Taking Care through the Corona Virus: Body, MIND, and Soul

This, the second of a three-part series on resources and thoughts on caring for yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually during the COVID19 pandemic, focuses on critical self-care for the Mind.

June, a 3rd grader in Louisiana, practices violin with a class online

When I’m in crisis mode, my mind mobilizes to think fight or flight — do we have enough food? Have I disinfected the doorknobs? Have I taken vitamins today? While helpful for a few minutes of prep a day, this is totally unsustainable for long. My mind is an Olympic athlete in its efforts to get me off a cliff, but it often doesn’t recognize that lives are not lived — and cannot be lived — at the cliff’s edge.

The brain, in these times, is a like a keyed-up border collie, pacing the floor, seeking a job. It will gnaw through tasks like making lists of groceries to be delivered, and then move on to chewing up the rest of the furniture — circling with the same anxious thoughts that ultimately lead to catastrophizing.

To understand — and reverse– this unhealthy spiral, it important to remember that isolation doesn’t just numb your brain with boredom. “People start getting lethargic when they don’t have positive inputs into their small worlds,” says John Vincent, a clinical psychologist at the University of Houston in an article in Wired magazine last week. “We can expect depression to kick in, and depression and anxiety are kissing cousins.” These symptoms are likely to be particularly intense during coronavirus-related isolation, according to Lawrence Palinkas, who researches psychosocial adaptation to extreme environments at the University of Southern California. “Oftentimes, if you have a very well-defined period of time in which you’re isolated. People do pretty well up until the halfway point,” Palinkas says. “Then they experience a let down. But when you’re in a situation like we are now, when you’re not certain how long you’ll be asked to maintain social distance, that produces anxiety as well.”

Engaging the mind can be especially hard during what feels like a prolonged crisis, but finding a way to nourish, distract and give traction to our brains is critical to moving through this period intact. We are calmer, happier and more engaged when we feel intellectually and creatively productive. When our pacing border collie brains have a big, fat juicy bone, that is.

There are plenty of these bones online, from free university courses to learning new hobbies and skills on You Tube. When selecting something to learn or practice, leave behind the “shoulds” and sense of required or necessary curriculum (remember, this is a separate conversation from the “home school” situation many of us also find ourselves in) and instead try to let your mind wander the aisles and determine what piques an interest. There are more possibilities than are imaginable. Be intentional as you browse, considering that this exercise is not merely an idle nice-to-have but truly critical medicine to emerging from this with everything from your executive functioning skills to your sense of humor intact. Here’s just a sampling:

  • Online learning sites Coursera, Class Central, The Great Courses, and edX are now offering about 13,000 courses from more than 900 universities. They are now free to audit — or listen to — but you can also pay to do homework and receive a certificate. Some are even taught by world-renowned experts, like Nobel Prize winner Robert Shiller, who teaches a financial markets course at Yale. A few other examples of free courses include: Finance for Everyone, University of Michigan; Child Nutrition and Cooking, Stanford University; Innovation for Entrepreneurs: From Idea to Marketplace, University of Maryland; and The Science of Well-Being, Yale University.
  • Cooking — perhaps the greatest hobby there is — it engages all of your senses, keeps you busy, challenges you to be creative, allows you to treat yourself, and nourishes people around you. To whip your chef game into shape, try starting with the simple and down to earth tutorials from Hilah Cooking. If you fancy a health food angle, keep your eyes on health food bloggers Fit Foodie Finds and Sarah Wilson. Or get off the beaten path entirely by finding such gems as learning the art of lasagna making with Nonna Nerina in Italy.
  • Second (or Third!) Language: Learning a language is a valuable skill that helps to keep our minds young and nimble. If you’re keen to travel, communicate with an international friend, or read foreign books in their native tongue, sites like Livemocha, Memrise, and Duolingo are incredibly useful online resources for mastering the basics of a new language.
  • Creative Writing — There’s a story in everyone, so get started on telling yours with Open University’s free Fiction Writing course. Storytelling is an invaluable skill that you can use to free your imagination and improve your communication skills professionally and socially. It can also be a powerful processing tool that help us work out and assign meaning to challenging times and circumstances. If you need some inspiration, try this clever prompt Tumblr.
  • Drawing, Graphic Design, Animation — Embrace your artistic side by mastering the basics of drawing. Learning to sketch from excellent free courses on Draw Space is a great place to start, or if you prefer videos, follow Brandon Schafer’s YouTube channel for a three lesson beginners’ course followed by plenty more installments with tips and exercises. To learn storytelling as a visual art, start as simple as possible by learning to make a GIF without Photoshop here, then work up to using Paint and MovieMaker for Windows, or learn how to use the open-source animation software Synfig on any operating system. Or — to jump right into amusing your friends with the latest gif, check out the You Suck At Photoshop channel to master the software and even learn to have fun with it.
  • Music — Instrument tutorials abound online, but to minimize financial and time commitment, start with the ukulele. A decent cheap one costs about $30, so there’s very little real investment, and with an hour of practice a couple times a week, you’ll see fast improvement. Start with the basics using helpful and in-depth videos from the Ukulele Tricks Youtube channel or Ukulele Underground.
  • Sewing, Knitting and Crafts- This classic hobby helps to occupy your mind and body in a relaxing, meditative way, plus you can make unique gifts for friends, family, and yourself! Master the basics with this handy guide from Queen of DIY and you’ll quickly be ready to knit your first infinity scarf. You can use the comprehensive How to Make Jewelry to learn everything from the materials needed to selling your jewelry and all the work in between, and check out the super P.S. I Made This blog for more inspiration.
  • Magic! — Amuse yourself and always have some entertainment in your back pocket by learning some simple card tricks. Magician Andy Field’s Youtube channel is a prime resource for getting your slight of hand down to a science, and The Card Trick Teacher reveals tons of card tricks step-by-step so you can start blowing minds.

How are you taking care of yourself mentally during the coronavirus pandemic? Share with us in the comments or on our Facebook page or Instagram feed @amypoehlersmartgirls.

Taking Care through the Corona Virus: Body, MIND, and Soul was originally published in Amy Poehler's Smart Girls on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Taking Care through the Corona Virus: Body, MIND, and Soul