tips for these days

On March 19, I started posting a “tip” on Facebook each weekday. I’m not quite sure what possessed me to start this. Partly it was a response to all the dos and don’ts that exist for homeworkers. It has morphed, at least in my mind, to be a little more than that. It has become a chronicle of what this crazy time is for me and how I’m managing all the anxieties that go along with it. These tips are a way for me to reach out to my people and let them know they aren’t alone. It is, in some ways, a compilation of what anxiety and grief have taught me over the years. I offer it here in the hopes that you may feel some comfort from these words.

March 19, 2020

Two tips for today: First, drink water. Plenty of it. Not fizzy water or pop water or coffee water or alcohol water. Actual water. Second, stand outside. Or go for a walk. But if you can’t go for a walk, get yourself up, stand on your porch, breathe fresh air. Do it. Trust me. It helps. Just one minute of deep breaths outside shifts things. Now…back to work.

March 20, 2020

If you’re new to working from home, find a way to distinguish between work time and home time. I have two things that do this: coffee and the light in my office. On weekdays, that office light is the first thing I turn on. And then I make coffee. The office light gets turned off when I’m done for the day. On weekends, I walk right on by my office, and I make a pot of tea for reading time in the reading room. I’ve heard of other homeworkers taking a walk around the block before they start their workday so they have a “commute.” Or putting on shoes rather than just slippers or bare feet. Boundaries are important, even if it seems like there are no more boundaries anymore and we’re all just hurtling to our disease-ridden demise. Boundaries help with anxiety too.

March 23, 2020

Embrace what gives comfort. There are a lot of opinions out there about what you should and should not wear when you work from home. But you know what? It’s your house, your work. And nothing right now is normal. You want to wear pjs all day and you’re able to get your stuff done? Fine. You want to do all the makeup and put on that power suit? Fine. You want to be fancy one day and a slob the next? Fine. (If you have to do video conference calls, maybe make sure you’re wearing pants. I’ve heard that’s a thing. Otherwise, pants can be optional if you so choose.) So much feels so uncertain. It’s scary and unnerving. Take some deep breaths, put on the clothes that make you feel good, and do your thing.

March 24, 2020

In line with yesterday’s theme of comfort, don’t feel confined to one spot. I have an office. I love my office. It’s cozy, a little messy, and full of books. My chair is comfortable, and my desk is beautiful. And some days I have no desire to work there. So I take my laptop out to the couch. Because I can. There are reasons not to work on the couch or on your bed. I get it. It doesn’t inspire proper posture or movement. But sometimes it’s nice to snuggle in and work. That’s the benefit of working from home. You get to do that. Work where you want in your home. It’s a luxury to have some space, even if we feel confined these days. Maybe, as you settle in to wherever you’re working, offer some gratitude to have the roof over your head, the technology to accomplish things, and the space to call your own.

March 25, 2020

Think yourself through it. These days provide rich material for anxious and defeating thoughts. Generally, I’ve been able to keep the monsters at bay. But this morning, I was headed down that path. And then some words of my wise mother came to me. I hate to fly. Hate it. Do it, but hate it. In college, I was going to a retreat with Joan Chittister, and a flight was required. I was a wreck the night before. My mom said, “Think yourself through it. See yourself on the other side of the plane ride. What’s happening?” It changed everything. When I have something to do that I’m dreading, those words flood back: think yourself through it. It has helped in countless situations. Today is no different. I started thinking about what touch will mean when this is over. What will it feel like to be in the same room with your friends? To hear their laughter next to you, not over the phone or computer or emoji? What’s it going to be like to give them hugs? To share a meal and drinks? We will never be the same after this. How could we? I think it’s upending far more than we even realize. But think about those hugs you want to give and maybe today will feel a bit lighter.

