Your Pandemic Mission

If you’ve had a check-up or a telehealth visit with me in the past 6 weeks, there is a very good chance that you have been subjected to these questions:

How are you connecting to others?

Do you have a regular bedtime?

Are you eating meals three times a day?

Are you sitting down to eat meals together as a family?

What are you doing that you enjoy or feeds your soul?

How are you moving your body and are you getting outside?

How are you helping your family?

While these have always been important health topics at check-ups, they are now critical life skills. I’m going to repeat that. These are Critical. Life. Skills. I am living this new reality with you and I feel the same limitations, frustrations and concerns that I imagine you do. I can personally attest to how important these skills are for managing stressful times, and I am a witness to their effect on others. I can clearly see that my patients who are going to bed and getting up at a regular time (even if it’s later than usual), talking to friends online, eating regular meals (at least one of them with family), going for walks, listening to music, helping with the dishes, and finding new ways of having fun are doing well, physically and emotionally. And those who aren’t are struggling.

My 11 year-old, an intrepid YouTube researcher, is constantly exploring and learning new things. She introduced me to this video from CGP Grey which presents these Critical Life Skills (yep, I’m gonna be capitalizing them now) in an insightful and motivating way. Our current pandemic life is like space travel, and our mission is this: Return better than you left. I’ll let CGP Grey explain it in their own words.

Taking care of our physical and mental core allows us to not just survive, but to thrive. These skills allow us to be resilient (you know how much I love that word!) and bring us back better than before. Let’s break it down.

Exercise Station: “Brains are complicated messes, but physical activity is simple and brings brains back to baseline.” Moving our bodies, increasing our heart rate and our breathing till we are huffing and puffing isn’t just beneficial for our heart and muscles. It also helps us regulate our brains, our most important tool to get through tough times. Our brains also need to get outside regularly and see the sky and trees. So unless you have a holo-deck at your house, go for a walk and dig in the garden. Indoors you can use YouTube to do some exercise. I’m learning Tai Chi and tap dancing. My son likes dancing to music. Whatever is fun for you, do it.

Sleep Station: “Create and respect, even sanctify, the sleep station boundaries.” These boundaries include time, space and activity. One advantage of distance learning is that we can sleep in a little more. Hopefully this can allow all of us to get the amount of sleep we need. How much we need may surprise you. For example, a teen needs to aim for at least 9 hours of sleep. We sleep best when we have regular sleep times and regular wake up times. So while you can stay up a bit later and sleep in a bit more, keep the times consistent. Respecting the space boundary may be a little more challenging than usual, considering that we each need a little time and space to ourselves. If that means spending more time in your room, avoid hanging out on your bed. Throw some pillows on the floor or find a chair to drag into your room. Just don’t confuse your brain by doing activities other than sleeping on your bed. When you do go to bed, don’t use that time for browsing social media. Turn your phone and the TV off at least 30 minutes before going to sleep and allow your brain a chance to settle down for the night.

Recreation Station: “Leisure where you feel better for having done it.” Here is where you do something for you. Connect with others using the digital tool of your choice. Read a book, listen to music, do a puzzle, draw a picture. This is where you can engage in an activity that feeds your soul (meaning you feel better and happier doing it) and can learn something new. And remember, recreation doesn’t have to be productive. It can be just plain fun: playing Minecraft on a server with friends, watching a movie or a TV series with your family, making a ranking list of your favorite Doctors. No, not your pediatricians, I’m talking about Doctor Who.

Creation Station: “It is here where, through work, you can create things humans value.” What this work is varies. Some are doing their “Earth work” at home. For students, this is learning and engaging in school. Having a space to do work is important, whether it is a corner of the kitchen table or a desk. For children, their work is play. This is the station where we exercise our imaginations through play, writing, crafting, drawing, and good old-fashioned simple thinking.

On a final note, I’m going to put in a plug for family meals. There is an abundance of research on the physical, nutritional, and emotional benefits for our children when we sit down and eat meals together. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be every night. It doesn’t have to be the entire family each time. But when we make sitting around the table together a habit, our family and our children become healthier. If you need some help getting started or some new ideas to get the conversations rolling again, The Family Dinner Project has some great pandemic resources.

Now, go for a walk, clear off your bed for tonight, and make a family dinner… or sit down and chat over bowls of cereal! See you all soon, better than we were before!