Surviving Stay Home Orders with your Sanity Intact
19 Strategies for Coping with the Chaos of Covid-19
There is no roadmap for what we are experiencing right now. As a human community, we are being tested in every way possible. You have not been through this, I have not been through this, the world has not been through this. And yet we are all in it, for weeks (months?) to come. Below are some action items and strategies to help us all emerge on the other side of this with our sanity intact.
Create a daily routine. You’ve heard this. Try to really do it. And incorporate some elements from your pre-social distancing routine, as this can bring you comfort (ex: make coffee or breakfast the same way, do grooming in a similar way, unwind in a similar way). Focus on sleeping and waking up at a routine time each day (this is a good practice to have in general for the best sleep hygiene and mood balance). Our bodies respond positively to the predictability of a sleep routine. If you’re struggling with sleep, see more sleep tips on this post.
Get dressed. Pajamas all day feels tempting but it also reinforces cues to your brain for lethargy. Most of us are already feeling pretty drained and unsteady right now; a little more energy will help us get through this. Shower, wash your face, brush your teeth. Dress in clothes that make you feel proud or confident. Even if you just try this for one day – notice the impact on your mood and energy.
Go beyond the walls of your home at least once a day. Aim for 20-30 minutes outside. This can mean standing on the porch, doing a quick essential errand, taking a walk in the neighborhood…whatever feels safe and helpful for your particular circumstance. If you are high risk or living with those who are high risk, just open a window and sit by it instead to experience the fresh air and the sounds and sights of outside.
Move yourself. This can be combined with leaving your home, or it can look like watching a video or dancing to some music or doing pushups in your room. Maybe pull that Wii out of your closet and dust it off. Movement helps our systems to manage the increased stress hormones that are being pumped through all of us right now. Just accept that your baseline stress level waking up everyday is much, much higher than your body is used to and it needs some extra help right now. Here's an online exercise resource I'm loving lately (DownDog offers tailored videos: Yoga, HIIT, Barre, and 7 Minute Workout), and it's free until May 1.
Drink lots of water and eat thoughtfully. It’s easy to lean more on sodas or alcohol right now, because they can feel soothing. And it’s easy to lean on comfort foods and stress-eating. Notice your tendencies with these and do your best to balance your intake with a lot of water and some nutritious foods. Your goal here is to keep your physical self and your immune system strong, while also realizing the impact on your emotional state. We tend to experience guilt and depressive emotions when we over-indulge, and that’s an extra load of emotions you can do without right now.
Reach out to others at least daily if possible. Transition your in person social time to virtual time as creatively as you can. Consider being open to actually telling your friends or family that you feel lonely or bored. When we name what we are experiencing, it tames it a little and it also gives others a chance to support us.
Keep an eye on your social media time. For most of us there is a sweet spot of ideal time to spend on FB and Instagram, etc. Like Goldilocks, we can have too little and feel left out or disconnected, or too much and feel down or overwhelmed or angry or envious. If you find yourself checking social media more often these days, observe what you feel while/after doing so and whether that is okay with you. Is it helping or hurting? Consider creating a time limit and walking away when it’s no longer in a helpful place for you.
Limit exposure to news. Now, more than ever, it’s important to protect your psyche. Constant exposure to the breaking news about deaths and confirmed cases and medical equipment shortages…this will not help you get through this easily. Choose a few reliable sources of news, check them only a certain number of times per day, and focus back on things that are not so anxiety-inducing. Consider avoiding news first thing in the morning or right before bed.
Create private space for yourself if you don’t live alone. You are not used to being around people 24/7, so don’t expect that you can do that now without any side effects. We all need private time to be unobserved by others and do our own things. If you have the ability, create a spot for each person in your home to have their own private area, even if it’s some cushions in the corner. See this other article for more information and help with the way this quarantine situation can impact your relationships.
