Going Nuts: Ways to combat COVID-19 Cabin Fever without losing your mind

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I think most people have some cabin fever right now, with many places continuing to have a shelter in place requirement.  As a physician, I understand the reasoning behind requirements, and make sure my family is doing all we can to continue to flatten the curve to help make sure my hospital system and other systems around me have all the ventilators, ICU space and PPE they need to take care of critically sick people.  I also appreciate that I am lucky to have a place to live, work to do, and still see people I care about at home. There are so many who have lost their jobs, their health insurance, and family members.  Having a sense of gratitude that feeling bored by social distancing requirements is in some ways, lucky, is important. This doesn’t mean, however, that I wouldn’t love to take advantage of some of the beauty and culture that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.  In my work as a psychiatrist, I hear a lot of variations on these feelings:

  • “I’m so sick of being cooped up in my apartment.”
  • “I feel stressed by the news and am trying to avoid it.”
  • “I miss other people.” (Or alternately, “I’m going to end up divorced if I spend 10 more minutes with my partner.”)
  • “I feel stagnant” or “oh-please-no-more-Netflix-or-I-will-lose-my-mind.”
  • “I wish things could go back to normal right now.”

Fortunately, there are a lot of things to help with these feelings! Let’s take each situation and offer some options to help combat those feelings, while acknowledging that many people are also feeling the same way.

Help for being sick of being cooped up:

  • Consider virtual travel: If I want to tour a different place in the world, I’m either taking a ride in a foreign country on the Peloton (Switzerland is on my bucket list to visit now) or watching Rick Steves tour places I would like to visit. It’s not just escapist, but gives me some ideas for later! I’m making lists of places to travel in Evernote, dreaming of times when we aren’t having to worry about our collective responsibility for COVID-19 and comply with social distancing.  Also, there are tons of places offering virtual tours right now.  Consider taking some of the tours on the Digital Giza Site  or multiple museums offering free tours (see this article from Travel and Leisure). Consider it a virtual scouting trip for places you might opt to visit, not because you’re stuck at home! Even my beloved Portland Japanese Garden is offering virtual tours.
  • There are lots of amazing travel writers, both in media (consider the New York Times’ “52 Places to Go” series) and books. I’m a long-time fan of Jon Krakauer and Paul Theroux.

Help for feeling trapped by bad news:

I give you permission to not keep absolutely up to date with the news. Consider a media diet. Decide what amount of news you need to keep up with to be safe and feel like a good citizen, and schedule that for your day. Then disconnect. If you need more help disconnecting (because the lure of social media is real), consider reading this article .

There is good news online. Check out the goodnewsnetwork.com!

I miss other people

Consider a specific app to keep in touch with people. I have a regular Houseparty date with my best friend, and send videos to friends with Marco Polo. Consider taking your communication off social media if social media has an adverse effect on your mental health. For an example, it is a friend’s birthday today. I sent a birthday card, and sent a text as well. I’ve been keeping up with some older adults via written letters. The written letters I’ve received are much more memorable and tangible than any email I receive, which are generally forgotten as soon as I’ve read them. Consider taking a walk in your neighborhood! Say hello to your neighbors- nothing prevents us from making eye contact and greeting people who live around us! I have noticed some people chatting from their porches, providing a wonderful sense of neighborhood cohesiveness that I don’t think was there before.

I feel stagnant, or I’m bored!

Mix it up a little. Instead of Netflix all the time, consider listening to a podcast as part of your routine. For pure escapism, I like the History of Rome podcast, and In Our Time from the BBC. To learn about current events and culture, I like the Monocle Magazine series of podcasts, which I think are uniformly good quality and cover everything from magazines, culture, business, foreign affairs to current news with an international viewpoint. I like Tim Ferris’s podcast for listening to a great interviewer work with great thinkers, and the Asian Efficiency podcast to help me get things done more efficiently in a relatable way. If you have a library card, or even if you don’t, as some libraries are waiving this requirement, you can borrow electronic books. I’ve made it most of the way through an entire Nordic crime series during this time of social distancing. If you decide to order a book to be delivered, consider ordering from your local bookstore instead of the Amazon behemoth! My local bookstore was offering free delivery, so I had the new Marie Kondo book “Joy at Work” delivered to my house, even though an electronic copy would have been faster. Also, I’m taking an online class for free, just for the joy of learning, on the history of the Giza Plateau. There’s no other reason for this, other than to learn something new! I found the course on this website, and have been impressed.

