We are currently facing an event unlike anything any of us has ever seen and hopefully will never see again.  There has been an abundance of information on how we can best physically protect ourselves from the COVID-19 virus but it is also important for us to maintain our mental health in these trying times.  This extended social distancing/social quarantine with an uncertain end time requires us to adjust to this new normal. 

So much of what makes this quarantine so stressful is the uncertainty of it all.  How long will it last?  Will the restrictions get more stringent?  When will they restock the toilet paper??? The answers to these questions are outside of our control but there are some things that we very much can control and that is how we structure our own environment and use of time.  This quarantine actually provides a unique opportunity to adjust our day to our desires rather than us having to fit our desires around the demands of our day.  

This is not the occasional day of “working” from home when you are really packing and running last minute errands before your vacay. You will likely be working from home for the next month or more. It can be tempting to roll out of bed 5 minutes before your commute from bed to laptop. Avoid this temptation.Create a morning routine. Wake up at a consistent time, freshen up and change out of your pajamas. No one is suggesting your put on stockings or a tie but differentiate between your night clothes and day clothes. Ok, you are up. Now what?

  • Define your space. Napping, working and eating all from one spot on the couch is disorienting, you are never fully committed to any one activity if you are doing them all at once in the same spot. Create a work area for yourself. Avoid eating your lunch over your laptop (and when you are back to the office keep this habit and step away from your desk for your lunch break).

  • Beware mindless snacking. This quarantine can easily become the new freshman 15. Your new wardrobe is exclusively loungewear and you might find yourself in for a rude awakening when it’s time to get back into those jeans. Aside from vanity, it is important that we maintain our physical health. If you do fall ill, you want to be at your best to fight it off and get back on your feet. Which means it’s important that you also

  • Keep yourself physically active. Get yourself moving and get your heartrate up for at least 30 minutes three times per week. This doesn’t mean that you have to run out and buy a Peloton. Do some jumping jacks, run in place, go up and down the stairs in your home. There are a slew of free home workouts on all the social media platforms that use either no equipment or regular household items for a workout.

  • Get fresh air. Not that there is ever a good time for this to happen but we are fortunate that we are not in the dead of winter or even the hottest part of the summer. The days are longer and the temperatures are milder. Open your blinds and let some sunshine in. Open your windows and air your place out. Social distancing doesn’t mean that you can’t leave your house, rather it means that you should not be in close contact with other people. Nothing is precluding you from taking a walk or run as long as you will not be in close proximity with others.

  • Be mindful of ergonomics. Laptops are not really designed for extended use. Even if you place the laptop on a table or desk you are likely looking down with a hunched back. Consider using a monitor (most current televisions can be used as a monitor with a simple plug and play adaptor). If this is not an option, be aware of your posture when using your laptop. Sitting in a chair at a table encourages better posture than on the sofa with your computer in your lap. The lighting in your home is not likely as bright as that in your office. Staring at a laptop in low lighting will strain your eyes. Take short (20 minutes +/-) breaks every two or three hours. Rest your eyes, stretch your body and drink some water. Consider taking a short walk in the neighborhood after lunch to re-invigorate yourself.
  • If you are home but not working you will have to work a bit harder at creating your daytime structure. The tips above about creating a morning routine gets you started but once you are dressed for the day, what do you do now? Give yourself tasks and projects to help differentiate one day from another. Keep to a schedule. Sleeping till 2pm and staying up till 3am falling down YouTube rabbit holes is not a recipe for success. Cleaning and organizing your home. Developing your hobbies. Focusing on your physical fitness. Creating a vision board for your plan of attack when things go back to normal. Learn to master that recipe you never had time to cook before, if it turns out to be trash nobody even has to know since you are being responsible and keeping yourself socially distanced.

  • Social distancing doesn’t mean being antisocial. Find a way to connect with people who make you feel good. I know that we normally tend to rely on texting but in this time find ways to have a more personal connection. Phone calls and video chats with friends and family. Nothing wrong with meeting up with the crew for a virtual happy hour group video session at the end of a long day. Play online games that allow you to compete with others rather than only focusing on games that are solitary play.

  • Maintaining connections are important but don’t be afraid to disconnect. The 24 hour news cycle and your social media feeds can be overwhelming. We know things are serious it is not your job to monitor every bit of breaking news. Check in once a day or every few days to be informed but when it’s becoming repetitive turn off the TV or mute those folks on your timeline who are constantly posting the avalanche of information. At a point it is only serving to increase your anxiety rather than provide you with new and relevant information.

  • Check on your loved ones and allow others to check in on you. These are such uncertain times. We are all experiencing anxiety. We are all frustrated. Sometimes just saying it out loud to someone else can be the release that you didn’t even know you needed. Talk to friends, talk to family but if you are feeling too overwhelmed then reach out to a professional. A lot mental health clinics have closed their physical locations to comply with social distancing guidelines but there are many providers who have moved to telemedicine and are accepting new patients. Www.psychologytoday.com has listings for providers nationwide. You are able to sort by various criteria to suit your needs (ie. gender, insurance, specialties).

The magnitude of this pandemic will no doubt change us and the world as we know it. We are all in this together and we will make it out the other side stronger.