March 26, 2020

Something a little different. Question for today: How are you exercising trust these days? I’m noticing myself being very wary of people. Not that I’m around them much. But we went to the grocery store last week, and I looked at everyone as though they were just waiting to cough all over my food and me. None of them were, of course. And Patrick is still having to visit stores to sell wine…because that’s important. (No sarcasm intended. It is. For real.) I’m struggling with trusting that he’s okay out there, that there aren’t packed stores full of people coughing on him, that he’ll be okay. I know he’s using hand sanitizer, and he’s really tired of me yelling at him to wash his hands the second he walks through the door. But what does trust look like when we’re social distancing and when we are told that anyone could be infected? How do we resist the temptation to distance ourselves emotionally when we are “threatened” physically? There’s a lot of fear out there, and lack of trust does nothing to help it. How are you showing love instead?

March 27, 2020

Find a way to let the worry out of your body. The tips this week have tended more toward mental work, but that’s just as important as work work. As my anxiety ramped up this time around, I was very aware of how it was held in my body. In many ways, I’m always aware of that, but this time I felt like I could actively release it. Maybe that’s because, prior to this novel coronavirus, we had been going to the Y pretty regularly since December. I’ve found three things help with releasing: (1) Moving. Just moving. Walk to a different room. Go upstairs. Do laundry. Wash dishes. Look outside. Stand outside. Look at something else. (2) Breathing. Very deep breaths. Four counts in. Hold for four, or two. Four counts out. Hold for four, or two. In again. (3) This is a little exercise I started doing once I realized how trapped my covid-19 anxiety felt within my body. I breathed deeply and imagined the breath moving through my body the way blood circulates. From head to toe, refreshing all the insides. Then as I breathed out, I “sparkled” my fingers and imagined the stress and tension leaving. If you clench your fists as you breathe in and then stretch out your fingers quickly as you breathe out, that’s what I mean by “sparkle.” It feels a little silly as you do it, but that might be part of the magic. I did this sparkle exercise three times at a go, and it’s kind of amazing the difference it makes.

March 30, 2020

Turn on some music. I haven’t always been good at this, but in recent months I’ve been much more intentional about having classical music on while I work. A house can get really quiet and it can feel pretty isolating. Maybe not with little kids running around or trying to do schoolwork. And dogs certainly add their own soundtrack for the day. But in the midst of what can be chaos, add some beauty. Music is beauty. Whether it’s wild pop music or a violin concerto or good ol’ classic rock, find something that soothes the soul and/or moves the body. Last week while Patrick made dinner, I had a dance party in the kitchen to some Lady Gaga. It was silly and fun and energizing. But this morning I’m enjoying a nice, refined classical mix. (Wordy music and editing don’t mix very well, I’ve found. But if you can do music with lyrics while you work, have at it!) Find some beauty for your ears.

March 31, 2020

Inspired by @badasscrossstitch on Instagram, give yourself a break. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself. There are two extremes when you work from home: (1) feeling like you have all the time in the world so you never settle to actually doing the work, and (2) not establishing or recognizing boundaries so the work floods in to every nook and cranny of your life. I’ve flirted with both. And sometimes the work does need to overtake everything. But most times it doesn’t. A pandemic seems like a great time to gentle oneself. We’re being told to stay home to serve others, to lower infection rates for others, to be kind to others. But there is kindness to the self required here too. It’s in the invitation to slow down a bit. It’s in the ability to take a walk whenever you want because you can. It’s in watching a video of a musician or artist doing their beauty and reveling in that for a bit. It’s in giving extra cuddles to the pets because you’re on edge and they know you’re on edge. It’s hugging your partner or kids a little longer because they’re around more. It’s letting some rules fly out the window because, for now, maybe there are just fewer rules and that’s okay. We get to rewrite the rulebook right now. And maybe our rules will be a little gentler, more lenient, more compassionate once we’re through with this. So be gentle with yourself today. I’m going to do the same.