I’ve also added some self-care to my routines that I think helps with feeling stagnant. A regular meditation habit is made easier by all the great free content online (just google “free meditation” and be amazed by all you find!). I’m working on adding some better exercise habits into my schedule now (see the Peloton riding, above).

I just want things to go back to normal.

I’m working on the premise that a time of restriction now may turn into a fuller life later- one with improved health and habits! I know this is the optimistic view, but I think it’s also accurate to a degree. When this is over, I’ll have a list of places I want to visit, some new hobbies and knowledge, and hopefully be working on healthy habits like meditation and exercise. Lastly, I comfort myself with the (true) thought that this, too, shall pass. Even though this experience has been painful for people across the world, we’re all surviving this together, and with the knowledge that this period of restriction will pass. And hopefully, we’ll keep working together.

Insight Timer: a meditation app worth a second look

A long time ago, I downloaded Insight Timer, an app that to the best of my recollection, did the one thing it was for in an attractive way. In other words, it timed my meditation and had a nice mindfulness bell at the beginning and end. At the time, that is all it did. You could change the timer, the way that it counted down meditation, and the sound it made to signal completion, but that was basically it. At the time, that didn’t seem like enough to earn it’s keep on my iPhone and I deleted it.

However, I recently joined an online group where the moderator had started an Insight Timer group to meditate together. An Insight Timer group? I decided to review the app again. To my surprise, the app has become so much more than I recalled- in fact, it has become my primary meditation app. I even cancelled my headspace subscription!

The original Insight Timer app is still there, under the Timer tab at the bottom of the app. You can still choose what starting and ending bell you prefer (there are more choices for a small fee of $2.99). You can choose a background noise, like a sound bath, which may amplify the effects of meditation ( see this article). Again, there are different options for a small fee- this time, $1.99.

The part of the app which has really stood out for me, and is free, are the new guided meditations and music. The guided meditations are from different teachers of different spiritualities and points of view- some are specifically aimed at a type of spirituality or religion, and some are more aimed at general mindfulness and health. I was impressed to see Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, all for free! I’ve been using the guided meditation, “Morning Meditation with Music” by Jonathan Lehmann most mornings, and really like it. There is also a music section that has binaural beats, which in studies, have been shown to help with anxiety (you need headphones for these). I’ve been listening to “Whispering Notes” by Pablo Arellano at night. I can’t tell you specifically what it sounds like past the first fifteen minutes because I  have been completely asleep by then…every. Single. Night.

There are also groups of different meditators, who opt to meditate at the same time, or just offer support on a basic wall dedicated to that group. I haven’t explored these much yet. You can add friends as well and communicate via the app. I haven’t decided exactly what I think of that-you can opt to turn off this feature, and had I started off again today, I might have chosen to turn this feature off. I have had a few people sending me odd, intrusive questions that I chose to ignore in general.

Overall, if you’re planning to start a meditation practice, I can’t recommend this app enough. Recent updates show that the company is working towards organizing the guided meditation and music in a way that enhances the experience for the user.

What meditation app are you using? I would love to hear via your comments below!0E70ADC7-E63F-4BBF-A47E-3399C6C85484

Be an involved citizen with personal technology!

