By Dr. Stefan Kalt and Dr. David Brendel
As the “new normal” of COVID sinks in, many are feeling anxious, lonely, and unwell. And for good reason: professional and personal plans are on hold or have been curtailed, social distancing is taking its toll, we’re mourning the loss of personal freedoms, and caring for ourselves and others is more challenging. The emotional repercussions are unavoidable; it would be unhealthy (and futile) to flee them. Acknowledging negative feelings is one thing. Drowning in them is another.
Here are some suggestions for staying afloat and finding opportunities to grow in the midst of the pandemic.
- Value your relationships. As we continue social-distancing, it’s more important than ever to keep in touch with family, friends, and colleagues. Unfortunately, isolation can breed more isolation. If too much alone time has you feeling low, it might make you reluctant to reach out. Remember that others are feeling just like you and are eager to connect. Having regular casual conversations works wonders too, but it’s important to keep them up and not fall back into isolation. Make things fun by joining a virtual happy hour, watching movies with others remotely (Zoom share), or taking an interactive yoga class. Virtual options are multiplying, so explore them and keep an open mind.
- Turn down the dial on 24/7 news and social media. Stop internet surfing. If you have a lot of time on your hands, it’s easy to spend much of it online. You’ve probably noticed how ungratifying – even exhausting – this is. That’s because news and social media postings have become especially repetitive and fearmongering. Internet surfing, far from being a safety valve for restless energy, increases it, partly because COVID stuff pops up almost everywhere. To preserve your sanity, start by cutting back on the news and social media. The best way is to choose how many times a day you’ll check it (3 times is a good number), when you’ll do this (be specific about the time, e.g. 7 pm) and how long you’ll do it for (e.g. 15-20 mins). Stop random internet surfing altogether. When you visit a website, do it for a specific reason and leave when you’re done. Instead of internet surfing, watch more movies and shows. Allow yourself to binge on Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.
- Exercise/get outside. As you pull back from the Internet, push yourself to get outside and to exercise regularly. Combine exercise and the outdoors if possible. This might mean going for long walks. Or short jogs. Whatever you do, making it a regular habit is the key to overcoming cabin fever and to boosting your energy level. Although many gyms and yoga/personal trainer studios remain closed, online classes have exploded. Sign up. Many parks have exercise circuits and designated multi-use paths for running and bike-riding. While some parks remain closed (while others have been inundated with visitors), they typically congregate in just a few places. So strike out on your own: you’ll soon leave the crowds behind. Also, many slightly out-of-the-way parks have been virtually ignored. With a little planning, you might have a park or hiking trail all to yourself.
- Get enough sleep. As important as outside physical activity is, you’ll struggle to do it – and many other things – if you’re not getting enough sleep. Naturally, it’s difficult to sleep when you’re worried and distracted. If sleeping is a struggle, focus on getting up at a fixed time rather than forcing yourself to go to sleep. Rise early and stay awake (without naps) until a reasonable bedtime. By then you’ll be tired and the rest will take care of itself. Just don’t watch television or use your computer (or view any screen) for an hour before hitting the sack. If the problem is persistent and compromising your daily functioning, consider talking to your doctor about medical approaches to relieving insomnia.
- Meditate and Breathe Deeply. To achieve greater serenity, try mindfulness meditation and deep breathing. Meditation reduces stress and sharpens focus. Consider downloading a meditation app like Headspace or Calm. Meditating twice a day, in the morning and at night, for ten minutes at a time can be tremendously restorative. Read here for instructions on how to start. If you’re feeling very anxious or panicky, use deep breathing to calm yourself down. To learn more about this technique, read here.
- Reframe and Reset. If we’re not careful, COVID can do real damage, materially and psychologically. It has also presented us with a rare opportunity to pause, take stock and, if need be, reset career and personal priorities. You’ll be better able to seize this opportunity if, following the suggestions above, you’re feeling more connected, energized, focused, and rested.
Workwise, this could mean reorganizing your business, catching up on deferred projects or laying the groundwork for new ones, developing yourself professionally if you have a job (e.g. additional certification), perhaps planning a career change if you don’t. On the personal side, it could mean strengthening or rebuilding relationships, recommitting to self-improvement goals (e.g. eating healthier), or pursuing life-long learning or instruction through online courses.
- Maintain Structure. The routines of work, school, and family/social obligations give structure and meaning to our daily life, making it orderly and predictable. When these structures have vanished or changed profoundly, it can be disorienting and demoralizing. It is vitally important, therefore, to create new structures which do the work of the old ones. These structures may take the form of new routines. Perhaps your hands are full working remotely and taking care of family. Perhaps you live alone, have lost your job, and could fill your time with some of the suggestions offered above. Either way, make a strong effort to stick to the routines you already follow or to devise new routines to shape your day.
- Give yourself a break. Lastly, remember that it’s okay to feel lazy and unmotivated at times. If you have extra time on your hands, don’t fill it with more work simply because you can. It might be better to do something personally sustaining instead, e.g. exercising or reaching out to friends. If you’re busier than ever and feeling overworked, carve out some time for recuperation. As crammed as the day may be, there’s almost always space for a breather. And be compassionate with yourself. The current situation is tough; you’re doing your best to get through it.