Expand your repertoire of how you spend free time or alone time. Now can be the time put together a big puzzle, pick up your sketch pad, dust off your guitar, or dive back into video games you used to love. Focus on what is engaging and fun, rather than what is productive. Find things that keep you busy and distracted from the chaos outside, just for a bit. Remember that your goal is to get through this time. There’s no pressure on you to complete anything or transform yourself in any sort of way. Just survive. And on that note…
Step away from the “shoulds.” A lot of folks have shared about the way they “should” be handling the sudden free/alone time this shelter-in-place created. Like “I should learn a new language,” “I should read all those books in the pile by my bed”, “I should start that P90x training,” “I should finally learn to cook the best & healthiest meals,” “I should morph into a homeschooling teacher,” “I should use this time as productively as absolutely possible or I will feel like I wasted it.” This pressure may not be super helpful for you. Lockdown is not like a summer vacation and your emotional and practical needs are not at all like a vacation right now. The only thing you should do is survive. That’s it. If you survive, you win. Do what is needed to survive.
Spend extra time playing with children or pets if you have them. Playful contact helps ground you in that moment and the interaction of lightheartedness or love, rather than being consumed with stress about the larger situation. Also, the physical interaction with another living being itself is an emotionally soothing way to spend time.
Laugh once a day (at least). It's okay to laugh during a pandemic. It's pretty important for coping. Laughter sends a cascade of positive chemicals through our body which can balance out the stress hormones. So send silly memes to people or watch videos of kids laughing (or falling down, if that’s your jam), late night clips, favorite comedians, cats being ridiculous…whatever makes you laugh or smile. Here’s an article about even more ways to release a number of helpful chemicals in your body and brain.
Schedule in some “freak out time” if you need. We are all feeling a lot of things intensely right now. It’s soothing and helpful to let those raw emotions out and not bottle up all that fear and anxiety and frustration. Try to give it all a place to land and schedule a time to do this (you can sit and write it out, talk it out with a friend, speak-to-text in an audio file, dump it all in therapy, etc.). Then walk away from it. Label it mentally as your “download time” and as those emotions resurface later on, remind yourself “that’s for download time, not now.” Try to dismiss it in the moment just like you do with Windows Updates…assign a time for them to happen.
Acknowledge feelings of guilt. If you are fortunate to still be receiving a paycheck, or to have ample savings or supports to get through this, or are in good health with little risk, you might be feeling some guilt about your privilege. It’s a normal reaction to the disparities in our social system that are hyper evident right now. Some people are struggling much more than others. Remember that guilt is an emotion we are supposed to feel when we have done something wrong that needs to be learned from or fixed. You have not done anything wrong here. You are fortunate. If you like, share that fortune, but avoid being down on yourself that you are on the more fortunate end of the picture compared to some others right now.
Focus on others if you can. Explore ways that you can focus outside of yourself and on others instead. Consider small things like sending a card to old friends or distant family, or checking on a neighbor, or writing a supportive comment on a post or thanking folks who are working so we can get our needs met. If you’re willing and able, support restaurant delivery or grocery shop for vulnerable folks or look into volunteer needs for donations & at-home work in your community. Helping others gets us outside of our own head full of worry and gives us a sense of agency when things seem so helpless.
Notice what is NOT awful. Be extra attentive to things that are okay or stable in your situation or even positive and heartwarming. Try to observe the communities coming together, the people sacrificing, helping, donating, and advocating. There is a lot of awful and scary things right now, but the picture is not 100% awful and it helps to zoom out to see the whole accurate view. Humans on the whole are resilient and cooperative. Notice examples of this.
Repeat regularly: This is temporary, this is temporary, this is temporary. Every pandemic has always ended. This one will too. It certainly feels like it’s unending and we have no specific end date to cling to; but it will end. Our emotions simply love to get really big and take up space, making it feel as if the current reality is a permanent one. The fact remains: this is temporary.
Take things one chunk at a time. You’ve heard the saying about how to eat an elephant…one bite at a time? Well, this concept definitely applies here. Take whatever size of pandemic bite that works for you. Maybe that’s focusing on getting through just the next hour or just one day or just the next week. Corral your worries and your coping to just that amount of time, instead of trying to predict and manage scenarios into the next months and years. Just one bite at a time.
I often talk with clients about balance and how we have internal systems that yearn for balance. Like the scales of justice or a teeter totter, when one end is weighted really heavy (pandemic stress and fear), we've got to put a lot more effort on the other end (coping, self-compassion, healthy choices) to balance things out. How is your balance right now? Which items on this list feel most helpful or doable for you?