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One of the great responsibilities and privileges of a democracy is that each citizen must participate in the government and election of those officials who we allow to run our government. Even if you do not vote, you are making a choice for the status quo, one way or another. We are all lucky to have the choice to decide whether we want to vote or not, and who we want to vote for. Whatever your political viewpoint, citizens are more galvanized to make a difference now than ever. Although technology is NOT a substitute for calling your elected official to voice your opinion, going to a town hall meeting, starting a petition, or participating in a march, technology CAN help you do these things more easily. The first step is to know who your representatives are, and you can find them at https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials.

To keep up with the issues, you can read most of your favorite newspapers and magazines on your iPad or iPhone. I try to read a few different sources to get different viewpoints, all from my iPad: the New York Times, The Economist, the Atlantic,  and I read through the PBS app as well. I also skim the Washington Post. Your favorite resources may differ depending on what your political opinions are, but I urge you to learn as much as you can from reputable resources, no matter what your political leanings.

There are a number of apps designed to help you keep track of legislation. I’m currently using Countable (https://www.countable.us, free), which is available on both iPad and iPhone. I’ve been pleased with it- the app gives you news related to executive orders and political issues, as well as legislation currently passing. You have the ability to “vote” and comment on the issue, and the website reports that they deliver your vote, comments and address to your representative so they can get back to you. I have no idea if they do or not- it seems unlikely that they would be able to respond to that volume. To me, the main benefit is being aware in real time what the bills are which are being voted on, and what the results were. The site seeks to be non-partisan, and can also tell you who your representatives are. Clicking on your representatives’ photo in the app leads to a page that shows you how they have voted on issues. Clicking on the icons below their name can take you to their home page with contact information, Facebook page, twitter account and you tube accounts. I do feel like the one liner that Countable gives you for why you should or should not support a bill, while meant to be brief for clarity, is not enough information in many cases to decide- which is why I suggest reading broadly.

Another app similar to Countable is iCitizen (https://icitizen.com, free). The ratings on the iTunes are lower, partly because of the perception that the app skews right. I am not sure if this is true or not, because I found it difficult to find anything of real substance in terms of legislation- it seemed like polls such as “Do you have a favorable opinion of Obama and Trump?” I do not think that these sorts of polls really help us be more engaged with our government, or for that matter, engage in any genuine way with each other. Perhaps there is more information on the site about bills, but about 10 minutes of reviewing the site did not reveal this, so I feel the layout could probably be improved!

The app Trackbill (https://trackbill.com, free, upgrades super pricey) is another app designed to follow legislation. I think this would be excellent for someone like a journalist covering legislation or a staffer even. I do not need to have the level of detail that this app has- but I can imagine someone might. For instance, on an upcoming bill, it gives the date, location and committee for the hearing, a list of the actions taken on the bill, etc. It could also be helpful if you are really interested in one particular bill, so you can see EVERYTHING that has happened with that bill. Also, there are upgrades to track unlimited bills, committees, legislators, keywords, etc, and that comes with an extreme cost: nearly $1000 per year!

A lesser considered opportunity to get involved with your democracy- volunteer work! I like the site volunteermatch.org, where you can sign up for volunteer work based on your interests and your location. For example, if animal rights are your interest, there are 94 opportunities to get involved in the San Francisco area as of this writing! If education and literacy are important to you, consider one of the nearly 500 volunteer positions open!

I hope you were inspired to get involved with your community and your country. Do you have other ways to stay involved? Please let me know in the comments below!

Using an app to streamline meals at home

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We cook nearly every day at home- it’s MUCH healthier, since restaurant meals are loaded with extra calories and sodium, and are much larger than the normal home cooked meal.  It is also much less expensive to eat at home, generally. However, we have a busy family with two adults who work full-time! How can technology help?

  • One obvious way is to use a service like Blue Apron, or similar, that delivers meal components that you then assemble at home. The cost of this can be much higher than what you would make on your own.
  • You can make a list and order your groceries on-line through a service like Peapod, then make your food at home. The cost of delivery can be $7 or more, which is still reasonable. However, we have been unhappy with the quality of the groceries, and sometimes have trouble anticipating when we will be home for the delivery.
  • You can make a list, grocery shop, bring the groceries home and make dinner. This is the cheapest, but also the most time consuming. For us, time is a premium.

