We live in an individualistic culture where we’re encouraged to “be our best selves” and “keep calm and carry on.” While these are positive messages, they have negative side-effects: they can make us feel like we need to be completely self-sufficient, stoic, and self-assured, even as the world is falling down around us. So, when we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, where the elderly and immunocompromised are literally coughing themselves to death, we don’t necessarily want to ask for help or talk about how stressed out we feel.
But there’s nothing wrong with being stressed out about coronavirus. Even if we’re lucky enough to be able to continue our jobs as normal, the time of coronavirus has totally wrecked a lot of our normal mechanisms for dealing with unpleasant emotions.
And we’re not out of the woods yet. Recent civil unrest in large groups, combined with loosening quarantines, means that we’re likely headed for a bigger spike of coronavirus in the fall. As the saga continues, we can all be better to ourselves and each other if we find ways to relieve our pandemic stress. Here are a couple of the best ones.
Maintain Order in Your Life
When we’re quarantined, the usual constraints on our lives disappear. Suddenly, we have the freedom to stay up until 2 AM, do our work in random chunks of time, eat ten meals a day, and otherwise regress. This might be tempting, but it’s a bad mental health strategy long-term.
Instead, maintain your lifestyle as best you can. To stay productive during the day and maintain a sane work schedule, get dressed for a real workday—just enough to be presentable on a Zoom call—and have a defined space in your home where you work. This should not be in bed, because that can mess up the quality of your sleep life.
It’s okay if you fall off schedule for a day or two. Self-imposed habits are hard to maintain. Just remember to keep at it. Just because you can’t maintain your discipline 100% of the time, doesn’t mean you can’t shoot for 95%.
Don’t Treat Quarantine Like Prison
Okay, so you can’t leave your house to go to a bar and party, or browse Nordstrom, or whatever usually gets you out of the house. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t leave your dwelling in a safe manner.
Get sunshine. Do bodyweight exercises in the park. If you like to drive, enjoy the reduced traffic. Walk your dog, or someone else’s—pets are great for mental health. If you need motivation for this, just remember that Vitamin D deficiency is a major COVID-19 risk factor.
Work on Yourself
If there’s one upside of COVID-19, it’s that an interruption from our normal lives is a good time to reconsider our priorities. Did you have a business idea that you’ve been slacking on? Draw up a business plan and see if the idea has potential. Mental health stuff you’ve maybe neglected? Online therapy services like BetterHelp can give you a professional counselor to talk through your mental difficulties and improve your emotional health. Fitness goals? Tons of bodyweight exercises can be adapted to the home, and the online fitness community can recommend routines and motivation. If convicts in prison can come out healthier than they came in, you can leave quarantine a little closer to some of your personal goals.
Extend Kindness to Others
You know how they tell you on airplanes that you should put on your mask before helping others? That’s not necessarily true of the pandemic. It’s counterintuitive, but if you’re feeling unhappy yourself, reaching out to someone else can provide an instant boost.
There are probably lots of stressed-out people in your life. This especially includes immune-compromised older people who might not have much social contact anyway. Your older relatives or co-workers could use your words of support, and sending them an e-mail or just calling them up can be gratifying.
Replace Your Social Activities
There are a number of apps that allow you to set up online chatrooms in minutes. Discord and Slack are both easy to use. Take the initiative and get your friends into a group chat, and you won’t feel as lonely. Also, remember that Zoom offers screen sharing, including audio. This means that you can watch YouTube with your friends, or just listen to music together. It’s not a perfect substitute for in-person socializing, but it’s a start.
How we view our circumstances depends a lot on our perspective and our standards. If you normally expect your day to include working with fun co-workers at a well-equipped office, going out for lunch at your favorite spot, and hanging out with friends in person, that’s just not going to happen right now. Maintain that standard and you’ll just be disappointed.
Instead, try implementing an attitude shift. Are you basically healthy? Congratulations—this is, in and of itself, something to be grateful for during a pandemic. Worried for the health of the population? That’s reasonable, but just remember that humankind has faced far worse diseases before. Next to the bubonic plague and smallpox, COVID-19 is a pretty tame disease.
Turn Off the News
We all want to be informed and prepared, right? If we want to protect ourselves and our families, we’ve got to get all the latest information on coronavirus.
Up to a point. After you’ve been browsing the news for hours, you’ve probably absorbed all the practical stuff you need to know. At that point, you’re just getting worked up, which isn’t helping anyone. It’s worth remembering that the news media makes its money off being exciting and captivating. They’re really good at keeping you enthralled because their livelihoods depend on it.
Fundamentally, no one knows where this whole thing is going. So, instead of paying attention to breathless predictions on CNN or Fox, or on your Twitter feed, just stay grounded in the present.
Find a Pandemic Mantra
It might sound a little silly, but having a short, uplifting phrase in mind can be a really helpful mental health tool. When you’re having dispiriting thoughts, you can just repeat your mantra, and it sort of works like an emotional life raft in choppy waters. Need some suggestions? Start with one of these:
- This is a difficult time but I’ll get through it.
- This too shall pass.
- I can adapt to this or anything.
- I will focus on what I can control.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember: it’s okay to be stressed. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure if any of these strategies don’t work immediately. There’s no magic bullet, and telling yourself that you have to be stress-free is one great way to get more stressed out. Just try to take small steps, and go easy on yourself. Making it through any day during a pandemic is an achievement you should thank yourself for.