April 1, 2020

Learn something. This one is partly inspired by The Mother, who, when I started working from home, suggested I create a to-do list for when things get slow. Because they will. Sometimes I still act like a stubborn teenager, so I’ve never actually written out the to-do list, but I keep it in mind. Because she’s a project person, my mom has her list organized by how long the projects will take: a few hours, a day, a week. Her slow work periods are somewhat predictable. I’m finding, after a few years, that mine are too. Most of you are working from home for the first time and “slow periods” might not happen. You’ll head back to the office and things will even out again. But for now, chaos. Take advantage of it. During my first super slow period, I learned how to bake bread. I read Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible all the way through and started baking. I’ve never looked back. Today, I’m going to attempt Mark Bittman’s recipe for puff pastry. He assures me it’ll take a long time, but much of it is resting time. So I’ll still be able to edit: the turns will create breaks within my day. Often you will hear people say that you shouldn’t do other things during your work hours when you work from home. I do. Laundry gets done. Dishes get washed. Bread gets baked. Dogs get played with. These don’t have to derail the day and make you unproductive. They can break up the day nicely, especially when a break can’t involve going for coffee with a friend or running to the store. So pick up those things you’ve been wanting to learn, try them out, see what happens, embrace the chaos, and let it create something new and good.

April 2, 2020

Give people a wide berth. The isolation of these days can be a lot like grief. We’re in our own space, our own heads, with not a lot to pull us out of it sometimes. After Shaun’s suicide, I felt a lot of frustration and anger at the ways in which I did not receive support from friends (or felt I didn’t). Ryan’s advice was always “Give people a wide berth.” It’s something I returned to again and again after Shaun died and then after Ryan’s own death. It’s something I try to remember when I’m really struggling with anxiety. People don’t necessarily know how to show up for us unless we tell them how. People don’t know they’re stepping on toes, or saying insensitive things, or being generally frustrating. (Okay, sometimes they know and they do it just to get a rise out of us. I may or may not be speaking from marital experience here.) People might be acting out of their own frustration, grief, anxiety, and fear. Give people a wide berth, and trust that grace will show up in that space. In the midst of the frustration, grief, anxiety, and fear to accompany us within it and move us forward out of it.

April 3, 2020

The weekend is still the weekend. I touched on this a bit in an earlier tip about home time and work time. But it’s important to make the distinction between week time and weekend time. The days can run together when you work from home, and sometimes you can lose track. Maybe it’s easier when you have kids to manage who will revolt if you impose class time on the weekend. Regardless, Saturday and Sunday are still for resting, for slowing down, for doing other projects, for setting aside work, for enjoying the people around you, for cleaning, for praying or praising or lamenting, for being lazy. We all need the breaks. Generally, I’m doing okay, but occasionally I’m overwhelmed by how very crazy all of this is. One thing anxiety has taught me is that the brain does more work than you think it does. It’s processing and thinking about and worrying about and analyzing all the things all the time. This is good; we want this. But we also need to attend to how it’s doing these things. During the week, I suspect we’ve all gotten into some sort of rhythm. We’re managing the things that need managed, but there’s this giant hamster in the back of all of our minds running wild about covid-19 and financial crises and isolation. It’s there, even if we don’t think it is. During the week, we have distractions. We don’t need to give our weekends over to anxiety and worry, but we do need to do the things that center us, especially if you feel like you can’t do this during the week. Make it different. Read a book. Have a tv-free day. Work on a puzzle or play games with the family. Go outside more. Have a movie marathon. Find a new recipe. Reimagine your home space and the projects you’d like to do to it. Start one of those projects if you can. Saturday and Sunday are still the weekend: enjoy them.

April 6, 2020

Do something that grounds you and do something that expands you. My allergies often lead to what I call a “floofy” head: stuffiness, maybe a little dizzy, sinus pressure. It makes me feel like I’m floating a little. It’s not pleasant and sometimes leads to anxiety. But then I remember that my sinuses are screwy because of a real reason, I take some deep breaths, I notice the strength of the floor under me, and I drink some water. These are grounding things. They bring me back to earth, back to the here-and-now. For a variety of reasons we might have floofy heads these days. But bringing ourselves back to what’s in front of us helps: the loved ones nearby or over the phone, the pets and/or children who need attention, the flowers slowly starting to show up, the birds chirping. These unfloof. At the same time that we’re floofy, we’re living in a smaller world than we’ve probably ever known. We’re staying home, staying within our yard, maybe walking around our neighborhood, quickly darting in and out of the grocery store as needed, avoiding contact with others. A small world leads to stir-craziness. But, limited though we may be, we still take up space. We are still here. We have the interwebs to watch videos of people doing amazing or mundane or stupid things. We have television to enlighten or distract us. We have crafts that can challenge us. We have old hobbies we’ve set aside that can be picked up again. We have phones to call those we love. Anxiety makes you feel small and insignificant. It makes you feel powerless and paralyzed. One way I combat this is to remember the space I take up and revel in it. You know that move Megan Rapinoe did after she scored a goal at the World Cup? She spread her arms open and stood there, proudly, taking up all her space and enjoying that moment profoundly. Do this. Stand there strongly. Spread your arms. Maybe smile if you feel like it. Let your breath wave through you. Feel your strength. Be in your space. Expand. We might feel untethered and limited at the same time these days, but there are ways to reel it in and claim our strength back.