Our family has found a very streamlined way to shop and cook with minimal expense. First of all, everyone who is an adult in the household has the app Paprika ($4.99, https://paprikaapp.com). I love this app. There are several “recipe box” type apps, but I like Paprika because it can accept recipes from any website. I am always finding recipes online at different websites, but they all have their own proprietary “recipe box.” Paprika can merge these altogether.

  1. Each week, we make a menu plan, which is easy, because you can assign the meal to a specific day. You press the shopping cart button at the top of the recipe, and presto! The ingredients appear in your shopping cart, organized by the section of the store they would be found. By syncing, the shopping list and all other changes are pushed to every adults’ iOS device.
  2. Then, someone orders groceries online from the local supermarket. For us, at Harris Teeter, this is a $4.95 charge to collect all our groceries, bag them, and bring them to refrigerated cases in front of the store, which are locked. We choose a time to pick up the groceries, but this is quite flexible. We can choose meals based on what is on sale in our store. The store calls us if there are substitutions that need to be made, and I have noticed the quality seems to be better than the delivery services in our area.
  3. At the appointed time, one of us drives up to the front of the store, rings the bell, and someone loads the groceries into our car, while our payment is being processed.
  4. Whomever is home first starts the meal, which is pre-planned on Paprika now, with the recipe in the app. We use an old iPad as a dedicated “cookbook” for our kitchen.

That’s it! How do you make meals more efficient? Let me know in the comments below.

Resolution #4: Read more this year!

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In this series, we have talked about how to make resolutions, how to troubleshoot lagging resolutions, and then, apps to support common resolutions: losing weight, running, getting finances in order…This is the last of the series. Reading more is a common resolution, and this one, I’m an expert in!  I read both paper books and electronic books.

I use two reading apps every day: the Kindle App and Goodreads. I do a lot of my reading on the Kindle, both a Kindle device (the Voyager) and the kindle app on my iPad. I actually prefer reading on the actual Kindle if I have it with me because I find the e-ink is easier to read, but also, there are less distractions. My iPad has Facebook, email, etc, and I find myself checking them more often than I would like. I don’t like iBooks as much. I find the page turning lags, and the book selection is not as extensive as Amazon’s.

I both read and annotate books in the Kindle app, and when I am finished with a book, I go to www.kindle.amazon.com, to cut and paste my highlights and notes into a note in Evernote. In that way, all the highlights are fully searchable and in one place. You can just use the Evernote clipper, but I prefer to have one book per note in Evernote.

I also borrow books on my Kindle. I find people are often surprised you can borrow books from the library on your kindle, but as long as your library has an e-library, most of the time, you can borrow them within the kindle. If the books are not available on the kindle, you can usually use an app called Overdrive, which can manage library books- and is in some ways easier to borrow books on, but doesn’t allow you to read them on different devices like the Kindle app does. After the allotted time, usually two weeks, the book disappears from your kindle, but the highlights remain.

Goodreads is another app I use all the time. I have a reading list which is probably longer than the time I have left on this earth. Every time I hear a new book suggestion that I am interested in, I put it in the Goodreads app, which is a social media site for readers. You can write reviews, read others’ reviews on books, and get suggestions for books you would be interested in. Also, if you’re hoping to read more this year, you can set a Reading Challenge goal for yourself. If you have a book on your to-read list that goes on sale, Goodreads will alert you, which is nice.

I also have a few resources I regularly find books in. The first is Bookmarks magazine, which basically compiles reviews of books, in a sort of book review meta-analysis. They have great suggestions. The other resources I use daily are www.earlybirdbooks.com and www.booklemur.com which are free services. You sign up for the services, choosing what subjects you are interested in reading about, and they email you a list daily of books in those subjects that are on sale, usually about $1-$3, which is a substantial savings!

Are you a reader? What apps do you use? Connect with me on Goodreads here.