Managing More than Your Mood in the Time of COVID

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

This week, as we continue to self isolate in order to prevent more cases of COVID-19,  I spoke to dozens of people who were willing to share how they are changing their lives in positive ways, consciously choosing to improve their mood, physical health, and their intellectual, cultural and spiritual lives. They are prioritizing  safety over social life and are determined to get through this together by doing their part. Here are their antidotes to social isolation, depression, physical inactivity, and interacting with family while apart. To stay committed to these things, many of them shared they structure them into their days and schedule them on their calendars—an important tip.  

New Hobbies
Who knew that knitting would have a comeback?  Several people who have taken up knitting and crocheting report that the rhythmic and mathematical nature of these activities keep the mind absorbed in a healthy way. It also provides an escape from stressful thoughts and allows for internal reflection. Knitting can also improve mood, according to a 2013 survey of 3,500 knitters published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy. When asked to describe their mood before knitting, 34 percent reported feeling “happy” and 23 percent reported being “a little sad” to “very sad.” When asked to report their mood post-knitting, less than one  percent remained sad and 81 percent described themselves as  “a little happy” to “very happy.” A 2011 study from the Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences showed that doing crafts such as patch-working or knitting during middle age, combined with watching less television, decreased the odds of later cognitive impairment and memory loss by 30 to 50 percent, and promoted the development of neural pathways. Several people taught themselves to knit using web videos. One woman shared,  “It’s the rhythm and focusing all of my attention instead of feeling like I’m being pulled in many directions. Once you start doing it, it’s so rhythmic that it becomes a meditative thing. It really makes my brain calm down.” So, if Transcendental  Meditation doesn’t work for you, try knitting. Here is a very easy to follow YouTube video for beginners. Knit and purl, knit and purl. I feel better already.  

Restaurants are closed but foodies have to eat. Several people reported that they were honestly proud of new skills they learned from cooking videos. Others reported that in spite of the extra time needed to plan meals, shop for ingredients, prep and cook, they were surprised to find that the loss of restaurant dining was not as painful as they had assumed. In addition, cooking at home improves the family finances and family experience. Several people who were sheltering alone, found that acquiring skills in the kitchen improved their moods and health. They said they were avoiding junk foods and many lost weight that had seemed impossible in the old life of going out many nights for dinners and drinks. 

On our first morning of self isolation in our village, The Husband and I looked at each other in dismay. What to eat?  Granola covered in sugar and calories? Surely not. I began my culinary tutorial with this YouTube video on “How To Boil Eggs.”  I learned how to cook a perfect soft boiled egg, which was  served in an antique egg cup surrounded by buttered toast fingers that my mother used to call “toast soldiers”. The Husband thought I was Julia Child. While I am managing expectations as a struggling home cook, my repertoire has increased and The Husband has learned to be part of the process. 

To learn to play poker, there are many free online tutorials that will explain the basics. It is fun and possible to play with only two people. However, avoid online poker games where gambling is involved, especially if you are a novice!

Cultural Experiences
Cultural experiences  were shared by many. Here are some wonderful suggestions from the group of people I polled for this column.

Listen to experts from The Metropolitan Museum

Stay connected with the Frick Museum by exploring its online collections or attending a visual program like “Cocktails with a Curator.” What fun!  And no one has to get dressed up, find transportation, and rush rush rush. A friend watched “Cocktails with a Curator” with Xavier Solomon, the chief curator of the Frick who discussed Van Dyck’s portrait of Sir John Scully. He began the talk with the notable lines from Hamlet, “To be or not to be. . .” In this portrait, Scully is holding a folio of all of Shakespeare’s plays, the first time a Shakespeare folio has appeared in a major work of art. 

New research conducted by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra reveals that households are using this time to learn more about the music they love. And, 85 percent of the 2,135 people surveyed said they planned to discover new music during the period of coronavirus isolation with nearly a third of these (30 percent) planning to learn more about orchestral music, opera and chamber music. Some of the best live-streamed and archive classical concerts available online can be found here

I have had a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera since 1982 and have friends who share my passion for the opera. I missed the last two performances of this season due to the coronavirus epidemic. I was delighted to receive these ideas for opera and ballet that are free online: The Royal Opera offers performances of many operas. A friend was enthralled with a production of Tosca and sent her raving review to many of us. You can find free streaming of performances from the The Royal Opera here.

