As businesses, non-profits, schools, and even governing bodies have shifted towards working remotely to comply with social distancing guidelines from Governor Newsom, even healthy Californians are grappling with totally unexpected challenges in their lives. In addition to the terrifying and still-growing health consequences, many Californians have lost their jobs or faced reduced income. For those employees facing these economic risks, I would urge you to look to the aid that is available – which includes greatly expanded unemployment benefits for unemployed individuals, furloughed employees, independent contractors, self-employed, and many others. Businesses face their own problems in this unprecedented time, as non-essential businesses have shut down or are unable to make ends meet with just a fraction of their prior business. Federal legislation and state actions are attempting to alleviate these concerns, and only time will tell how effective those programs are.
But I want to focus closer to home. On a personal level, many of us are struggling with a life that is profoundly less social than we are accustomed to, yet with many of the same stressors. For those of us living with family, friends, or partners, we are living in tighter circumstances than we may be used to. With schools and other activities closed, children add another wonderful challenge. Those lucky enough to be able to work remotely are finding that working from home poses its own set of challenges. Simultaneously, we are missing our normal methods of stress relief, such as a weekend get-away, a drink with friends, or a bit of exercise at the gym.
With all of that in mind, here are some tips for remaining sane while being stuck at home in these crazy times. To be clear, I am no psychologist – but these have helped me, and I hope they help you:
1) Create a schedule. Too much flexibility can sometimes drive us stir crazy or feel aimless. By maintaining a schedule for yourself will keep yourself productive and help the day feel like it’s moving – even if you never leave your apartment.
2) Get outside for a walk – but maintain social distancing. Taking a walk with your family, housemates, or alone is a great change of setting and will help clear your head. Try catching up with old friends (via the magic of cellphones) while walking. I promise you; your friends are just as restless and will be just as happy to talk to someone outside of their home!
3) Set guidelines for discussing COVID-19. Particularly for those of us in the health or government realm, our minds have been completely focused on one problem for these past months – obsessively following national news and Governor Newsom’s leadership and guidance. And this is important and necessary as we heed the guidance of health officials in this time of crisis. But even while keeping up-to-date and following best practices, it isn’t healthy for us to live in a place of perpetual stress and fear. Our minds, like muscles, need to relax in order to be ready to think hard again tomorrow. So, consider setting limits on discussion of COVID-19 – such as no talk at dinner, or none after 7pm. This will allow space in your life for other topics to rise up and allow you to relax and enjoy talking about other things.
4) Reserve time for yourself as you need it. Prior to this social distancing, we all had little things we did that helped us maintain our mental health. This may have been a bit of quiet yoga after work but before going home. Or it may have been a morning workout that started the day off right – such as rowing or an early CrossFit class. Maybe it was just two hours of peace while the babysitter took the kids to a movie on a Thursday night. Maybe it was meeting some friends for a drink after work before going home. As you adjust to these new social restrictions, remember that you will need to find new activities to replace your old habits – because these personal moments are critical to mental health. So, if you miss your weekly drinking group – organize a Skype call! If you miss the quiet time when your house was empty, find a way to take time alone, even briefly. Most of all, be kind to yourself as we all walk down this bumpy road of figuring out how to live under COVID-19 together.
5) Do what you can to help. Simply put, it feels good to help others in these dark times. As Californians, we want to help our state and our neighbors. Doing so reminds us that this is bigger than our personal struggles. There are many ways to give – donating blood (https://www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive) and donating protective gear are obvious ones (https://www.oesnews.com/governor-newsom-launches-one-stop-website-for-donations-sales-of-essential-medical-supplies-in-fight-against-covid-19/). No matter how much COVID-19 may change our lives – our fundamental desire to help our neighbors will help carry us through, and will help you feel good. So, do what you can to help.
Good luck everyone. Stay healthy, stay sane, and (hopefully) I’ll see you all in a few months.