For the first ten days of the bizarre stay-at-home mandate, I mostly slept.
Despite my desire to write the Great American Novel, dominate the internet with my wisdom, clean out my closet or simply pick up the clothes I threw on the floor, I found myself laying in my bed watching Netflix’s “Tiger King”. Those people made me feel normal.
The next ten days, I stopped the Keto program I have been on for years. It was too challenging to find decent meat and vegetables. “I don’t want to be a hoarder” is the excuse I used.
Maintaining some discipline, I haven’t gone wild. But, my roommate’s shut-in pleasure is cooking delicious meals. She helped me soothe my nerves with a fabulous bolognese sauce, an amazing all-day pot roast, a magnificent tuna casserole, and many more delicious concoctions.
Slowly, the Christmas pounds I lost in January and February found their way back to my hips by April.
In my youth, I would have been tempted to swear off eating altogether. But, with my middle-aged body, I know that won’t work. Even more importantly, I know WHY I want to eat comforting foods.
Humans like to think they are superior to other mammals. We think somehow our intelligence can over rule millions of years of instinct, but that’s just not true.
Animals in the wild will only eat when they are calm and in an environment free from the danger of predators. They won’t eat if they are in danger of being prey.
It’s true with domestic animals as well. If your cat or dog is happily munching on kibble and you make a loud noise, they will run away from the food. They no longer feel safe.
Conversely, when they are eating, their bodies relax. They feel safe and can happily fill their tummies.
EATING RELAXES YOU, TOO!
In my long and happy life, I have lived through many National tragedies, but none as scary as this. Even 9-11, as dreadful and shocking as it was, with as much as it changed the way Americans lived, it was not as frightening as the Covid-19 shutdown.
First, the monster is invisible. We can’t see it, combat it, or bomb it. Secondly, we don’t know why it kills some people and not others. We can’t predict it. Thirdly, it may be everywhere and anyone can infect you.
Even more nightmarish is that the government has closed everything down. We have lost our day-to-day grounding. We are losing our incomes. We can’t gather together for comfort as we did in 9-11. We can’t even bury our dead.
This is the stuff of science fiction movies. Except there is no guarantee that a brave hero will figure out how to save us in the end.
Uncertainty, uncertainty, uncertainty which equals anxiety, anxiety, anxiety.
Our fight or flight system is on high alert. Our bodies think we are about to be prey. They may not be wrong.
Yet, here we sit. At home. Alone or with people we are not used to seeing all day everyday. The news is grim. And, outside it’s a beautiful spring day. We must stay home to stay safe.
Our desire to master this free-floating fear, our total boredom and lack of control calls us to the calories.
“Look, there’s the refrigerator. I wonder what’s good to eat in there?”
And when we eat, we feel safe. It’s anatomical. It’s instinctual. It’s a biological imperative.
If you are gaining the Covid Fifteen, PLEASE, STOP CONDEMNING YOURSELF!
You are not weak. You are not lazy. You are afraid. And your body knows, a cookie calms you down. So will being gentle with yourself. Being self-critical will only make it worse.
Since we can’t get out to buy a larger size of pants, when the buttons start to leave imprints on the belly, we need a new strategy to manage the anxiety which is normal in this circumstance.
Here are some simple ways to calm your nerves.
- Take a deep breath and EXHALE fully. Exhaling relaxes the shoulders and the lungs.
- Try tightening every muscle in your body and holding them for as long as you can. Tighten your fists, your arms, your shoulders, your legs. Tighten, tighten, tighten. Then RELEASE! You will feel a rush of calm.
- Sitting, or laying down, imagine relaxing your muscles, one by one. This is a standard progressive relaxation. I teach it to all my clients. It is the easiest way to relax. When the body is relaxed, the mind will follow.
One of my favorite clients called me about her eating. She had been successful on Weight Watchers until she was sent to work from home. Her husband had been laid off, and her company may only be able to pay her for the next two weeks. She wanted to get her eating back on track.
We developed the following calorie saving strategies:
- Every good slim down program requires preparation. Plan your grocery shopping to include the healthy foods you enjoy.
- Be sure that when the refrigerator calls, you have easy to grab, healthy snacks like celery and peanut butter, sliced apples, deviled eggs or lettuce wraps with tuna salad.
- Do one sit-up before you open the refrigerator
- Move your body. My client had a knee injury and couldn’t really walk. I suggested she dance without moving her feet. After all, she is in her home, alone. No worries about looking silly.
Here are some other strategies for overall reduction of anxiety.
- Meditation and guided imagery. YouTube is full of free meditations, hypnosis or guided imagery. While they are generic, not tailored specifically to you, they are helpful.
- If you are an extravert, make a list of the people you really like and call one everyday.
- If you are an introvert, schedule your “Only Me” time and let your family know you do’t want to be disturbed.
- Start a jigsaw puzzle so you can have something else to do besides goin to the refrigerator when you are bored.
- Hold a Zoom meeting with your family at the same time daily.
- Nap if you feel sleepy.
- Go outside and breathe.
- Write down a list of things you LIKE about yourself.
- Do the “Loving Kindness” meditation
Most importantly, have compassion for yourself and others:
- We are all under unprecedented pressure.
- You may feel grumpy, moody, weepy, positive, or dark.
- Stay in touch with your own moods.
- Develop a strategy to find a better feeling thought.
- Cut people some slack.
It’s okay to:
- Binge watch TV
- Leave the dishes in the sink
- Let the laundry pile up
- Not want to talk to anyone
- Want to talk about the news, virus, disaster
- Not want to talk about the news, virus, disaster
- Worry about the future
- Not worry about the future
- Want to be positive
- Not want to be positive
- Gain the Covid fifteen pounds
- Not gain the Covid fifteen pounds
Most of all, be good to yourself. We all will get through this. You can lose weight, run a marathon or clean your closets then.