Preserving your sanity during the coronavirus lockdown poses a challenge for many people. Staying inside for a prolonged amount of time can take a toll on your mental health. And why wouldn’t it? It has all the ingredients for that:
- Social isolation and lack of person-to-person interaction
- Loss of structure and routine
- Lack of exercise, sunshine, and basic necessities
- High levels of uncertainty about the present and future
- Access to doom-and-gloom news feeds and lots of time to read them
I could go on but you get the picture. If you want to get through this and come out on the other side, you will need to find ways to face these challenges head-on. Especially since this situation will continue in one way or another, possibly up to two years.
To make things easier on yourself, here are some tips based on research to stave off the worst of the lockdown blues.
1. Limit News Consumption
Depression and anxiety often appear and worsen when we feel out of control. The more you try to control things that are outside of your control, the more powerless you feel. A global pandemic definitely qualifies as something you can not control personally.
What you can control, however, is how much you expose yourself to it. Therefore, in order to preserve your mental faculties, it’s a good idea to limit your news consumption.
Staying on top of the 24/7-news cycle will likely only amplify and worsen the notion of doom and gloom, which isn’t helpful. Therefore, you are better off investing your time into other activities.
At the same time, of course, it’s important to stay informed. However, when you do get your news fix, make sure to use sources such as the WHO, CDC, or local institutions in your country. Reliable news outlets are also an option.
However, stay away from Facebook, social media, and media that specializes in sensationalist headlines. Consuming these will easily make things worse.
2. Build Yourself a Structure
One of the biggest challenges of having your world upended by a global crisis is that all structure goes out the window. All of a sudden, you are no longer allowed to go to work (or, God forbid, have lost your job), schools are closed as are gyms, restaurants, movie theaters, and all other public places.
In short, everyday life no longer exists and the routine you usually adhere to has been obliterated. Therefore, in order to minimize the impact of this change on your mental health, there is only one thing to do: build your own routine.
This doesn’t have to be crazy planned out, just enough to make you feel like a productive human being who has their stuff together, like:
- Set yourself a bed and wake-up time
- Define work hours
- Set up a cleaning schedule to keep your living quarters in order
- Pencil in time for self-care (more on that below)
- Plan meals and other must-do tasks
Just having a time to get up and go to sleep can make a huge difference. In addition, it can help to adhere to other rituals you do in everyday life such as putting on your normal clothes. Trust me, it makes a difference whether you are wearing khakis and a button-down shirt or sweatpants and a raggedy pullover. See also our tips for working from home.
3. Set Some Goals
You probably know the saying “idle hands are the devil’s workshop”. If you have nothing to do, chances are higher that you will spend the time worrying and thinking anxious thoughts.
That’s why it’s common advice for anxious people to find ways to distract themselves. Setting goals for yourself is a good way to do that.
For example, you may set out to improve your skills through an online course, learn a language (I recommend Duolingo for that), pick up an instrument, or another creative endeavor. Simply working on a challenging puzzle, drawing, knitting, or doing some long-overdue cleaning projects are also good ways to keep busy.
Better yet, occupy yourself with things that create a sense of meaning. Doing meaningful activities has been shown to improve your quality of life and stave off depression. It’s no wonder we see so many examples of people who started collecting money or food for healthcare workers or try to help out their community in other ways, like printing face shields:
Yet, at the same time, keep in mind that this is a difficult situation. So, don’t go overboard. It’s ok to set the bar low. In the beginning, it’s better to set small goals that you actually achieve than going full hog on major life revamps that you will quit.
4. Get Physically Active
To that end, you can find so many video instructions for working out at home on YouTube.
If lifting isn’t your thing, search for yoga routines. Running is also an option, whether on a treadmill or outside. Just taking a walk around the block can also make a difference.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t spend all your time sitting around and being sedative. This is a recipe for low mood, depression, and feeling unwell in general.
5. Socialize (Remotely)
Something that can really suffer during lockdown is your personal relationships. By definition, if you isolate yourself, you easily feel lonely.
However, loneliness and social isolation are no joke. According to research, they can lead to “depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function, and impaired immunity”.
In fact, lack of social connection heightens health risks as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol use disorder. It even negatively influences your genes, causing inflammation, and lowered immune response.
So, you better take it seriously.
Since you don’t really have the opportunity to see anybody (except for the people you are living with), it’s time to find other ways to get your social fix. Thankfully, technology provides us with many ways for it:
The only thing is: you need to take initiative. If pre-Corona, you found yourself thinking “Oh, I should get in touch with so-and-so” – well, now is the time to give so-and-so a ring.
Also, see if you can move any of the activities you usually do online. Did you used to hang out with a certain group of friends for drinks once a week? Well, why don’t you just do that over camera? Same for card games (there are often online versions) and other social activities.
While virtual contact might not be as good as in person, it’s much better than no contact at all.
6. Get Some Sunlight
Another problem that the lockdown exacerbates is the lack of natural light. You might not be aware of it, but exposure to light has a great many effects on the human body.
For example, if you have trouble sleeping, going outside is a good way to help reset your internal clock and your circadian rhythm. You actually have little sensors in your eyes that use the sunlight outside to determine what time of day it is and regulate your sleep cycle.
In addition, when sunlight hits your skin, your body produces vitamin D, which has many benefits. Among them are improved immune function and reducing symptoms of depression.
Being outside also helps to remind you that there is still a world out there and it’s not just your apartment and the TV or browser full of bad news.
7. Practice Self-Care
Even though it has been going on for a while, you need to remind yourself that the situation we are in is extraordinary. Therefore, it’s normal to feel aggravated by it and find yourself struggling. That’s part of it.
However, in situations like this, it’s especially important to take extra care of yourself and actively try to fulfill your needs.
One good step is to keep up your personal hygiene. Shower, shave, put on proper clothes – do whatever you need to do to feel “normal”. In addition, keep your place tidy and try to surround yourself with positive input like podcasts, motivating videos, inspiring movies, books, etc.
8. Give Back
As already mentioned, one of the best ways to feel good about yourself is to do things for others. It can give you a feeling of fulfillment and helps take your mind off your own struggle.
Plus, there is a lot of opportunity for giving back. For example, you can reach out to elderly neighbors or relatives to see if they need support with grocery shopping or other tasks.
Giving back can also be as simple as donating to organizations that help others during the crisis, buying gift cards from struggling restaurants, or ordering more takeout. Feeling like you make a difference is a great way to break the cycle of powerlessness.
9. Plan Ahead
While you might feel like the coronavirus lockdown will never end, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We just don’t know when exactly we will see it.
If you feel stuck, it might be a good idea to start making some future plans, even if you don’t know when you will be able to put them into action:
- Make a list of all the things you wish you could do, so you can work through it once lockdown is over
- Plan an event with family and friends for post-quarantine time
Setting future goals and preparing for them can be a great way to cultivate a more positive outlook.
How Do You Stay Sane During the Lockdown?
Staying sane during the coronavirus lockdown and resulting in social isolation is a challenge millions of people face at the moment. It’s understandable if you find it difficult to deal with.
Above, we have gone over some effective measures to protect your mental outlook during this trying time. Let’s summarize them once more:
- Limit your exposure to the news cycle
- Create a structure and routines
- Set yourself goals
- Be physically active
- Find ways to socialize
- Expose yourself to natural light
- Invest in caring for yourself
- Find ways to contribute and give back
- Make future plans
Of course, if you have anything else to add that works well for you, we would like to hear it in the comments section.
What do you do to deal with social isolation during shelter-in-place? Anything you can recommend to the rest of us? Please share in the comments!