“Stay Home, Stay Safe,” circling back during a resurgence creating the quarantine blues. Source: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash
We might be through with the pandemic, but the pandemic isn’t through with us. A COVID-19 resurgence of hospitalizations and death tolls are rising in record-setting numbers—an 85% increase since Labor Day. This isn’t a second wave. We’re still in the first wave, and the trend is causing already quarantine weary families to return to stricter “Stay Home, Stay Safe” measures.
If you’re starting to crack, hold on. Think of the actions you can take to deal with uncertainty fears. First and foremost, keep practicing the basics that your local and state authorities have established. For most businesses that means the three W’s: wear a mask, wash your hands, and wait at least 6 feet apart. And it looks as if some form of self-isolation, social distancing, and a new-normal summer is ahead of us.
Coronavirus fears are having a huge impact on everything from mental health to work/life balance. The pandemic has pushed more than a quarter of the world’s population into lock down, and many are feeling cooped up and developing cabin fever or the “quarantine blues.”
When life is uncertain, it’s natural to feel out of control, and even to get depressed over the losses and the important life events that have been canceled or postponed: graduation, funerals, weddings, and birthday celebrations. Persistent feelings of sadness or loss of interest that characterize major depression can lead to a range of behavioral and physical symptoms. These may include changes in sleep, appetite, energy level, concentration, daily behavior, or self-esteem. But there are steps to offset mental health consequences of the quarantine.
The Case of the Baldwins
Dr. Yael Baldwin, professor of psychology at Mars Hill University in Asheville, North Carolina, spoke to me about how she and her family are sidestepping the quarantine blues at every level: individually, as a family, and with loved ones and friends.
Baldwin’s shelter-in-place includes her husband, Dr. Matthew Baldwin, also a professor of philosophy at the same university, their middle school daughter and 10-year-old son, who are distance-learning. The husband-wife duo taught their college students online during the spring semester. Yael Baldwin said she’s someone who relishes going out to eat, travel, and adventures with friends, so the quarantine has been an adjustment for her and the entire family.
The strategies the Baldwins have put into place to adjust to the lockdown—individually, as a family, and with social connections — provide a model for all of us to sidestep the quarantine blues while maintaining productivity and work/life balance.
It’s important to start with making ourselves a priority with self-care. The trifecta of self-care is eating healthy, nutritious food, regular exercise, and ample sleep. The Baldwin family has hit the target in all three areas. One of the steps Yael Baldwin has taken is to put the oxygen mask on herself and stay in present-moment awareness with an exercise as simple as noticing the dappled light at the break of day. Plus, she added a daily meditation to her morning regimen which has paid off:
“As I sit in silence with mantras to guide me, I often experience a wave of sadness, frustration, or anger—all appropriate given the crisis. Then this shifts into more elevated positive sensations and feelings, which prepares me to face my stay-at-home day. I listen to podcasts by spiritual teachers while I do dishes and laundry, cook, and walk in the neighborhood. That wisdom reminds me that, while we don’t control our outer world, our inner world is ours to hold, and we only truly have the present moments.”
Family Play Time
Family fun time is an important ingredient to add to the mix of instant lifts. On describing her family time, Baldwin said, “We start our day with reading hour where the four of us sit in the living room and read. This never happened before. We go on a daily walk—rain or shine—for fresh air and a change in scenery. We play a lot of ping pong and board games and are doing a family puzzle. We’re trying new exercises, like how many uninterrupted jump ropes can you do on the trampoline? I’m up to 75; turns out it’s a lot easier to jump rope on a trampoline. We’re also cooking and baking as a family.
I’m hoping to make new habits during this time to carry into AQ (after quarantine). My intention is for patience, compassion, and kindness in these moments. To be sure, there are (many) moments of stress, anxiety, and fear—even yelling. We’re all working on this, and it’s helped to view this as a time to work on breaking free from harmful patterns towards helpful behaviors. We’ll see how we do. We may bicker, and then we’ll be kind to ourselves and each other when we mess up. There’s been a lot of sorry’s and hugging it outs. We’re learning forgiveness.”
It’s important to reach out to others who need you over social media, stay in touch with friends and loved ones, and volunteer to help when and where you can. The Baldwin family did a Zoom “Nailed It” competition in which other family members and friends baked a cake using a template to see who could best approximate the original. Baldwin said she takes time out to connect with close friends she trusts over social media and talk about her concerns and how she’s feeling.
It’s important to be mindful of the quality of your social connections. To avoid quarantine fatigue, it helps to take breaks from watching, listening, and reading about the pandemic. When you do catch up with news feeds, you can keep a balance by paying as much attention to the upbeat news wrapped around downbeat news. “Many people are going to catch COVID-19” becomes “Many people will contract the virus, and many people will get better, too.”
It’s important to focus on friends and neighbors in your own corner of the world to whom you can offer your help and to express gratitude as Baldwin is doing. “I also take time to be grateful for all we have, which is all we need, and to be thankful for all those on the front lines,” Baldwin said. “I hope we can soon be more helpful to more people. For now, we’re helping by staying home, staying sane, supporting local farms and vendors, and growing stronger together.”
What social scientists call attitude certainty—in which you choose your perspective instead of letting it choose you–can keep you calm and level-headed. Attitude certainty leads to endurance; whereas attitude uncertainty can lead to doubt and anxiety.
One way to cultivate attitude certainty is to look for the upside of your constrictions. Baldwin said the pandemic has brought her family closer together.
Your perspective can victimize you or empower you. When you distinguish between what you can control and what you can’t, it’s easier to develop attitude certainty and accept whatever is beyond control.
Other best practices are to extricate the “cans” from the “cannots,” find the opportunity in the difficulty and dwell on positive aspects of your life where you can make a difference. Consider the personal resources at your fingertips, instead of the limitations. Remind yourself how your resources provide an opportunity to learn about your strengths and positive qualities and put them into practice.
Amidst her worry and heightened concern, especially for those most at risk, Baldwin practices attitude certainty, allowing herself to enjoy what she calls “normal life put on pause.” Our thoughts about the pandemic lead to feelings and feelings lead to actions. It helps to focus on solutions, not the problem, as the Baldwins are doing. Step back from today’s challenge, look at the big picture, and brainstorm a wide range of options. Every time you’re feeling pessimistic or hopeless, put on your wide-angle lens, pull up the big picture, and see the situation in a broad context instead of from the narrow, “survive brain” lens that clouds out possibilities.