By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
When it comes to COVID-19, we can learn a lot from the coronavirus in Italy, life in quarantine, and self care strategies. Get tips on self care in quarantine and more from an Italian coronavirus survivor.
At this point, we have a worldwide virus on our hands. But we can learn something from the number of coronavirus infections in Italy.
Here, we chat with an Italian in quarantine who shares how she is surviving shelter in place orders and even finding time to exercise self care strategies, take care of mental health, have a work-life balance, and be productive.
If you're under an American quarantine or are staying at home elsewhere in the world, embrace these tips today.
I first met Rosie Mcgrath Panchini in another European country, in Lisbon, Portugal several years ago at a sponsored nutrition conference. She's an incredible person who I immediately clicked with. Since then, we've traveled together to Toronto, Canada and Budapest, Hungary (also for work).
Her home base is in Cortona, Italy, in the Tuscany area between Florence and Rome. When I heard about the horrible coronavirus scare in Italy, I immediately thought of her, as the Italian death toll and sense of loss from COVID-19 has been unimaginable.
I've been following Rosie's daily Facebook posts, as she is a true inspiration and is one of those people who always embraces the bright side. She posts daily about her culinary adventures while in quarantine, whether they be chocolate making or cake decorating.
When things recently got very real in a very unimaginable way here in the United States, I reached out to Rosie and asked her to provide her thoughts and advice—as Italy's experience with the coronavirus pandemic is several weeks ahead of ours and may provide a picture of what's to come to America in the weeks ahead. We also won't be traveling there anytime soon because of the current travel restrictions!
Without any further ado, read on to hear from Rosie and her experience with the coronavirus in Italy, as well as her self-care strategies for sticking out the coronavirus quarantine (plus tips on how to stay sane and have fun while in coronavirus isolation).
Q: What does being in quarantine look like for you?
A: "We have been under quarantine since March 5, 2020. I am here with my husband, Alessandro Panchini. He is a pianist and a music professor. The levels of quarantine have changed dramatically since the beginning.
"At first, we were allowed to go and walk in the park, maintaining a distance from others. Restaurants and bars were open until 6 pm; and hairdressers, osteopaths, and podiatrists were still open.
"Now, they are all closed until further notice. We were initially allowed to do the food shopping together. Now, either I go or my husband goes. Only one person in a family is allowed.
"Also only one person is allowed in the car; otherwise, you cannot maintain the distance of at least one meter [3.3 feet] apart. We are allowed only to stay in our immediate area.
"Whenever we leave home, we have to have a signed document showing the date, time, and reason for going out—for example, food shopping, visiting elderly parents, or a medical emergency.
"If the police believe your reason for being out is not one of total necessity, they can fine you €3,000 [$3,265]. The only shops that are open now are food shops and pharmacies. As of last Saturday (March 21, 2020), our parks were closed.
"So the lovely walks that we were originally allowed to do are no longer permissible. You can go no further than 50 meters [164 feet] from your home, and you must still take your self certification with you. Also, the cleaning lady is not allowed to come anymore. so we are the cleaning team!"
Q: Are you and your husband still working from home? If so, how have you changed your day-to-day routine to be able to do this while in quarantine?
A: "With regards to my work, I have a separate studio that is 20 meters [66 feet] away at the end of the garden. As an event organizer [Rosie is the founder and managing director of The Big Event], my work is on hold at the moment. I initially started researching a future event. But as the locations and restaurants started to close down, it became unproductive to continue.
"However, now I have the time to cook, bake, produce, and even improve recipes I had created in the past. I had started to write a book 11 years ago, making lighter healthier versions of mostly Italian recipes.
"I am now working on recipes for that book. At first, I was able to do my long morning and evening walk, and everything else during the day was slotted in between. Now that these have stopped, my routine is less structured than before and needs improving.
"My husband teaches at a specialized music school in Arezzo that prepares students for the conservatory. He has been able to continue working and has been giving lessons via Zoom. The students have responded very well, as it is new and technological. In fact, many are studying better than before.