April 7, 2020

Add beauty. One of my favorite children’s books is Miss Rumphius. I like to give it as a graduation gift. When Miss Rumphius was a girl her father told her that she should do something to add beauty to the world, so she plants lupines. She becomes known as the Lupine Lady. She plants them all over her town, and adds beauty that way. It seems like there’s a lot of desperation and destruction happening right now. A few months ago one of the bars in town burned down; I’d never been there, but it was an institution, if a grimy one. Yesterday another bar burned down. I’d been to this one a couple of times. What I most recall about it is that a classmate from grad school would go there because it was the only place that would play Notre Dame football games. These places may not have held much meaning for me, but they existed in our town as institutions, and they’ll be missed. And, of course, covid-19 is upending everything. There are certainly moments of beauty as people respond to the challenges, support one another, offer love and gratitude to healthcare workers and those keeping us fed, and muddle through as best we can. But those moments of beauty are often “out there,” done by other people. So what beauty are you creating in your own space? I’m making bread today. And I’ll quilt this evening. I’m keeping an eye on the iris and day lilies that are peeking through the leaves I piled on them in the fall for insulation; I’m not uncovering them yet because it’s still cold, but knowing they’re doing the work of growing and preparing to be beautiful gives me hope. In the midst of so much chaos, add some beauty.

April 8, 2020

Five things. Most of you probably know about my habit of writing down Five Things I Love about the Day. I’ve done it for over twenty years. I started in high school when I heard Oprah talking about a gratitude journal. But because I have to be different I can’t call it a gratitude journal. That’d be boring. So it’s Five Things I Love about the Day. I have a calendar that I write these in before bed. Every night. Without fail. Okay, I’ve failed a few times, but they weren’t the days you might expect. Mostly the missed days were travel days. On my worst days, and there have been a couple in the past twenty years, this practice is even more important. In the midst of darkness, it reminds me to find light. That light can be as significant as a friend dropping by, unexpected mail from mom, a cake being baked to perfection, the joy of Patrick’s laughter, the snuggles from our pets. It can be as insignificant as being able to brush my teeth, taking a shower, clean sheets on the bed, going out for a walk. It has become a chronicle of the mundane and spectacular in my days. No one would care to read it, but that’s not the point. The point is to find goodness and light and love and, yes, gratitude in the day and to make note of it. There is a lot to lament these days, but there is also a lot to be grateful for. A lot to love about these weird and wild days.

April 9, 2020

Wash some feet. Today’s the day. One of my favorite of the liturgical year. With one of the most beautiful actions of Jesus: the foot washing. Patrick and I washed each other’s feet at our wedding. I lobbied for it because I wanted a sacramental action since we wouldn’t share Eucharist. I love the symbolism of the foot washing. It holds so very much: service, love, forgiveness, cleansing. I wanted to do this action at our wedding to remind me, as we move through married life, that every day we’re called to stoop and wash each other’s feet. Maybe not literally, but definitely metaphorically. I wash his feet when I do laundry or dishes or make the bed. He washes my feet when he is oh-so patient with my quirks or takes out the trash or straightens those stupid little rugs on the stairs. Our feet are washed when we let go of frustrations or hold hands or walk the dogs together. For us, our day-to-day life hasn’t changed a whole lot with the quarantine. I can imagine that, for those with kids at home or who are now managing two people working from home who never have before, there are constant adjustments, if not frustrations and worries. These are invitations to wash feet. It’s grimy work. Sometimes it’s not pleasant. Sometimes we wash feet while grumbling. But, you know what: our feet are being washed too. All the time. And that takes vulnerability and openness and courage. Covid-19 has laid bare our weaknesses while also revealing new strengths. I think one of those strengths is our ability to continually stoop and scrub the toes of those we love. Over and over again. Because we love them and they love us.

