Surviving the Great Indoors
As we collectively experience a world wide health crisis and are self-quarentining, I encourage you to put practices into place that can protect and enhance your mental health.
Our physical well-being is directly linked to our psychological well-being—you cannot separate the two. While there has been far reaching guidance on how to protect our physical health, including social distancing, frequently washing our hands and not touching our faces, guidance on how to protect our mental health has been woefully under reported, particularly as it relates to being in quarantine.
As such, here are 11 suggestions that you can put into practice to support your mental wellness. These ideas can apply during a pandemic AND during times of relative global health.
1. Keep a schedule
Human beings are creatures of habit and thrive in predictable situations. Considering the unforeseeable nature of the times that we are currently in, finding ways to create structure and predictability is key to cultivating psychological wellness. Creating and maintaining a daily schedule is one way of doing that.
Here’s a sample schedule that you may use or modify as you see fit:
8am: Wake up
8:30: Get dressed as if you were leaving the house
9am: Eat breakfast
9:30: Engage in an activity that challenges your brain and/or body (extra points if done
with a buddy)
11am: Go outside, if possible. The whole world is slowed down, but it has NOT stoped!
11:30: Eat a snack
12:00: Connect with a friend while engaging in social distancing
1pm: Prepare and eat lunch
2pm: Engage in another activity that challenges your brain and/or body (extra points if
done with a buddy)
3pm: Get some sun again.
4pm: Read the news/ inform yourself
5pm: Connect with a friend while engaging in social distancing
6pm: Prepare and eat dinner
7pm: Do something you enjoy (TV, read, play a game, call a friend)
9pm: Get ready for bed
10pm: Go to sleep (no TV/no phones)
2. Limit News and Dr. Google
You may have noticed in the suggested schedule above, that I limited the time in which one might read the news. We’ve been conditioned to the 24 hour news cycle, which actually isn’t healthy for us psychologically. Staying informed is necessary and a responsible thing to do, but you can be informed without being inundated. Limiting your news consumption to 1 hour a day will help you remain informed without overwhelming you. I recommend accessing news sources that check their facts and use research and science as a basis for their content.
Similarly, as we collectively pay acute attention to every possible sign that we may be getting sick, we may feel compelled to consult “Dr. Google.” Howev, Dr. Google has not gone to medical school and can easily mis-diagnose you. Again, staying informed and attuned to your physical health is a necessary and responsible thing to do. If you must engage in a clinical consultation regarding your health, better to call your physician, and check (but limit your time on) websites such as the CDC or the World Health Organization.
3. Take control of what you can, and let go of the rest.
Whether you are religious, spiritual, atheist or agnostic, the intention behind the Serenity Prayer is one that has far reaching applicability and can help us maintain balance in stormy times. The prayer is as follows:
“Grant me the serenity
To accept the things that I cannot change,
The courage to change the things that I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
There is only so much we have control over at any given time. Acknowledging this truth, finding those pockets where we still have power in our lives, taking action accordingly, and letting go of the rest will free you up to experience contentment. You can trust that your future self will act in your best interest when new information presents itself.
4. Stay connected
Social isolation is detrimental to humans on a physical, mental and emotional level. While we may not be able to be together in the same physical space, modern technology including phones and video chat, allows us to remain connected despite distance. Engaging in live, direct conversation where you can see and/or hear the other person is preferable to texting or social media. Our brains are wired to fire together when we can hear and see each other, and that gets lost when you’re only staring at a screen.
5. Practice Gratitude
This may initially seem heartless in light of the current state of affairs. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that you pretend everything is OK—that’s not true and untruths are hurtful. BUT! Things can be going to hell AND there can be things that are going well. Both things can be true at the same time. Whether those gratitudes are big or small, noticing things that are also going well creates balance and emotional flexibility, and can go a long way to protect your mental health.
6. Do something for someone else
When we feel under attack, we retreat and act in our own interest. This self preservation tactic has an important purpose when we truly are under personal attack. However, at it’s extreme it leads to self-isolation, which is not healthy for us (refer back to #4).
Engaging in an act that enhances the wellbeing of another person can help us in several ways: it reinforces the fact that we are always in abundance, it maintains connection with others, and it can just make us feel good!
There’s always something you can give. For example, you can give your elderly neighbor or grandparent a call to check in, you can donate your time or your voice to advocate for others in great need, or you can use your creative skills to make something that will lift the spirits of others. Doing for others can foster a deep sense of purpose, too. How creative can you get to discover things you can do for others?
7. Allow yourself to be nurtured
Giving is only one side of the relational coin. You must give someone else the satisfaction of taking care of you, too! This is the time to practice asking for what you need or what would be helpful to you at this time.
Perhaps you are saying, “I don’t have anyone like that in my life.” This might be the time to reach out to a therapist who can serve that role for you and also help you to brainstorm and develop your connections with others.
8. Stay in the moment
When we practice mindfulness, being in the here and now, we can take actions that actually serve us. Worry can be appealing because it imitates action and control. But actually, worry just depletes our emotional and physical resources.
Engaging in a mindfulness practice does not require becoming a buddhist monk and sitting cross legged on a mat. It doesn’t even require sitting still or “clearing your head of all thoughts”. It’s actually kinda the opposite. To engage in mindfulness, you notice what’s happening (your thoughts, your feelings, your 5 senses, etc), without judgement. That’s it. You can do that while washing the dishes, taking a walk, talking with others, or in pursuit of becoming a buddhist monk—, you do you!
Remember, it’s simple, but not easy. They call it a practice for a reason.
Remember when I said physical health and psychological health are directly linked? Well…it’s time to get moving! Obviously, you’ll want to clear it with your physician first, and make sure to listen to your body to not hurt yourself when you’re exercising. What are the creative ways you can engage in exercise given the limits you may be faced with—walk up and down your stairs? You Tube exercise or yoga videos? Clean your house? Have sex with your partner (bonus points for engaging with others!) There’s always opportunity to find creative ways to move our bodies!
Our environments can have a significant impact on our psychological health. Disorder on the outside can contribute to feelings of disorder on the inside. Trying to keep things tidy can support you in feeling calm as your home or your personal space becomes your personal oasis.
11. Laugh and sing
Research shows that singing and laughing stimulates our vagus nerve, which engages our bodies natural calming response. You can increase your body’s sense of calm by intentionally activating this nerve. Other ways to stimulate this nerve are: exercise, meditation, and socializing.
I hope that you find these suggestions helpful in maintaining and supporting your mental