Healthy Quarantine Part 1: Emotional Health
Hi there, fellow home-stayers! I hope you’re staying safe, healthy, and emotionally well!
“But Katrina, you’re not emotionally well at all!” You may say if you read my last article, Pandemic 101. Yeah, I was pretty upset when I wrote that blog. I was trying to enjoy the beach that weekend, but an ample number of Californians weren’t obeying the social distance rules. This, in turn, led to the beaches being closed. I, a self righteous rule follower, was incensed by this.
Just look at them! Ugh!
But, I’m not the only one who’s frustrated at a time like this. It’s hard not to be. COVID-19 has made it so we can’t go to work, we can’t go to school, or we can’t go to work because our kids can’t go to school. And we’re lucky if those are our only inconveniences — not to minimize those problems, as joblessness and lack of education/childcare are serious problems.
So, are you feeling depressed, angry, anxious, or any other negative emotions during your quarantine? If so, then you’re completely normal! But normal isn’t necessarily healthy. It’s normal to enjoy deep fried Oreos, but I’m still working off the ones I ate in May of 2013 — true story. So, what can you do to turn your emotionally normal into emotionally healthy?
*Make sure to read the last section! It will cover how to stay sanitary when putting these emotional health suggestions to use!
Explore New Indoor Hobbies
Do you knit? No? Neither do I! But I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked if I do. Perhaps I look like a knitter — whatever they’re supposed to look like.
For the last three weeks, I’ve only been leaving home to walk my dog (while yelling “SIX FEET!” at unruly children on the sidewalk.) And you know what this prolonged confinement makes me want to do? Knit!
Well, not really. I have my own indoor hobbies that I thoroughly enjoy and I’ve been hobby-ing them like never before! (I’ll talk about familiar hobbies later.) But you know those activities that you always say you want to try and then never actually get around to? Now’s the time to do them! And don’t do them just to combat boredom; do them because new stimuli does wonders for your health!
Taking on a new challenge involves learning new skills. Those skills can be as simple as following rules to a new board game, or as complex as contorting your body until it fits in a handbag. If you’ve ever mastered a new skill before, then you know how rewarding it is! I’ll never forget the day I finished stitching my own dress for the renaissance festival — the rewarding-ness sent my emotional health through the roof! Before then, I’d never made a dress and had no idea what I was getting myself into. The process was exciting, and the end result made me feel like a champion!
During this quarantine, you deserve to feel the same championship that I did then! Who knows, maybe you’ll enjoy your new skills so much that they’ll become a regular hobby! Let those dopamine chemicals — also known as the goal achieving chemicals, as they surge when you achieve goals — surge! Dopamine has no time for negativity, so it’ll kick your depression across the room whenever it enters.
Here’s what to do:
- Find the unopened arts and crafts kit you were gifted eight Christmases ago. Or whatever unopened gift you have laying around. There could be skill-perfecting treasures in there, and you’ve got nothing else to do right now!
- If you don’t have any unopened gifts laying around, think hard about an indoor activity you’ve never done and take the best course of action. If you want to learn to dance, there’s plenty of tutorials on youtube! But if your new activity requires a purchase — like a make-your-own-bouncy-ball kit — do some online shopping! (But if you shop, be sure to sanitize everything! I’ll elaborate at the end.)
Take Your Familiar Hobbies to the Next Level
What’s your favorite thing to do? Is it cooking? Let’s just say it’s cooking!
When most of us make food, we prefer something quick and easy. We see those time-consuming recipes on the food channel and we’re so conflicted! That orange souffle cake looks scrumptious, but who has the time?
You do, silly! You’re in quarantine!
Think of how accomplished you’ll feel when you finish making that thing. I feel accomplished just looking at it!
Well, since I’m going to talk about physical health in Healthy Quarantine Part 2, I’ll post a healthier example here too. Watch the video below if your current oatmeal is boring. This lady knows how to do oats!
Similar to exploring new hobbies, advancing your old hobbies involves learning new skills — which is exciting! But there’s more to this than just learning new skills. When you finish performing your altered hobby, your final product is going to be so pleasing to your senses! If you enjoy cooking, you can make the most delicious food ever with your time consuming recipes! If you like making jewelry, those self-made chandelier earrings will make you glamorous!
You want to know another great thing about time-consuming hobbies? They do away with the ”overwhelming nothing to do”, as I call it. Sure, having nothing to do can be awesome sometimes — it’s relaxing when done right! But prolonged levels of having nothing to do can be harmful to your emotional health. The vagus nerve, which is the longest nerve in your autonomic nervous system, can get disrupted when your body is under-stimulated. This cranial nerve is a talkative one; always telling your heart, diaphragm, and guts how to properly do their jobs. But you know what else it does? It sends information to your brain about your environment, and whether or not your surroundings are safe. A disrupted vagus nerve can send your body into fight or flight, even if you’re not in any real danger. But when your brain lacks engagement, your vagus nerve weakens and can’t do its job properly.
So, here’s what to do:
- If you enjoy jigsaw puzzles, I suggest the Pencil Collage by White Mountain Puzzles. That puzzle is insane!
- Take a look at that Natural Grocers Newsletter you keep ignoring. There’s some mood-boosting recipes in there for sure — and take your good old time! And if cooking’s not your thing, you can always make a collage! Find some scissors and see how many newsletter deals you can fit into one work of art!