You can find ballet dance performances online from the Royal Opera House, such as Swan Lake.

Staying in Touch
Many people are using Zoom and House Party to create scheduled, invitation-only parties. Since the phone is likely to be used to connect people, it no longer needs to be the distraction that it has become in the last decade: present physically with people who may be constantly surfing the internet and look for social updates while missing out on IRL experiences. Friends and family in some ways are actually more connected now because they choose to be present. This is a very good way to include those who live alone or who may be isolated by age.  Someone in the group could help those who are technologically phobic to get the basics right so they are not left out.

Free online exercise classes have become a big favorite. Healthier meals, no snacking and limited cocktail hours along with a return to exercise, stretching and toning work are helping clothes to fit again. And everyone who is isolated, gets pumped up with music and an energetic trainer. Now that the weather is warming up in the Northeast many people plan to return to favorite outdoor activities that allow for social distancing: gardening, running, hiking  and cycling will give us all a chance to be outdoors with an improvement in physical and emotional health.

Additionally, there are people who might need help to recover from injuries or prevent them from a new workout-induced injury. Kim Gibilisco does Pilates/Yoga tele sessions. She has been so helpful to many people during COVID-19. You can reach her at [email protected] She specializes in rehabilitation and provides extra attention for musculoskeletal injuries, allowing for exercise while improving the injured area.

Some of us might be looking for that extra guidance and mentor-ship from professionals to help us stay focused on our health and fitness goals. Through her Our Rooted in Health program, health coach and physical therapist, Deb Andrews, provides tools like weekly challenges for workouts and motivational prompts, ideas and recipes, personal check-ins and even a weekly “coffee talk” video blog. Here’s an example of one Deb’s virtual daily video exercises

The Joys of Reading for Pleasure
Virtual Book Clubs have become very popular. Several people who never had time for a traditional book club have created or joined an online book club. With practically everything closed to encourage social distancing, we’ve all got a lot more time on our hands to enjoy a good book. However, since we’re all limiting our personal interactions, it might feel as if you’ve got no one to talk to about that book that you couldn’t put down. The truth is despite being unable to physically meet up to chat about this year’s best books, there are still tons of ways to host your own digital book club. 

Here are a few tips on how to take your book club online during the coronavirus pandemic. First, the rules of your standard book club still apply: Keep to a schedule, stick to your proposed theme, and prepare questions to help stimulate conversation. Your local library’s website is a great resource for discussion questions that will keep everyone engaged. As is LitLovers, the online book forum which provides book club games and icebreakers that work for any book. Goodreads can also help you organize your book club. The book recommendation website allows you to keep track of members, moderate discussions on the forum, and catalog the books you have read and plan to read in the future. An especially helpful tool since going digital with your book club allows it to include members outside your community.  

Spiritual Life
Lastly, many people count on their faith community for support during difficult times. All churches, synagogues and mosques are closed in most states and certainly in New York. However, out of the ashes of this pandemic, a spiritual phoenix has arisen. Through Zoom and other video sharing platforms, virtual attendance at many houses of worship has increased dramatically when compared to the time when we could attend in person. This is not just due to the need for community and support, it has also been positively affected by the ability to participate in a service without getting dressed and rushing to be on time. Many faith communities have increased the opportunities for personal involvement to support caring for those in need: food pantry collection and delivery, parishes sharing funds to support churches in financial need, projects funded to give poorer neighborhoods broadband access and computers in church buildings  so that children can have access to online education services in the area outside the church.

There seems to be a sense that this is a test for all of us who are part of a faith community. Do we just talk? Or, do we deliver, sharing whatever we have where it is needed most. We can deliver, keeping safety and health first, and caring for others who have lost so much. 

In this together,

Dr. Pat




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  • Cecilia M Ford May 5, 2020 at 9:45 am

    Thank you Pat for finding and sharing all these resources, and for your words of wisdom, as always.