April 10, 2020

Kiss that cross. It’s Good Friday today. It’s one for solemnity, silence, sacrifice. We have come to know these things more intimately this year. We have fought them, embraced them, resigned ourselves to them—sometimes within the same minute. One of the ritual actions that takes place on Good Friday is the veneration of the cross, also known as kissing the cross. It is awkward and weird and beautiful. On a normal Good Friday, the congregation processes forward and touches or kisses a cross. Some kneel before it. Some process forward with tears. Some merely bow their heads before moving along. It is an intensely private moment in the midst of a worshiping community. I love the veneration. I always have. As I watch people process forward, I’m overwhelmed thinking of what they’re bringing to the cross to venerate, because I know what heaviness I’ve carried to the foot of the cross as I bend to kiss it. It is a contradiction that Christians revere that which tortured their savior. It makes no sense in a logical world. But the older I get, the more I recognize the necessity of this veneration. Grief has done this. You don’t get to move past grieving without bowing your head to it. It’s hard work, heavy work, necessary work. And that’s why kissing the cross means so much to me. It’s the process of blessing and being blessed by that which is most difficult, that which tears you down, that which you would much rather turn away from. We don’t get to avoid it this year. We are being confronted with a lot of darkness, from increasing infection rates and death counts to the resultant trauma. There are moments of light, sure. But today, maybe, we need to take some time and kiss this, bless this, let this dark be holy too.

April 13, 2020

Find an Alleluia. Yesterday was strange. I loved seeing my friends posting photos of their kids in Easter outfits still doing Easter things. But we just had a regular old Sunday around here. Except for the coffee cake. I made a lovely coffee cake. We’re still quarantined. There’s still chaos. The kids are still learning from home; spouses are still jostling for work time at home. We still can’t really go anywhere fun or do anything cool. (I mean, home is great and all, but it would be nice to look at something besides each other. Maybe. I love Patrick.) Everything changed, but nothing changed yesterday. So we find an Alleluia in the middle of it anyway. One of the most rebellious and radical things we can do these days is keep seeing goodness. There is value in doing what I suggested last week: acknowledging the crud, sitting with it a bit, and letting ourselves be overwhelmed. But this week let’s also come up for air: find the joy, acknowledge what surprises and astounds, and remember hopefulness. There is an abundance of Alleluias to hold on to these days as we keep going in this odd new time. Find one and sing it loudly.

April 14, 2020

Unwind your tummy. It sounds weird, I know. So let me explain. I use Insight Timer as a meditation app. It’s wonderful. The meditations themselves are free, but they also have courses that they offer on a variety of topics. They aren’t free, but you can either purchase a course one-off or a yearly subscription. A while back I did the one by Andrea Wachter called “Your Anxiety Relief Toolkit.” It’s a good overview of a variety of ways to manage anxiety. Most of them I was familiar with. Some were new. In one of the classes, she suggests visualizing where you are holding the anxiety within your body. Then she asks if it’s spinning one way or another. It was a strange question, but I started thinking about it. Often anxiety shows up in my stomach: it feels knotted and fluttery and wonky. And, as it turns out, a little like it’s spinning or twisting. So she suggests visualizing unwinding that anxiety, spinning it the other way. To be honest, my stomach is the only place I’ve gotten this to “work.” I also hold a lot of tension in my shoulders and hips, but they don’t spin. Breathing and actively letting them settle helps those areas. But if I notice my stomach feeling unsettled because of anxiety, I have started to see if it’s spinning, and then I “spin” it the other way. It’s not a real thing, I know, but the visualization of it, the mental work of thinking it a different way, often helps. And there, perhaps, is the key. Diane Yeo, one of the meditation teachers on Insight Timer, talks about how our brains get used to thinking various ways when we have anxiety. So she suggests, “Give it something different.” I love that idea. The unwinding, the difference, is often just enough to start me down a more logical, less frenzied mental path. These days are anxious ones for a lot of us. See if that anxiety is spinning for you; if so, try to spin it the other direction and see if it helps. I hope it does.