Here’s a piece of a giant collage I made some years ago. Everything that resembles food came from a Natural Grocers Newsletter. Pretty cool, right?
Let me rephrase that: breathe normally!
Ok, so you don’t have hobbies and you don’t want new ones. But I’m guessing that you do have lungs. Remember when I talked about that vagus nerve a few lines ago? Well, another thing that upsets good ol’ vagus is shallow breathing, or the kind of breathing you do when you’re not paying attention to your breathing. You know how you feel when you talk to someone and suddenly realize they’ve been ignoring every word you just said? Yeah, your breathing feels the same way when you don’t pay attention to it, and it decides it won’t listen to anyone anymore — including its boss, the vagus nerve. “Do your job, diaphragm,” the vagus instructs your breathing. But your breathing is all like, “What’s the point? Nobody listens to me, so I’m returning the favor.” This angers the vagus nerve, who responds to your uncooperative diaphragm with a complaint to the brain. “Sound the danger alarms, brain! We’ve got some shallow breathing here!” And before you know it, you’re having an anxiety attack.
So, be kind to your body and listen to your breath. Deep, deep belly breaths… whoosh… oh, so calming!
And if you like, do some meditation! There are plenty of guided tutorials on Spotify! Find a track with a calming voice, be it a human speaking or whales singing.
Hey, want to know an easy breathing exercise? I do this one whenever I see idiots on the beach. It quells my disgust like a charm.
Here’s what to do:
- Inhale deeply through your nostrils.
- Hold that breath for five seconds.
- Slowly exhale everything through pursed lips.
- This technique will bring you down to your sleeping heart rate. Repeat the steps until you forget all about the beach idiots.
Stay in Contact with Loved Ones
Being unable to see friends and family, assuming you don’t share a home with them, has to be rough right now. But guess what? This is the year 2020, and not 2000. We miss our tamagotchis and other vintage electronics from twenty years ago, but the devices we have today are a lot more useful! Give your elderly parents a call and give detailed steps about how to do Zoom. (I only just learned about the Zoom thing, and am using it for the first time today! Can’t wait!) If you’re not as technologically challenged as I am, then you already know about the wonders of Zoom! You can get all your friends and family on the same chat, and look all of them in the face at the same time! Everybody’s together again! Get that oxytocin, the love chemical that makes you feel all cozy, flowing!
And if looking people in the face isn’t your thing, there’s other ways you can spend quality time with friends. Aside from texting and Facebook, there are all these game apps on the phone! You want to know a newer one that just surfaced? The Scrabble app! Scrabble is only the best game ever, and now you can invite your loved ones to play with you from a thousand miles away! Quick, tell somebody!
Not to end this section on a depressing note or anything, but it’s worth noting that social isolation is associated with depression and anxiety. Known as the silent killer, the effects of loneliness aren’t always immediately visible. If you’re not a particularly social person, try to reach out to somebody — anybody — for a little bit of social interaction. It doesn’t have to be a family member, acquaintance, co-worker, etc. If you’re feeling lonely, tele-therapy is there to help. There are hotlines and online counseling for just about every emotional disturbance. You’re never really alone, you know. If you’re feeling down, there is absolutely someone who will listen.
Now let’s get back on a lighter note! Sanitation, yay!
So, I gave you tips on what to do for emotional soundness during quarantine. But I also set you up for some contamination when I suggested you buy stuff. Be it materials for your new hobby or specialty ingredients for the world’s biggest croissant, here’s how to stay illness free!
- When having packages delivered, DO NOT go near the FedEx workers. Have them leave the package at your door and wait for them to run away.
- When the coast is clear, put on your mask and gloves (or face scarf and hand socks, since the world is short on protective materials.)
- If your packages are relatively safe from porch pirates, consider leaving the packages outside for a couple of hours. This will allow any potential contaminants to be aired out. Coronavirus particles can live on packages for a number of hours or days.
- Bring sanitizer with you, and open packages with care. Should any of the packaging touch your skin, apply sanitizer to the area.
- If the packaging is plastic, bring all-purpose cleaner with you too. Spray the package before opening.
- Don’t bring the packaging inside your home. Immediately discard it in an outside trash bin.
- After bringing your purchased item indoors, immediately throw your clothes in the laundry and take a shower.
For (only absolutely necessary) grocery shopping:
- Wear a mask and gloves on every outing.
- When you arrive home with groceries, remove all items from their bags before going indoors. Throw disposable in an outdoor trash bin. Thoroughly clean reusable bags before bringing them indoors.
- I wouldn’t recommend using cloth reusable bags during a pandemic. But if you do, throw them in the washing machine immediately when you come home.
- Wash produce all produce before putting away. For produce with tough barriers (apples or oranges, etc.), use soap and water. Wipe down food packaging with all purpose cleaner — it can be a little difficult with cardboard, but do try.
- Again, wash clothes and shower immediately!
- Enjoy your food!
So there you go! Stay safe and healthy, everyone! Stay focusedon your emotional health! Stay tuned for Healthy Quarantine Part 2: Physical Health.
Written by: Katrina Jenkins, LMT
Photo Collage by Katrina Jenkins