6 coronavirus lockdown tips from Northern Italy

Ciao America,

As you probably already know, we here in Italy have been under the most extreme version of quarantine for about three weeks and counting.

We can buy groceries or medicine, if necessary, but we must fill out a legal form from the Ministry of the Interior before leaving the house for any reason. On the form, we must state our address, our reason for leaving the house, and our identification number (from a passport, license or ID). We cannot go out to jog, or bike, or any other form of outdoor activity. We cannot leave the house together, even if we live together. If we go out to walk the dog, we must go alone and can only go as far as 200 meters (about 650 feet) from our front door.

While I know the restrictions aren’t quite as draconian in the USA (at this point), it sounds like lockdown is well underway in the land of the free. Which is why I thought to share some helpful quarantine tips from northern Italy (Bologna, to be exact).

The first thing I will tell you is that each week gets easier. Honestly. I’m on my third week of essential house arrest and, without question, the first week was still the hardest. The first week, I was still nostalgic for my own routine and having pity parties about all the things I was missing. But by the second week, I had my new routine. I even started to enjoy some of the new opportunities to life at home. I like having more time to prepare Michelin-star worthy dinners. At the supermarket, I’ve expanded my grocery list to more exotic and creative ingredients to keep things exciting. I also realized that having to look decent as a woman in public is exhausting. My new morning routine, without makeup or hair styling, is liberating. So liberating I’ve decided to stop wearing makeup after the quarantine too.

So, America, stay strong. You’ll find the silver linings to being home. In the meantime, here are some lockdown habits that have made my life easier this month:

  1. Limit your news

Yes, in Italy we still sometimes read from real newspapers

This is my biggest piece of advice, especially to those of you struggling with anxiety. I’m not saying you should bury your head in the sand (not like you could even if you wanted to . . . the beaches are closed!), but reading three hours of articles from every single news outlet reporting on the same exceptional case of a sixteen-year-old boy that randomly died — and may have high-fived an uncle who touched a hat that belonged to a woman whose husband tested positive — is not a productive way to spend your time, even if you have more time now.

Reading one more hour of news isn’t going to change anything. It’s not going to make you more informed. It’s not going to solve the situation. And it’s certainly not going to help your mental state.

Personally, I give myself 20 minutes in the morning, after breakfast (as in, out of bed, after coffee), to check the headlines in the USA, and 20 minutes in the evening, after dinner, to check the headlines in Italy. This keeps me up-to-date with the latest cases and the government policies, but it doesn’t consume my entire life.

I do not read the news or check my phone in bed. Bed is reserved for pleasure reading only.

2. Keep a regular eating schedule

Handmade pumpkin tortellini with sage & red wine makes quarantine quite lovely

I’m usually what a dietician might call an “intuitive eater.” When I feel hungry, I eat. This usually results in a small meal in the morning, a meal sometime between noon and 2 pm (depending on the day and the workload), and dinner in the evening. If hunger hits me in between these times, I’ll grab a quick snack.

But now I’m home all day, next to the fridge, without any distractions. And I’m bored or anxious 99.9% of the time. Which means I want to snack 99.9% of the time.

Also, because I’m anxious, cortisol “the stress hormone” is surging through my bloodstream like never before, which makes me crave high-fat, sugary foods to bring my stress down. You know the “comfort foods”: for some people, it’s cookies. For others, potato chips. My personal go-to cortisol response is Nutella spooned straight from the jar (and, yes, Italian Nutella does taste better).

While I think it is absolutely OK to spoon some Nutella in these circumstances (and, trust me, I have), I also want to feel good and maintain my health during this time, which means I’ve had to use my higher brain functioning to ask my stomach if it’s actually hungry, or just seeking a quick fix to the boredom-stress super alliance. About half the time it’s the boredom-stress, and about half the time I could actually eat. The best way to tell, for me, is if I could use a banana or an apple to transport my Nutella to my mouth, or if I just want to shovel it in straight in for the jar.

Also, since cortisol makes you stress eat, I highly recommend reading the news after your meal. (This is why I check the Italian news after dinner, and the US news after breakfast). Because reading about the current global pandemic is almost guaranteed to cause a cortisol spike.

3. Dance parties (or, going up-and-down the stairs, if that’s your thing)

I’m not going to lie, I’ve been having nightly dance parties in my living room, and they’re amazing. I’ve even made myself a coronavirus lockdown playlist: Billy Idol’s Dancing With Myself, Tiffany’s I think We’re Alone Now, Robyn’s Dancing on My Own … every day, I add a new song to the list.

If dancing is not your thing, find some ways to get in some movement anyway. My friend lives in a ten-story building and at night she goes up and down the stairs. She doesn’t run into anyone and she doesn’t have to touch much, so it seems like a great way to move without even going outside. And of course, with a yoga mat’s worth of space, you can find millions of workouts on Youtube. But for me, nothing makes me feel better than dancing to a fantastic beat.

4. Social media still isn’t real life

Real life isn’t an option right now, so it makes sense that we’re all messaging a communicating on social media more than ever before. And, for a lot of you, I’m sure checking in with followers has helped you feel less alone. That’s wonderful. If social media has created a sense of community for you, keep it up. But I would nonetheless recommend some limits. After all, even in real life you don’t hang out with your friends from 7 am to midnight, unless you’re a teenager on spring break. You grab a drink after work, catch up, and then go home and enjoy your private time.

If you’re on social media all day, it’s probably not helping you feel better in a balanced, healthy way. It’s probably making you feel better like another glass of whiskey before noon. Social media can be fun, but it can also be an addictive escape from reality: a way to detach rather than connect. And with everyone and their grandmother posting opinions and quackery about this pandemic, it can have the same cortisol-inducing effect as reading the news.

5. Call your loved ones

Instead of trying to feel less lonely through Instagram (which will probably just leave you feeling lonelier), try picking up the phone and calling the individuals in your life that know your real last name. You’ll feel much more connected after a real phone conversation or video chat with someone you love than you will after hours scrolling the SMs.

And don’t forget to call your elders. Not only will grandma say hilarious things while trying to figure out a videocall (and take you for a virtual rollercoaster ride around her room with the camera), but I’m sure she would enjoy seeing your face.

6. DIY everything

You can’t shop right now. I feel you. We here in Northern Italy have had most stores closed for at least three weeks. Yet surprisingly, I’ve been having a blast making things that I usually buy and finding creative alternatives to items I can’t get otherwise.

For example, I’ve wanted to transplant my baby succulent to a larger container for a while now, but I can’t buy any gardening supplies. Turns out that cutting holes into the bottom of a plastic food container makes a perfect pot, and an empty wine bottle makes an excellent watering can. For fertilizer, I’ve been crushing up my orange peels with used coffee grounds. (Also turns out that coffee grounds make a great facial scrub, and used tea bags make excellent eye masks.) Three weeks later, and my plant has already tripled in size.

This is also a great time to test out bread recipes and see if you can make your own loaves from scratch. For those of you that regularly read my blog, you already know that I cannot. I have been hand-rolling my own pasta, however, using a long wooden rolling pin to stretch out the dough until it’s transparently thin. The pasta tastes amazing and my arms are getting super muscular!

The point is, do whatever makes you feel grounded, peaceful, and in control in this time of uncertainty. Write, paint, cook, dance, make pasta…(did I mention that I make my own pasta? Oh, you want proof, you say?)

Most of all, stay safe and take care, America. From Italy with love.

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