Staying Sane During Stressful Times

On Friday, I arrived at a friend’s house in Montezuma, Colorado for a weekend with a few couples. They had donated generously to the Jamie Beck Foundation’s auction for this weekend ski getaway, and I had volunteered to provide chef duty. I had been looking forward to the weekend for months.

On Saturday, most of the group went skiing. When they returned for happy hour, we practiced social distancing (above) while enjoying margaritas in the historic barn on my friend’s property. That evening the news broke that the ski resorts would be closing for the season, disrupting all of the plans for skiing on Sunday. It didn’t affect the massive feast I had prepared – a Puerto Rican themed menu, based on my recent travels to the island, with ceviche, avocado salad, arroz con gandules, pernil, and flan. We ate, we drank, we played cards, we laughed, and we toasted our friendship. We washed our hands – a lot – and reminded each other not to touch our faces.

On Sunday we drove home from the mountains, passing the empty ski resorts of Keystone, A-Basin, and Loveland. The top of Loveland Pass was filled with diehards carrying their skis or boards up the side of the mountain to sneak in a little skiing, not ready to accept yet that the season is over. The reality of what was happening began sinking in.

On Monday morning, I arrived to work my volunteer shift in the kitchen at Project Angel Heart, but was sent home once they learned I had been in Summit County over the weekend. The state had just issued a COVID-19 warning for Summit, Pitkin, Eagle and Gunnison counties based on how rapidly the disease was spreading in those areas.

Within thirty minutes I was back at home, and it began to hit me: this is escalating quickly, I’m at risk (was I already exposed this weekend?), and I need to do my part to help flatten the curve and contain the spread of COVID-19. So I canceled my weekly exercise group. I postponed my daughter’s bridal shower. I canceled the large family gathering we had planned for later this month. I changed my RSVP to no for a friend’s engagement party this weekend. I canceled a dinner party I was hosting on Saturday night. I canceled our trip to San Antonio for next month. I canceled a cooking event I was scheduled to host. My son and his wife canceled their trip to Colorado. I canceled personal appointments – facial, nails, and more. My nephew even postponed his wedding.

I spent the rest of the day watching news clips from the mayor, reading about the worldwide toll this disease has taken, crying for my friends in Italy, and talking and texting with friends. Everyone is sad. Many are rightfully nervous. And it seems we all need a plan for what to do while being “trapped”, possibly for weeks, at home. I have some suggestions, and I hope this helps others hang on to their sanity, just as I’m trying to do.

I’m a cooking teacher, so I obviously gravitate to the kitchen in times of stress. But even for those of you who normally don’t, isolation at home is the perfect time to try something new. Visit my food blog for some ideas, or subscribe to The NY Times Cooking app which I’m loving. Use this time at home to tackle something that takes more time than you usually have when driving back and forth from work. Cook for yourself, cook for those you love. And if you need groceries but are wary of going out, many grocery stores deliver for a very small fee.

We all have tons of digital photos thanks to our phones, and you know how frustrating it is when you want to pull up something to show someone but it takes forever to find what you’re looking for. I plan to spend some of this down time to organize the 20,333 photos and 546 videos in my iPhotos library into albums. While you’re going through the photos, send a few off for printing and have them mailed to you for framing.

Just because we have to cancel travel plans at this time doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some other aspects of travel. This is the perfect opportunity to work on a Shutterfly book from your last trip. Or read some inspiring travel stories, like these from award winning women writers. Or peruse the internet to start planning for that trip you want to take once it’s safe to travel again.

Play the piano, or your guitar, or whatever instrument you have. Paint, draw, or sketch. Sew something. Knit or crochet. Do anything that allows you to be creative and occupies your mind for awhile instead of the news reports. And listen to music for the stress relief it can provide.

I’ve been struggling to get in meaningful exercise for the past couple of months, the weight I lost last summer slowly creeping back. I’m committing to a daily workout, starting today, which will not only help with the weight gain and my fitness level, but help immensely to manage the anxiety I’m feeling.

Whether you’re an author, an aspiring writer, or just find comfort in journaling, try writing – either on how you feel about what’s happening, or on a completely different topic for a diversion. There are many online writing classes available that you can work your way through from the comfort of your home.

We’re all sitting on a long list of things that need to be done at home but we never quite have the time or inclination to do. Here’s a list of things you might tackle:

  • Clean out your basement
  • Clean out the garage
  • Try on every piece of clothing you own and commit to letting go of a few items
  • Deep clean the house
  • Shampoo your carpets
  • Touch up paint on walls and baseboards
  • Clean out the refrigerator and freezer
  • Organize your pantry (pull out things to donate to a food bank while you’re working)
  • Wash all of your bedding, not just your sheets
  • Give your pets a bath in the shower or tub
  • Do your taxes
  • Clean out your desk drawers
  • Clean out the “junk drawer”
  • Organize office files
  • Go through those thousands of emails on your computer and weed out
  • Wash the glass and screens on your fireplaces
  • Clean out your flower pots and flower beds so you are ready to plant later this spring
  • Clean out and organize your medicine cabinet

Do you have other ideas? Leave them in the comments so we can expand this list together.

Stay healthy everyone!

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