Staying Sane when “Sheltering in Place” and Self-Sequestering

Staying Sane when “Sheltering in Place” and Self-Sequestering

The San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, entered a “shelter-in-place” protocol last week in efforts by public health officials to halt the spread of the coronavirus.  Schools and all places of social gathering – restaurants, bars, gyms, sporting events, theaters and cultural events – now closed for weeks to come. And citizens instructed to stay home unless required for work or for the essentials of living like buying groceries and gas for the car or visiting the doctor.  To not gather in groups larger than 10 people and to keep a distance of six feet between you and the next person (unless you choose to stay close to a loved one/family member). Blessedly, what’s still permitted is to walk your dog, and everyone is doing that for the sake of the dog as well as for ourselves, to cope with cabin fever.

Apropos, the week before the lockdown, my friend Mark had sent me the link to this rather excellent article by Shaka Senghor, “Eight Things I Learned in Solitary Confinement that Will Help You Keep Calm During the Coronavirus Pandemic”. The piece is skillfully and touchingly written and the suggestions are valid.  Among them:


Write letters

Write a book


Create a Vision Board

Learn a Craft

Go back to school

…and a bonus: when cooking, discover new recipes or remix old ones.

You can read the details through the link above.  To these suggestions, I would add:

Stay connected in community, even if in diaspora

Stay connected in community, even if virtually

Stay connected with other healthy brains

Spend time in nature

1.  Stay connected in community, even if temporarily in diaspora. 

I was encouraged by the message send out by the president of my godson’s college, moving to online instruction for the rest of the spring term: “This college is not just a physical place; it is also a culture and spirit that transcends campus boundaries and physical proximity.  We will get through this situation together, for the ties that bind us are stronger than these current challenges.”

People throughout the history of humankind have survived by getting through situations together, whether war, plague, famine, slavery, the worst of the worst.  These are anxious times, and knowing you are held in community is an essential part of managing the anxiety and getting through to the other side.

2.  Stay connected, even if virtually.

We will all use our digital devices even more than we already do.  I’m so grateful that when a concert was canceled two weeks ago for health concerns, the musicians of the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble very quickly decided to perform anyway, live-streaming the concert from an empty theater to a grateful, live if remote, audience. 

We will phone, Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc. with the people we care about.  (I have several Zoom sessions scheduled with participants who still want to connect, even though our major conference last week was cancelled.)

One caution: get your updates about the coronavirus from reliable, fact-based sources.  Key people have already acknowledged, don’t get your information from a president who tweets; too much wrong information that has to be corrected and apologized for by staff.  And use your social media connections to provide support and practical suggestions, not fan people’s fears.

3.  Stay connected with other healthy brains.  Ironic in a time when “self-isolation” is considered an essential component in staying healthy.  Spend time with role models of resilience through books, films, inspiring YouTubes (try TED talks)to learn from brilliant thought leaders from around the world that are expert in many disciplines. Celebrate being part of the human race that has survived all kinds of catastrophes throughout history; learn how we or others have done that.

4. Spend Time in Nature

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

– John Burroughs

People know from their own experience, intuitively, that being in nature calms the mind and brings ease – and awe – to the soul. Time spent in forests, in parks, in greenbelts reduces stress, shifts our mood, gives us access to the bigger picture, all of which improves memory and cognitive functioning.

Researchers have found 10 minutes of walking in nature protects memory and cognitive functioning better than walking ten minutes downtown or in a shopping mall.

Part of the effect of being in nature is that the brain can simply stop being so busy.  Instead of multi-tasking and being over stimulated by many demands and decisions all at once. In nature, the brain gets to slow down and not only de-stress but shift from the focus mode of attention – problem solving and completing tasks to the default or de-focused mode of the brain, able to grasp the sense that we are all part of something larger, something truly benevolent.