April 15, 2020

Attend to the basics. I know we’re well into this quarantine thing, but it’s good to remember to do the little things that make us feel normal. Yesterday I didn’t shower until about 3:30. Ick. Early on in my work-from-home life I realized I do best if I shower before noon. During quarantine time, I’m finding I do best if I shower before 9:00. It doesn’t always happen. I tend to start at my desk pretty early, so the shower is a break. But if I’m really in to what I’m doing, I can put that little bit of self-care off. And that’s not good. For those of you managing school and work at home, I can imagine it’s even more tempting to push aside some of the little tasks that feel like a waste of time. But they aren’t. Today I showered and did the makeup and started the laundry and got the bread going, and I feel soooooo much better than yesterday. No need to beat myself up about giving my day yesterday over to being a bit less structured. Sometimes we need that. But more often we need some boundaries, some tenderness in the form of self-care, some clean water and clothes that function as something other than pajamas. So if you haven’t showered and brushed your teeth yet today, get on it.

April 16, 2020

We begin again. This can be exhausting. Especially when nothing seems to be changing. It feels a bit like we’re on a never-ending cycle of wake up, coffee, shower (see yesterday’s tip), work, school, work, school, find food, make food, eat food, stare at screens, manage all the crazy, go to bed. Rinse. Repeat. I didn’t really have a tip idea for today until I got the Sojourners daily prayer e-mail. It has a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” I like that. We are on a conveyer belt of quarantine, but we wake up new each day. We often think that change and conversion are big things, shattering things, earthquake things. But maybe these days we’re being invited to see newness and change in the surprising small ways we are strong and think differently: appreciating slowness; seeing the quirks of those we’re closest to with fresh eyes; paying attention to the various ways the light hits our rooms, which we can see now that we’re home all the time. We are being changed by this experience. I choose to believe it will be for the better. The temptation is to think it’s for the worse. With each new day, though, we’re invited to see how we might be better right where we are. It’s not some out-there concept of change that most of us are dealing with these days. It’s here, in our homes, with our loved ones, ourselves, our pets. We get to think new in this space, and maybe we’ll be better, kinder, gentler people because of it.

April 17, 2020

Be where you are. A friend posted yesterday about how she is still suffering with a lot of anxiety and fear these days. But at the moment, she was watching something that calmed her down, and she realized she was okay within that moment. This covid-19 thing has upended everything. There’s a lot of talk about when the economy will or will not reopen (you know, ignoring the fact that parts of it are still very much open, requiring a lot of people to risk their health to keep food supplies going, medical help available, toilet paper on shelves, etc.). We want to know the when and where. We want the details. We want firm answers and definite plans. But we don’t get any of that. Of course, we’re all anxious as a result. We have bills to pay and things to do and friends and family to see. Covid-19 and the fallout pushes us into thinking in the future, causing our brains to race as we try to figure out answers to questions we’re not even sure about. It’s a recipe for exhaustion and panic. So take a step back. Look at where you are. What’s around you? Who are you with? What’s the situation right now? Not in five minutes, not in an hour, not in three days, not in a month or seven. Right now. Are you breathing? How are your shoulders? Up to your ears? Take a deep breath and let them settle down. How’s your jaw? Clenched? Take a deep breath and loosen it. Now think about the muscles around your nose. Seriously. Notice how tightly you’re holding just those little muscles and release them. Think about the other places you’re holding tension: thighs, hips, chest, hands. Breathe into each space. Let it soften. And then pet your dog or cat, hug your spouse or child or self, drink some water, notice the sun or clouds, look at something colorful. Be right here, in this moment, and know that it’s okay here. We’re okay here, and for now, that’s enough.

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