He didn’t know it, but Represent Justice Surrogate Fernando Bermudez had all the preparation needed to weather the quarantine storm. As shelter-in-place restrictions began coming down across the country as a response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Fernando and his family hunkered down in their Virginia home and changed their habits like many of us — trips to the store became deliveries, gatherings with friends became Zoom calls. While they were crucial adjustments in order to stay safe, it has been taking the time to care for himself emotionally and mentally that has made the biggest difference in navigating this social isolation. It’s also something Fernando, who holds a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science, has been more than ready to do.
“I’ve always thought of combining both formal and informal life experience,” Fernando said. “I worked throughout my incarceration to help me and it has helped me throughout this situation. Even now in this quarantine, where I think everyone’s determination to survive and stay sane is being tested.”
As it is increasingly more likely that sectors of public life will remain shut down for some time, we reached out to Fernando and asked him to share some of his top tips for people looking to care for themselves in these unprecedented times.
One of Fernando’s favorite pastimes now that he’s stuck at home? Spending time with his plants.
We can change our emotions through our thoughts
Drawing on concepts of cognitive therapy, Fernando notes that our thoughts can expand, like ripples from tossing a pebble into the pond. “If we think negative thoughts, we tend to gravitate towards the negative. And, positive pushes towards the positive.” Fernando suggests being aware of when we’re engaging in pessimistic thoughts — ”stinking thinking” — and try to make the conscious effort to reframe them.
This pandemic has indelibly impacted the lives of so many people. Folks have lost jobs, loved ones and the social connections that kept them going. While trying to stay afloat in such a trying moment, it’s easy to have tunnel vision about the problems in our own lives. But, Fernando suggests practicing downward social comparison — the practice of considering folks who might be having a more challenging time than we are. This allows people the chance to reflect and find spaces of gratitude for what they do have.
There’s nothing better for feeling better than endorphins, the chemicals released in your body after physical exercise. Though we’re limited in our mobility and trips to the gym now, Fernando suggests figuring out a physical activity that works for you whether its running, biking or even doing jumping jacks in your living room for 15 minutes. Carving out some time to move your body, even if it’s just a few minutes, will go a long way in bringing about clarity and improving your mood. It’s been an integral part of Fernando’s routine for the last 30 years.
Reaching out to loved ones
There is a difference between solitude and loneliness. Though it’s not possible to be with loved ones physically, Fernando suggests turning to virtual engagement like video chats and phone calls to stay connected and challenge bouts of loneliness. He also suggests finding ways to enjoy and embrace our solitude. For him, that’s music. Fernando loves to listen to music as an “antidote to sadness.” His favorites? Any ‘80s R&B to soundtrack painting around the house, or fellow North Carolinan DaBaby to keep his energy up while running.
A graffiti artist, Fernando’s art has been a crucial way to decompress during quarantine.
For Fernando, this is at the heart of everything in life. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought an onslaught of stress into our lives and the number one way Fernando has been able to cope with that is by managing his time to avoid a pile-up of obligations. “if we don’t manage our time, next thing you know we have a duty or responsibility to get to and now we’re stressed out.”
“Worry is not going to solve anything,” Fernando said. It’s easier said than done, as the last several months have given him great reason to worry. But in the end, Fernando found that he was wasting a lot of energy and emotion by getting caught in the cycle of worry. Instead of dreading the unknowable future, he’s chosen to stay rooted in the present.
Fernando’s personal philosophy is that every crisis is a opportunity, and we can use this newfound time to develop something new about ourselves. Taking up a new skill or hobby can help us fight idle time, learn something new and stimulate our minds and bodies.
Find yourself again
This moment in history is totally unprecedented. And, it can also be a time to regroup. If we were unsatisfied in our career, weren’t able to dedicate enough time to one aspect of our lives, or simply wanted to take up new habits, Fernando says this can be the time to slow down and come back stronger than ever.
Engage in faith and or spirituality
For Fernando, engaging in meditation, faith or prayers offers an opportunity for reflection and groundness that exercise and hobbies cannot. The reminder that there is something bigger than ourselves — regardless of what your particular faith or beliefs are — can give us the necessary perspective to make it through this challenging time.