coaster as new guidelines or new information comes your way.  It’s challenging to process, and even harder if you fell you have to be on top of it.   You will have good days and bad ones, so don’t be hard on yourself if you lose it temporarily or have a stressful moment.   Just lovingly and slowly bringing yourself back to center.  Building your resilience is what counts.  

(These guidelines were adapted from the Zen Happiness Project.) 

See the Big Picture

The coronavirus is also an ordeal as many face financial losses and try to find their balance in a teetering economy.    Yet Dutch trends forecaster Li Edelkoort  believes that, in the long run, the virus may have a positive impact, spurring us to make the kind of changes that will allow us to be kinder to the earth and ensure our survival as a species. Speaking at the Indaba Design conference in Cape Town in  February,  Edelkoort predicted that the corona virus will temper our travel addiction and  knee-jerk consumerism.

A former consultant to Amani, Hyundai and Google, Edelkoort hopes the health crisis  will spur us to “find new values—values of simple experience, of friendship. It might just turn the world around for the better.”

“The virus will slow down everything,” she notes, including the making of consumer goods. “That is terrible and wonderful because we need to stop producing at such a pace. We need to change our behavior to save the environment.”

If it’s the end of business as usual, she says, that’s not all bad. “People will try to do things via Skype, but that seldom works. We are already two months behind, which means summer-themed goods won’t be delivered or will arrive too late to be sold.” 

Still, Edelkoort feels that being confined to our towns and cities might foster a revival of cottage industries and a new reliance on things made locally.  The point is we need something positive to hang onto in this moment–something that will activate both hope and resilience.  So limit your exposure to the dire news and try to balance that with mindfulness and gratitude.   

In the meantime, here’s a refrigerator post-it from the writer Anne Lamott: 

Only together do we somehow keep coming through unsurvivable loss, the stress of never knowing how things will shake down, to the biggest miracle of all, that against all odds, we come through the end of the world, again and again — changed but intact (more or less)… Insofar as I have any idea of “the truth,” I believe this to be as true as gravity and grace.  

Cultivate Your Garden

The Spanish flu—the most lethal epidemic in modern times — came in two waves, one in the spring, then a reprise in the fall, stronger and more lethal, but finally burning out in a period of 13 weeks.  By early 1919 the epidemic was over, memorialized in this refrain sung by children skipping rope:

I had a little bird, its name was Enza
I opened up the window and in flew Enza

In our current health crisis, we are being forced to slow down and recall the things that have always given us faith, courage and hope. 

A psychologist friend who lives in Berkeley, CA, finds this a time for turning inward and focusing on the things that nurture and support us here at home.  “This time of year, some edible things are sprouting on their own —  miner’s lettuce, mallow, fennel, mint, and nasturtium have taken over the yard.   There’s a place where I like to sit in the sun.  And as my normally bustling town grows quieter and more introverted,  there are moments of unexpected peace.”   

While we have stocked the larder and taken steps to protect ourselves through social distancing,  we must not forget our connection with our fellow humans and with the earth itself.   “No man lives within his own psychic sphere like a snail in his shell, separated from everybody else,”  wrote the Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung, “but is linked to all humanity and to the laws of Nature.” (CW10 para 408).  

Jung worried that through technology, noise, and fast-paced action, we became cut off from  organic laws.  He cautioned against “living only in our heads,” and felt our current way of life was unsustainable.  

Where did he find his own antidote to noise and stress?   At his country home at Bollingen  where he lived simply, fanning his kitchen fire with bellows, talking to his pots and pans,  using tools that had been fashioned in the Middle Ages, and rowing on the lake.

“At times I feel as though I am spread out over the landscape and inside things, and am myself living in every tree, in the splashing of the waves, in the clouds and the animals that come and go, in the procession of the seasons,.  There is nothing…with which I am not linked.”   (MDR, p 225)

Remembering this connection to home, and to nature, is good medicine for us all.

Recommended Reading

Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott

Happiness: Essential Mindful Practices by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama 

Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson

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