Quarantine life has been called “the new normal” over the past couple of months. Although it may be “normal” in the sense that it’s become common, it is understandably not feeling at all normal to us in terms of our wellbeing: in fact, quarantine life can pose some very unique challenges. While I can’t take that stress away, as a clinical psychologist I can offer some practical tips to handle quarantine life from a cognitive, behavioral, and emotional perspective. Some of the tips I offer will be exercises or other behaviors you can try, and some of them will be just simple ideas on perspectives that may be helpful. Many of the ideas and exercises will actually be helpful to you even after quarantine, so take heart in knowing you’re increasing your proverbial toolbox in ways that will be useful even when COVID19 is a thing of the past, at least in terms of pandemic levels. If you’re open to ideas on personal growth, then you’ve come to the right place!
Let’s start by remembering that each person is in a slightly different situation, and each person has slightly different needs. This means that you may find some of the ideas here to be really helpful, and some of them not-- of course I encourage you to take what works for you and leave the rest. Take comfort in knowing that the act of viewing some options and choosing the best ideas for yourself is actually part of a healthy process of self-efficacy and self-care, where you are getting in touch with your own needs and deliberately choosing whatever techniques seem best for you. Without further ado, here are some tips to consider.
- Let yourself chill: Many of us feel a responsibility to use our quarantine time to tackle projects. If you feel revved up to do this, good for you! By all means do it. On the other hand, if you find yourself wanting to sleep more, sometimes just sit quietly and let yourself idle, or do other things that might seem less productive on the surface, give yourself some latitude-- you might actually be “doing” more than you realize. Quarantine life can stimulate us to think about big topics, consciously or unconsciously (things like our sense of connection to others, mortality fears for our parents, and financial issues, to name a few). When the mind is processing all these things “in the background”, plus adjusting to a big change in routine, it is normal and oftentimes HEALTHY to allow some time for your mind to settle itself without any pressure to jump into projects. In fact, many studies have shown that creativity often spikes just after a moment of boredom or mental idle time. While it can sometimes be good to push yourself to take the first step on projects since the first step is often the hardest, it can also be wise to listen to yourself if you feel a strong pull to just watch the proverbial paint dry for a bit.
- The Zone of Control: If you find your mind is brimming with concerns, a good first step is often to sort those concerns out into two major categories: The items you CAN control, and the items you CANNOT control. When our mind is full of concerns, we often feel a sense of anxiety-- remember that the HEALTHY function of anxiety is actually to stimulate preparatory behaviors. That’s why we can feel jittery or get some extra adrenaline, sweaty palms, or a restless feeling from anxiety.This might sound weird, but it can be helpful to frame the extra adrenaline and nerves we sometimes feel from anxiety as mother nature’s GIFT of extra energy to help us take healthy action around our stressors. That’s why it’s important not to waste the energy on things we can’t even control. For example, stressing yourself out regarding whether your parents will get COVID is mainly beyond your control so you might want to tell yourself compassionately to focus yourself instead on things you CAN control, such as giving them extra phone calls and nice notes in the mail to express your love for them. Another example would be stressing about when lockdown will end: We can’t control when lockdown will end, so stressing about that question can be counterproductive-- but we CAN control how we’ll spend our lockdown time, potentially building healthy routines including meditation or even a brief 5-minute burst of physical exercise every morning that will benefit us even after quarantine life is finally over! We can also control how we self-soothe the stress we feel about lockdown. Keep reading to learn more!
- Journal: Journaling is a super convenient way to pay attention to yourself. Many times, anxiety or other forms of mental stress are really craving attention-- and if we block them out or refuse to listen, the anxiety can fester or start intensifying so that it can grab your attention. Not listening to our feelings can also lead to feelings of numbness since we have disconnected from ourselves. The good news is that journaling will often help restore your connection with yourself, or allow you to build on your connection in a positive way. Many psychologists believe that part of the reason humans evolved into such intelligent beings with such sophisticated societies is because we have the gift of language, which allows us to observe and develop our thoughts. A good way to take advantage of this gift is to journal. If you find yourself feeling blank, just challenge yourself to fill up a half-page every day, even if it’s simply you writing down that you don’t know what to say-- that in itself is actually part of you getting in touch with yourself and putting your experience into words. If journaling stirs up some heavy or uncomfortable feelings, please thank yourself for journaling to get clarity on them-- remember that journaling did not CREATE these feelings, it just helped you see what they are so that you can potentially talk to a trusted person and get support with what you’re feeling. Oftentimes, the simple act of sharing with another person helps to increase comfort levels because it’s a behavioral signal to yourself that you’re not shouldering the challenge totally alone, and sometimes it even sparks creative discussion around how to handle the feelings or challenges Speaking of support:
- Lean on others-- it will help them too!: Many people are hesitant to call a friend or family member and ask to talk about challenges they’re having, because they’re afraid it will be a burden. You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that actually, psychology studies show that asking others for support tends to make people feel special and valued, because you are recognizing them as an intelligent and sensitive person. So, if you try the Zone of Control exercise above and discover that you’re overwhelmed with things you can’t control, or if you journal and get in touch with some difficult feelings, consider asking a trusted friend, family member, or therapist to review the material with you. You may be surprised to see that adding a fresh perspective helps bring new ideas to manage challenges-- or even just experiencing a supportive conversation where you see clearly that you’re not alone can be extremely helpful.
Conclusion: The stressors we encounter in life are much less important than how we handle them. This is why some people who have extreme challenges of third-world poverty or terminal illness are somehow still able to find happiness and joy; while others who have endless resources may struggle to find happiness. The key takeaway here is that although COVID19 and quarantine life are tremendously challenging, our coping strategies are a huge part of what will shape how much these stressors actually impact us emotionally. So, please do yourself a favor and make sure you are getting lots of support. In fact, I hosted a livestream event with more of my favorite coping strategies, I hope you will click here to watch!