How I’m Staying Calm While Stuck at Home

Setting boundaries with my workday and my devices has been key.

By Daxiao Productions/ Shutterstock
By Daxiao Productions/ Shutterstock

I miss normal. Most of my routines have been disrupted. Like so many other white-collar workers, I’m working from home at the moment.  My yoga studio is closed, and there’s talk of closing the local library.  My gym is still open, but gyms are germy places at the best of times, so I’m staying away for now.  Since my husband has the flu (the regular one), I’ve also canceled all get-togethers with friends.

I’m an introvert, but this is too much alone time even for me.  And of course, my imagination goes into hyperdrive.  I really wish that I had not read any vivid descriptions of the 1918 flu epidemic!  And I’m trying to erase all images from that Stephen King movie from my memory.

My screen time for this past week was way up, and my Google search history explains why: What is the incubation period for the flu?  How do we distinguish between the cold, the flu, and coronavirus? How high can a fever be before it is dangerous; What sort of cleaning fluid kills the flu virus? What about the coronavirus?  Exactly how should I wash my hands? Who dies from the coronavirus?   How many cases in my area? 

I also have vague memories of scanning news sites, quickly moving from one story to another, sometimes listening to news on the radio at the same time. I check local websites to see how the virus is spreading nearby.  I follow my friends’ equally obsessive ruminations on social media, and they give me new things to worry about.  Yesterday, a friend’s account of not having enough canned tomatoes for a lengthy quarantine sent me scurrying down into the pantry to count cans.  And then I went back online.

When our routines are disrupted, we are more likely to spend more time online (since we have more free time).  And right now when we are worried and frightened about the virus spreading, it’s easy to convince ourselves that we need up-to-the-minute information.  And so we stay online more and more, clicking, scrolling, and reading — and that just makes us increasingly tense and worked up.

Returning to sanity, I’ve taken steps to reign in my behavior.  I’m recommitting to my routines. I can’t go to the gym, so I’ll do a modified workout at home.  I’ll do yoga at home instead of going to the studio. I’ll work during regular business hours.  And I wrote a list of calming activities.  Journal.  Bake bread.  Nap.  Read good books.  Call a friend.  Go for a walk.  Heck, I might even clean the house!

And I’m limiting online activity. Here are some boundaries I’m putting in place to protect my mental health around technology:

  • Check news sites once in the morning and once in the midafternoon. No more. 
  • Stay off Facebook and other social media, checking in once or twice a week at most.
  • Go online only with a clearly articulated intention in mind (I’m going to check the weather forecast for tomorrow), so that I can avoid that mindless jumping from one thing to another.

To help me stay on course, I added three questions to the lock screen to my phone:

Why now?

What for?

What else? 

It is genius.  It stops me short.  Why am I picking up the phone?  No idea.  What was I going to do?  Don’t know. Oh.  Right.  And then I put the phone back down.

Calm is still a long way off.  We’re in a frightening situation.  Human beings don’t react well to uncertainty and to the loss of control, and right now we’re dealing with both.  We’re all going to be scared for a while and we’ll have to be OK with that.  But we can take steps to avoid some of the pointless and obsessive fretting.

Kate Atkinson writes about the flu epidemic in Life After Life, which might be her best book (and that says a lot, she’s a wonderful writer!).

I think I must be remembering King’s The Stand?

And more from me about how to manage screen time better here and here.

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