This pandemic has hit me like a ton of bricks.

I’m a medical doctor, and I have a background in public health and epidemiology (the study of disease)- This has made me keenly aware of the impact COVID-19 would have on our lives, as well as the lasting changes it would make on our society.

In early March, as I saw the tidal wave that was coming for us, I became paralyzed with fear: this is a virus which has never been seen before, is spread by the droplets exhaled from other humans, has infected more than 3,000,000 people, and has killed over 200,000. This is scary stuff!

After a few days of shock, I started to scramble.

First thing’s first. My husband and I made a list of things that were worrying us. It included things like COVID and it’s death rate, my being partially furloughed, how long we were going to be stuck inside, me getting infected and passing it on, the wellbeing of our son… the list goes on. We then went through the list and divided into what we could and couldn’t control.

The things we can’t control are the virus, its spread, our employment & other people’s reactions to this situation; we only really have control over ourselves and our response to it. So we decided to stop worrying about these things. If we couldn’t change them, why worry? We still keep up with our local and world news, but it’s only from an intellectual place rather than an emotional one.

We then turned our attention to everything we did have control over: son’s wellbeing, along with our own, was something we could do something about.

So we made a list (we’re fans of lists in our house) of all the things we could do to stay at peace and healthy during this pandemic:

Staying in touch with our loved ones.
Being more mindful of what we are eating
Exercising every day
Sleeping!
Meditating and Praying
Creativity & hobbies

We’ve started doing these things and we’re finding that COVID-19 hasn’t been as terrible for us as we first thought. The added bonus has been having extra time with my toddler, who has missed me quite a bit in his short time on earth.

So let’s review what we are doing to thrive during this time.

Every single day, the three of us video chat with the grandparents, family & friends. It’s important to have this interaction to maintain a sense of normalcy and social connection with loved ones outside your household.
With me home, we’ve started exploring many new culinary options! We are a plant-based family and now we’ve got time to get creative in the kitchen! Just yesterday, we air-fried some vegan potato croquettes (a sort of fritter) and made vegan sushi for the first time!

We’re also spending more time eating dinner as a family. With my hours being what they are (getting home after 6 some nights), and my son’s sleep schedule (in bed by 7:30), we weren’t always able to have a sitdown dinner where we got to just enjoy one another. Now that I’m home, dinner is sacred family time!

Exercise used to be a problem in our household. I enjoy exercise- I’m happy when I’ve been able to spend 30-45 minutes using our elliptical and weight training. The problem is waking up early enough to get it done every morning: weekends are easy, weekdays are hard.

But another benefit of being trapped at home has been having extra time to work out with my family. My son and I will go for brisk walks around our neighborhood at least once a day (you haven’t done weight training till you’ve pushed your son around in a rickety stroller for an hour!).

For the last year and a half, the only one to get great sleep has been our son! Getting home so late meant that I ate dinner late, which in turn delayed my bedtime routine. Some nights, I would find myself falling asleep after 11, only to wake up at 6.

Lack of sleep is devastating to our health, and it impairs our ability to do our jobs effectively. My husband and I have agreed to minimize our nighttime show watching, and allow ourselves quiet reading time right before we drift off to sleep. Now, I find I’m sleeping more restfully.

Part of our new sleep routine involves calming our minds and reflecting on the day. I’ve dabbled with meditation in the past, but I’ve never been able to stick to it; the phone’s allure is too powerful! Now, since we’ve decided to reduce our nighttime media usage, I’m finding that meditation is not that difficult to stick to.

There is a myriad of benefits to meditation too, including better sleep, lower anxiety, and a general feeling of wellbeing (who couldn’t use some wellbeing with all that’s happening?).

Last had been hobbies! I had always wanted to plant a garden. Like with most things worth doing, a garden requires time and patience; two things I was sorely lacking after a day running my office and doing procedures. And gardening has turned into a daily bonding experience with my son. He and I go out every afternoon to water and weed our little planter boxes, and we end up playing with the hose and getting dirty! I think I see him smile more than ever now!

So yes, this pandemic has hit us like a ton of bricks, as I’m sure it has for you. However, those bricks helped knock me out of my life-induced stupor and made me focus on what matters- my family’s health and wellbeing. For all the inconvenience and suffering COVID-19 has brought, I can at least find solace in the fact that I’ve been given a gift: time- to refocus our priorities, to work on the needs of our family, and to make lasting changes to improve our family’s health and wellbeing.

Dr. Vanessa Méndez, MD
Gastroenterologist & Internist
@plantbasedgutdoc