How to Stay (Mostly) Sane During a Quarantine

It’s been one year since Covid made mincemeat of our best laid plans and our well-worn routines. (Mincemeat, I tell you! And rancid, undercooked mincemeat at that.)

What a year it’s been. The kind of year we’ll tell our wide-eyed grandchildren about decades from now. And for me, it’s the kind of year I’ll also tell my wide-eyed children about when they’re a little older. My innocent 4-year-old has only a faint concept of what’s going on (“because of the germs” is his go-to phrase), while my innocent 2-year-old is gloriously oblivious to all of it (thank heavens for small miracles), partly because she was only 18 months old when it started. When their older selves hear the grim details of what they lived through, their sweet little minds will be blown. It’s good that we have ample photographic evidence to prove to them that while the world temporarily collapsed, they spent the year having a high ol’ time! For which I will forever be grateful.

Living in quarantine for 12 months has been, if nothing else, a singular experience. There have been silver linings (Lunch break family walks! No grinding commutes! Never wearing a belt!), and I am grateful for each of them. But the homogeneity of experience that comes from keeping a short radius can breed tension and anxiety. Self-care measures need to be proactively taken in order to maintain sanity and, just as important, a durable sense of self.

So below I have listed the things that have kept me (somewhere in the ballpark of) mentally stable during this year-long quarantine. Even when my mind was pretty darkened during the late days of 2020, maintaining these rituals gave me helpful reference points and kept me from losing the plot.

Mind you, I haven’t listed the most substantive stuff, like love and the laughter of my children. Just my daily habits, the nuts and bolts that I have drilled into the foundation of my daily routine. Each nut and each bolt has bolstered the structural integrity of my emotional edifice and helped keep it from teetering in the wind.

I’m the farthest thing from a handyman when it comes to our physical house, but this is one type of home improvement I can intuitively grasp. Just call me Jer “The Toolman” Wingert. (On second thought, I’m not a big Tim Taylor guy. So you can call me Al.)

On that superlatively cheesy note, which Mr. Borland might have appreciated, here is my own personal quarantine toolbelt.

Tee up some tea with a capital T.

Two-thirds of a cup of coffee makes me an energetic sprite. But any more than one full cup and I gradually morph into a grumpy troll by the time the sun sets. (You don’t want to cross the bridge that guy lives under, believe me.) Coffee caffeine does quite a number on me, taking me on an unsustainable emotional rollercoaster. Drinking no caffeine at all, on the other hand, flattens me out.

But black tea? That’s the sweet spot in the middle. I elegantly sip it like a gilded Victorian aristocrat, stretching out my two double-bagged, nothing-added mugs of Lord Kensington black tea (yes, that’s a real thing) over the course of my first 12 waking hours each day. And it gives me the wide-awake-but-not-even-a-tiny-bit-jittery energy level I need for a day of navigating remote work along with two attention-craving toddlers. It’s my own magic energy elixir in these energy-depleting times.

And it doesn’t hurt that sipping it makes me feel as sophisticated as Lord Kensington himself.

Be like Mario and power up.

Danielle and I have been in the daily habit of “nap swapping” since last summer, and it has truly preserved much of our parental and personal sanity. After all, toddler parenting is exhausting. And toddler parenting while in quarantine is doubly exhausting. But toddler parenting while in quarantine when you’re 40+ is triply exhausting. (God bless all the single parents, and everyone who has 3, 4, 5, or 6+ children! You each deserve a Nobel Peace Prize in my book.)

To counter that exhaustion, taking an afternoon nap is the equivalent of a cup of coffee or an ice-cold shower. And for me, a 20-minute power nap is all I need. I lay down at 3:03, I set the alarm for 3:25, I fall asleep by 3:05 (because I’m one of the lucky ones who can fall asleep on command), and 20 minutes later I wake up with my alarm. *Bing!* Like my smartphone after a night of recharging, I’m all powered up. And like Mario after snacking on one of those giant red mushrooms, I feel twice as big and twice as strong. I come downstairs with a spring in my step, ready to resume my work day. And ready to be patient — more so than I was when I hit my daily afternoon wall an hour earlier — with my energetic kids and their endless quirks and queries.

Let yourself be a cereal killer.

I go for a morning run 5 times a week. I also knock back late-night bowls of sweet cereal at least 5 (but more often 7) times a week. And I’ve decided this constitutes a perfect endorphin-to-sugar balance. The Golden Grahams ratio, if you will.

I push myself in the morning. I coddle myself at night!

I burn calories when the sun comes up. I bury my face in calories after the sun goes down!

It all evens out nicely.

Each of us needs the familiarity of creature comforts, and even more so during quarantine. Well, this creature (of habit) finds comfort in a bowl of Cinnamon Chex eaten in the dark while watching Colbert clips. Especially since I know I’ll burn it off as soon as I wake up. Win-win.

Think outside the box (that is your home).

This one is the linchpin. Without this, the whole sanity-preserving effort collapses.

Human beings were not made to spend a large majority of their lives surrounded by 4 walls. Which is a big reason why quarantine is so unnatural and so detrimental to our mental (and physical) health. It makes people more inclined to cloister themselves in enclosed spaces for extended periods of time. They do this to stay healthy, but in doing so they become significantly less healthy.

Contrary to belief (or at least the prevailing belief last summer), an airborne virus doesn’t mean that we should stay indoors. If anything, Covid made it more imperative than ever that we learn to make ourselves at home in the great outdoors. We need nature, fresh air, and wide open spaces. We need to hear birds chirping and see squirrels scampering and feel the breeze rustling the branches. And yet somehow, roughly half of the 300 times I’ve taken the kids to our wooded park over the past year, we’ve been the only ones there. How can that be?

Lunch-break family walks and pre-dinner visits to the park have been a form of therapy for me in these strange, strained times. As Thoreau said about his time at Walden Pond, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” On a philosophical level, that’s exactly why I go to the woods too.

But on a more granular level, I go to the woods to watch with warm affection as two tiny, pure-hearted human beings — who have no idea that the world has been enduring bitter acrimony and massive upheaval — play happily with toy animals under tall trees and a vast, strangely reassuring sky.

Thus have I retained my sanity. Not to mention my innate sense of hope.

Both of which, I find, are helpful to have in a pinch.

One thought on “How to Stay (Mostly) Sane During a Quarantine

  1. After reading this I am not sure how I survive with never drinking a drop of coffee or hot tea ever. I must be a less complex person than you Jer. But I can still be a happy person somehow.


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