In these strange times, a lot of us find ourselves stuck at home for the foreseeable future with no clear plan of when our self-quarantine ends, or what to do while we’re indoors.
Luckily, I’m an introvert who has spent years working from home, so I may be able to help. There are a few things you can do to make your time at home not only easier, but actually use it to take care of yourself and get things done!
You don’t have to be working from home. If there’s a personal project you’ve always wanted to take on, something you’ve wanted to learn, or simply habits you’ve wanted to adopt, now is the time. If you’re having trouble thinking of something to take up your hours, I will have a post up soon with great suggestions.
Remember, the goal of this isn’t to be your most productive during a pandemic; it’s to make sure you take steps to prevent your mental health from eroding. Human beings are wired to feel better when they are being creative, curious, and improving themselves.
Gorging on junk food, drinking from noon and staying in bed all day may feel good in the short-term, but there is a staggering amount of scientific evidence that shows this is a rapid route to depression. There are enough external factors at the moment causing a rise in fear and anxiety; let’s make sure we’re not adding to those factors ourselves.
The following are ways to keep up your mental health, identity, and general life ambitions while stuck at home.
Create a Morning Routine
There’s a reason your mother always yelled at you to make your bed. Sorry to take her side, but studies have actually proven that making your bed leads to better productivity and a higher sense of well-being throughout the day.
This is not just about making your bed. Set a morning routine that makes you feel good, and puts you in your best frame of mind. This will make it much easier to calmly deal with the rest of your day.
Here are the suggestions that work for me:
- Make Coffee
- Journal – Morning Pages
Morning pages are a concept introduced by Julia Cameron in “The Artist’s Way”. Though it may sound New Age-y, I guarantee you it is helpful. Basically, write three pages of whatever is going through your mind. Don’t second guess, use any judgment, or think you have to write something professional. This is just about getting thoughts flowing out of you, so you can be purged of them and start the day with a clean slate.
I also suggest some kind of fitness routine, even just simple stretching. With gyms closed and trips outside the home limited, most of us are less active than we usually are. Exercise helps boost mental and physical health, as well as encourage better sleep, so it’s ALWAYS a good idea.
Set Your Own Hours and Don’t Discard Your Usual Habits
The good news is, no one is making you wake up at 7 AM anymore. The bad news is, staying in bed all day in pajamas gets old after a while.
As fun as it may feel to lounge around watching TV and downing beers at 2 PM for the first week of quarantine, it gets you feeling sad really fast. Try to get into some kind of schedule, and start by doing the simple habits you did before.
Change into regular clothes. Do your normal washing/moisturizing/hygiene routine. It’s not about impressing other people, but rather about taking care of yourself in the way you usually do.
Why? Even under normal circumstances, one of the best pieces of advice I have for freelancers working remotely is to “get ready” before work. It clearly delineates time spent working/doing something productive and time spent resting.
Setting a routine is important so you can return to some feeling of normalcy as much as possible. It’s normal to be completely thrown off the first days, week, hell, even couple of weeks of this scenario. But you’re not doing your mental health any favors by not taking care of yourself, in whatever way you feel you need to, in the long-term.
Create Time Blocks for Work
I don’t care if it’s 9 to 5, 6 PM to midnight, or 10 AM to 2 PM. Designate certain hours in which you will be pursuing whatever pet project, creative outlet, or online class you would like to pursue. It doesn’t even have to be study or work – have you wanted to start meditation? A cardio routine? Learn to draw? Practice your guitar more? Improve your cooking? Now may be the time.
Since you’re stuck at home, it may feel like you can set more “working” hours than the normal 8 hour workday. I would strongly recommend against this.
Aim for fewer hours, especially in the beginning. We’re all dealing with a lot, and between multiple phone calls a day with friends and family, getting geared up for grocery store runs, sanitizing, and arguing with people on Facebook about the pandemic (which by the way, I recommend we all quit doing), it’s hard to also put in 8 daily hours of work.
Aim for 4, 5 or 6 hours of doing something creative, productive, or educational. Then spend the rest of the day taking care of yourself.
Find a Creative Outlet
You may think I’m biased on creativity since I make my living with writing, photography, acting. However, science backs me up on this: creativity is essential for well-being. A study called “The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health” found that, “art helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words….creative engagement can decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances”.
There are so many ways to be creative. Don’t feel that you have to be any kind of artist to do it.
It can be writing or journaling in the morning, sketching, deeply listening to or practicing music, following an online dance class, learning to code new sites, cooking a new dish. Pick one that works for you.
It’s not about getting to a professional level. It’s not about selling your creative works for thousands. It’s about incorporating creativity into your every day life so it can help keep you grounded and calm. Creative output will also release some of the anxiety and overflowing emotions you’re likely to go through.
Have An Accountability/Emotional Support Buddy
If you have set any kind of goal for yourself and are quarantined alone, make sure you have an accountability buddy.
Pick a friend who has also decided they want to use this time for a learning or self-improvement project, and share your goals with them. Not just your long-term goals, but what you plan to do today, tomorrow, within the next week. Have them share their goals with you as well.
Then, set times during the week to check in with each other, to see if you did what you wanted to get done. If not, ask why – did something unavoidable come up? Did you realize that you’re not as passionate about the project as you thought? Are you feeling low and finding it hard to concentrate? Talk things out!
The point is not to make you feel bad about not meeting every step, but rather to have someone to help encourage you and to lean on when times are tough.
Stay Informed; Not Deluged
Checking your Facebook feed all day and having the 24-hour-news-cycle on in the background is a surefire way to keep yourself in a constant state of panic.
Obviously, you want to stay informed on big updates surrounding this pandemic. You want to know what your local, state, and federal governments are doing and what steps they may be taking in the near future.
Here is what I recommend: designate two times during the day, perhaps in the morning and after dinner, to check on major news updates and number of infections in your area or an area you are otherwise concerned about.
Then, try to focus on your own life and your own health for the day.
Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself
This article has suggestions to help you not only cope, but hopefully improve and thrive in some ways within our new temporary reality. However, these are just guidelines to help you out. Nothing here is meant to shame you or make you feel bad. Don’t beat yourself up for not living up to a goal you had at this time.
While this article may offer guidelines and support to keep your mental health up, DON’T be too hard on yourself if you don’t get things done.
It’s a strange time. It’s perfectly acceptable to be doing well for a week, then realize you want to spend a couple of days on the couch with Netflix not talking to anyone. Or to video chat with friends around the world from morning to night without doing absolutely anything productive.
All of that is fine.
Take the bullet points in this post as friendly recommendations. Remember what I said in the beginning: this is about keeping yourself healthy and sane, not creating your life’s definitive masterpiece.
What tips do you have for staying sane while stuck at home? Share them below!