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A Guide to Staying Calm, According to Two Friends

Because we could use all the comfort we can get right now.

March 26, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.


It’s 10 a.m. on a Monday and I’m drinking my anxieties away.

In tea, that is. I'm unable to tear myself away from the three different New York Times articles open on my browser and the suffocating sense that it’s been eight years since I’ve left my apartment, instead of eight days. The act of making tea has always been what I turn to when things feel like they're spinning out of control, a kind of salve for uncertain times. The old enamel kettle I got at a flea market in Brooklyn, the choice of cup, the smell of my tea cabinet (lapsang souchong, that punch of smoke), and the sound of the steam steadily building ... it's all so reliable. Nothing else feels reliable right now.

Except that a lot still is.

Like Julia. We met at the Food52 office. She’s a photographer who I don't see as often as I'd like to because she’s tucked away in the fantastical world that is our studio, but I know when she’s in because I can hear her playlists ... the faint sounds of Edith Piaf and Billie Eilish.

Lately, while everything familiar about the world has been crumbling like a failed bundt cake, Julia's instagram stories have become an unexpected haven to me. Each morning I wake up to her asking people what they're doing to take care of themselves that day, and then posting the responses—always real, often tear-jerking (“eating Cheez-Its ‘til I pass out,” “doing yoga to reconnect with my body,” “crying because my boyfriend is on the other side of the continent”). She's posted links to meditation podcasts, playlists, ideas for helping your community, uplifting reminders, and, most helpfully for me, has sent me the kind words that have bolstered me against the vortex of uncertainty.

Photo by Julia Gartland
Photo by Julia Gartland

If you’re feeling this way too, you’re not alone. And in case you didn’t let that sink in: You’re not alone. That’s why I think you might find this conversation I had with Julia useful ... a kind of cup-of-tea certainty you can hopefully hang on to, even when you’re wobbly-balancing on the dot of an enormous question mark.

Maggie Slover: How do you get strength from those closest to you when you can’t interact with them in the usual ways?
Julia Gartland: FaceTime has been amazing. I’m doing a lot of hour+ long hang-outs with friends & family during which we’re talking, cooking, or just doing stuff around the house. It truly feels like we’re hanging out which is taking the edge off the isolation. I highly suggest making “dates” with your friends like you would grab a glass of wine—meet at a specific time and make it a real date.

MS: What are four ideas for uplifting a struggling friend from afar?
JG: Firstly, it’s OK to do nothing. We don’t have to be productive during this time or even tackle that personal project we’ve been waiting for. I know a lot of people, including myself, who have been going in and out of complete paralysis. Be gentle with yourself right now.
2. Reach out, whether to a therapist, friend, family member, or whoever. I am keeping my regular therapy via teletherapy or phone calls. I’m checking in with friends daily because we’re all kind of feeling the same way. It’s such a bizarre and unprecedented time, don’t forget that you are NOT alone.
3. Feel your feelings. The biggest thing I’ve learned from my therapy is fighting your emotions will 100 percent make them last longer. If you allow them to move through you, allowing the discomfort, they will pass quicker. Whether that takes the form of journaling, talking to a friend, therapy—whatever helps.
4. Take time to disconnect. There is so much content flying at you right now, and that’s incredibly triggering to even the calmest person. I highly suggest taking a break from all content and communication (as needed, only you can decide how and when) and take a walk outside. Or listen to music. Read. Workout or dance in your room, but disconnect from it all.

MS: Being honest with yourself, checking in, and then extending that invitation to others is something we’re both practicing. So, let’s do that right now. I’ll go first. My nerves feel a little shot. I’m going about my routine, but there is this full-body hyper-vigilance at the same time. Talking with others, drinking copious amounts of herbal tea, stretching, and getting outside once a day seem to be the only times equilibrium is restored.
JG: I feel you on the full-body hyper-vigilance. I struggle with very physical anxiety symptoms even on a good day, so now they are just very charged. I’m finding physical activity is a must—sweating and stretching. I’m making lots of lists and putting energy into the self-care doc which has been a positive outlet for my restlessness. In general, I’m muscling through it like I think most of us are.

MS: You recently made this brilliant list called “Quarantine Self-Care: Where Everything Is Optional” and I’ve returned to it at least 10 times a day for ideas. Can you share a few here?
JG: That means so much to me! It’s something I’ve been working on for a week or so and I’m adding to it constantly, so it has been a healthy place to put my anxious energy into. I truly hope it helps some people during this time. (Also, I’m always open to submissions, so people can always reach out to me and I’m happy to add their ideas to the list.)

There are so many I love, but a few fun ones:

  1. Watch old music videos (Beyonce, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey etc).
  2. Buy your favorite sugar cereal. (Now's the time!) Shoutout to Anna for that contribution.
  3. Make themed playlists (Mine: @Sassykitchen).
  4. Bake (Bread, dessert, muffins, snack bread, something fun).
  5. Have an at-home spa day: Into the Gloss: The At-Home Spa-Day Cookbook).
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👋🏻 🧼 what are you listening to right now?

A post shared by Maggie Mae (@maggbird) on

MS: Also, what is this banana bread you keep raving about?
JG: Recipe here! They are gluten-free and refined sugar-free. I add 1 tsp salt and make them into muffins. They usually bake for about 25-ish minutes, but watch them after 20—they’re done when a toothpick comes out clean.

MS: Your Instagram stories have been such a great resource lately. Apart from spreading the word, what are your tips for creatively rallying around our communities while we’re stuck indoors?
JG: Thank you! I know I’m not the only one who feels incredibly helpless, and there’s only so much we can do when the situation is this dire. If you can donate a small amount to a few places, that’s wonderful. If you can volunteer, that’s wonderful, too. If you’re not in a financial place to do so—like so many of us are right now—you can spread the word. Post about charity, funds or volunteer opportunities. Write nice reviews about your favorite stores and restaurants. Like/share their posts, comment and help engagement. I also downloaded an app called Nextdoor where you can get updates about your specific neighborhood. I’m checking in there to see if anyone needs help shopping or getting supplies.

MS: Can you share your favorite solo dance playlist?
JG: You know I’m always here for a playlist: Dance it out!

MS: Let’s watch a movie together one of these evenings. I’ll make the popcorn, you bring something sparkly, and there will be a running commentary.
JG: I would love that! I feel like it should be an old one or a french one (or both). Hang in there, love.

MS: Thanks Julia! Love to you!

What is the one thing that helps you restore your equilibrium? Tell us in the comments below!

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Maggie Slover

Written by: Maggie Slover

3 Comments

Amanda W. March 26, 2020
Thank you both for sharing this lovely conversation. Julia, always love your playlists! Music has really helped calm me, allowing myself to be present in whatever mood I'm in.
 
Arati M. March 26, 2020
Thank you for sharing this, Maggie and Julia, and for the reminder that when you're feeling unmoored, there's nothing quite like tag-teaming your way through to equilibrium. Be that with a friend, a parent, your therapist, or partner...
 
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Maggie S. March 26, 2020
Hats off to you for the edits (and for being exactly the kind of friend I can turn to in thick or thin). xoxo