Whether you are sheltering in place alone or with your family, the new normal of social distancing and isolation can be disconcerting and stressful. Below are a few tips that might help. Include your family as you implement these strategies. Everyone in your household can benefit either directly or as a result of your modeling positive coping behaviors.
- Develop a routine, write it down, and post where your family can see it.
Because many of us are working at home or no longer working, the tendency is to abandon routine. But lack of a routine creates stress on top of the stress we are already experiencing. Routines provide predictability and can be comforting, especially for kids. Through scheduling, we can ensure adequate time for sleep, exercise, meal preparation, and homeschooling projects.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of consistent bedtimes and wake-up times.
Irregular bedtimes disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms—the internal clock that regulates the sleep/wake cycle. Poor sleep is associated with many health problems and mental health issues. Circadian rhythm disruption in children has been shown to cause behavior problems.
- Do some type of exercise every day. Exercise helps relieve tension and stress. Aerobic exercise, like walking, jogging, cycling, and gardening, has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression. Go outdoors to exercise if possible. Just remember to stay 6 feet away from other walkers and joggers. If you can’t go outside, try a free online workout video. To get started, type “free online workout videos” in your internet browser search bar. Children who are between six and 17 years old need at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
- Limit news consumption.
Tuning into news programs throughout the day and checking social media compulsively for the latest on COVID-19 will raise your stress level. Of course, we need to stay up to date on the latest information. But we don’t want to consume so much news that it makes us anxious and stressed. Be intentional about your news consumption. Which news programs do you want to watch and for how many hours? How many times a day do you want to check social media? Take a 4-hour vacation from the news and check in with yourself. Now check in with yourself after several hours of nonstop news. Compare your stress and anxiety levels. Then set limits that will benefit your mental health.
- Keep a gratitude list every day.
It’s easy to focus on the many sad and frightening events happening in our world right now. Shift your focus by keeping a daily list of happy and good things in your life right now—a beautiful bed of daisies you saw on your morning walk, the purring of your cat as she sleeps in your lap, or the smell of brewing coffee first thing in the morning. Try for 10 things on your list every day. To involve your kids, keep a gratitude journal. Ask them to contribute to the list and add artwork or drawings.
- Plan something to look forward to every day.
Each night, plan something in the next day that you can look forward to. Some ideas are trying a new recipe, going online to the library’s website to find a new e-book, or connecting with a special person. Plan a special treat for your kids each day as well. For example, you might teach them a game you learned as a child or bake cookies together.
- Rediscover your creativity.
When we were children, we loved to make things. Spend some time rediscovering your creativity. Try drawing, playing an instrument, decorating a cake, sewing a tote bag, or building a bird feeder. Create a list of projects that you enjoyed in the past for more ideas. Involve your kids in your creative activity or help them come up with their own projects.
- Learn something new.
Add a spark to your day by learning something new. There are many online learning platforms available. Here are some ideas to get you started. The Duolingo app is a quick, fun way to learn words and phrases in the foreign language of your choice. CreativeLive.com streams free classes all day in photography, crafts, and other topics. Coursera and Udemy offer thousands of online courses and many are free. If you’re into art, needlework, sewing, or crafts, take a look at creativebug.com.
- Connect with family and friends.
Social isolation doesn’t mean we must be lonely. Reach out to your family and friends by email, text, or phone call. Schedule a weekly happy hour with a group of friends over video chat. Older relatives especially enjoy video chats with kids. Make a list of old friends that you haven’t talked to in a while. Make one call a day from your list.
- Put boundaries around your worries.
We all worry about what is going to happen as a result of this pandemic. Do as much as you can to support a good outcome: wash your hands, stay 6 feet away from others, and limit interactions with people. But once you’ve done all you can do, don’t allow your mind to engage in nonstop worrying. Worrying can escalate to anxiety and even panic. Set aside a specific time each day for worrying. If a worry pops into your mind during the day, write it down on a slip of paper and put it in your worry jar. Then when the designated time comes, sit down with your worry jar. Dump out the slips of paper. Pick one up and regard it for a minute. Repeat until you’ve acknowledged all the slips of paper. Now put them back in the jar. Know that they will all be there tomorrow. Your mind can relax now, free from struggling with these worries.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer based in Austin, Texas.