"Alessandro misses the personal interaction with them, and he is definitely not used to being here at home all the time. His music room has everything he needs, but he yearns to get out of the house and see people! Of course, he has no live performances."
Q: Many Americans are in their first days of being quarantined. What would you say to them that would help them get through this challenging time and stay positive?
A: "On a practical level, get your house well stocked without panic buying. I have my fridge, freezer, and pantry really well stocked, and we top them off each week. Limit the times you go to the shops and pharmacies. If you cannot get all that you need from one supermarket, try another or buy online.
"You can buy many products online without going to the supermarkets. Use fresh produce in order of how well it stays in good condition. And keep dried, bottled, and canned foods for necessity in case at some stage supplies become greatly reduced.
"If you are allowed to go and walk, keep to social distancing. Several people in Italy did not adhere to this rule, so the government closed the parks and banned everyone from going for walks."
Q: How are you staying positive while in quarantine, and what self-care strategies are you embracing?
A: "Decide that you are going to get through this. Remember, panic breeds panic. So you have to be really strong. Dig deep, and pull out inner resources that maybe you didn’t know you had. Make yourself a coping strategy. Mine includes positive thinking. This is very important, as it supports the immune system.
"So I do mental exercises every day. I also embrace prayer and gratitude, as well as sleeping well. I walk or get physical exercise, such as Pilates or doing weights, daily.
"Do whatever you can do to strengthen yourself physically. I drink lots of water and ginger tea, and I have a good glass of red wine at the end of the day. I also take a good probiotic to support my immune system." See other ways to boost your immunity.
"I watch the news just once a day. I enjoy baking, cooking, decorating cakes, making chocolate, developing recipes, modern calligraphy, watching films, reading books, and developing new hobbies. I strangely enjoy ironing! I have not ironed for many years.
"As our cleaning lady cannot come for now, I discovered last week that I was really good at it! Also, find a moment to laugh. This is really important." Try one of these self-care activities for anxiety relief.
"There are two roads to take: The one full of pessimism and fear, or the steep hill that once you climb you will see that you have come through this.
"It is not always easy. I ask G-d every day to keep me on the right road. And when I have moments of taking a wrong turn, I ask Him to put me back on track. I visualize every day watching on the news that the numbers of new cases have significantly fallen and that there are no new deaths."
Q: What about being in quarantine has been the most difficult, and how are you coping?
A: "Not having the freedom I am used to having, moments of fear, not hugging or kissing people, not being able to physically be with friends and family, health and financial concerns, and not being able to go to the osteopath or hairdressers or to the food shops outside our area where I can buy certain organic foods that we don’t have locally.
"I am coping by being grateful for whatever freedom we have, that we are at home and not in a hospital fighting for our lives. I call friends and family, using video calls, so we can see them.
"I usually go to the osteopath weekly regarding a back problem. We are now going to have a session on Zoom with [the doctor] regarding certain exercises I can do to keep my muscles strong and supple during this period. I am also being very careful in what I am spending and am not wasting anything.
"Eventually, once we have come through this coronavirus outbreak in Italy and the world, people will hold events again, celebrate, and I will be able to work. As for my hairdresser and hair coloring, I haven’t resolved that one yet but need to quite quickly!"
Q: What precautions are you taking to keep you and your family safe while you're in quarantine?
A: "The house is kept very clean, and we are constantly washing our hands and washing our clothes if we have been near others. If we touch money, we wash our hands very well to reduce spread of disease. When going to the [ATM machine], we wear gloves. When going out anywhere, we wear masks and gloves.
"All deliveries that arrive are unpacked outside the house, wearing face masks and gloves. The contents are left outside for awhile in the air and then when possible are sprayed lightly with a disinfectant. All packing stays out of the house. We keep a distance at least of 1 meter [3.3 feet] from others, more if possible."
Q: Italy is ahead of America in how the coronavirus has impacted the country. What advice would you give to Americans based on your experience thus far with the coronavirus in Italy?