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How to cope under quarantine, according to Condoleezza Rice

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Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed ways to maintain personal and mental health during quarantine, urging Americans to have sympathy for the government at a Thursday “fireside chat” with the Stanford Health Improvement Program.

Rice, who served as Stanford’s provost from 1993 to 1999, also praised communities for “not waiting for the government” and taking responsibility for each other, expressing hope that these practices continue in the post-pandemic future.

“I always said the strongest pillar of democracy is actually when individual citizens take responsibilities for individual citizens, for each other,” Rice said. 

Rice urged those with criticisms of the government leaders to be understanding in this time of crisis.

“Just go try to do that job for five days and you will find out how really hard it is,” Rice said. “I also think that you can ask yourself, ‘Have I done everything that I can do?’” 

Navigating quarantine

Telling the audience about a technique she used to get through moments as difficult as 9/11, Rice described her experience in quarantine and offered tips on how to weather current circumstances. 

At the beginning of the quarantine, Rice admitted, she herself slipped into unhealthy habits.

“The first couple of days, I caught myself eating chips and then chips and salsa and then chips and guacamole and I thought, This is not going to work,” Rice said with a smile. 

She soon realized the need for scheduling. Rice said the pandemic has reduced the amount of travel she does, giving her more time to reflect and enjoy the view of her backyard from her porch. She also said she finds time in her day for strength training, piano lessons and daily walks.

With the freetime brought by quarantine, Rice, who called herself a “four-time yoga dropout,” has finally started liking the activity and uses it to calm her mind.

Rice said she also allows herself small indulgences, like watching Hallmark and Lifetime movies and having “guiltless Saturdays.” 

“Saturday I eat anything I want to eat all day long, from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed,” Rice said. 

When she feels down, Rice said she uses a strategy of naming the problem and then choosing how to deal with it. Rice said this strategy helped her to weather challenging moments in the government — including 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and recalls saying to herself, “I wonder if they would notice if the Secretary of State didn’t show up today?”

“Don’t try to suppress it; say to yourself, ‘I’m feeling anxious,’ or, ‘I’m feeling down,’” Rice advised. “I try to keep perspective. If you realize that you’re not alone in history in going through difficult things, I think that helps.”

Rice has drawn fervent criticism for her foreign policy positions, including her staunch support for the invasion of Iraq. In March students protested Rice’s appointment as the director of Hoover Institution — a role she will assume on Sept. 1 — by calling on individuals who died in the Iraq War to “curse” Rice. 

In 2007, The New York Times described Rice’s efforts to “reshape her legacy” as she considered returning to Stanford. Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute, told The Times, “If we keep going on the trajectory that is now evident, I think even her tenure as secretary of state is also going to be, frankly, pretty damned.”  

But during the event on Thursday, Rice largely stuck to discussing the current circumstances of life under COVID-19, and aspects of her personal experience. Rice also said she’s worked to surround herself with supportive friends. 

“The most important characteristic is I need to be around people with a sense of humor,” Rice said, telling the audience that this helped her get along with former President George W. Bush. “I like to be around people who can see irony, people who can see what’s absurd.”

Rice said reaching out to friends and family could lighten the burden of loneliness. On Easter Sunday, she had a Zoom service with her aunt and other relatives, marking the first time they worshipped together in about 40 years. 

“I’ve always valued people in my life,” Rice said. “I think that’s one of the things that has got me through countless difficult times, whether it was the death of my parents or hard times in the government.”

Rice said she also lifts her spirits and remembers to feel gratitude by engaging with community organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, food banks and the Red Cross. 

“You decide where you think you can make a difference, either with your time, your money or your resources,” she said. 

Rice said she is sure that Americans will persevere through the pandemic, demonstrating tolerance and acts of kindness. 

“This is a time to be extraordinarily tolerant of each other and recognizing that with that we’re all going to get through this together,” Rice said. “The United States of America has been through worse, we’ll get through this and come out on the other side.”

Contact Anastasia Malenko at malenk0 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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