As many of us are being told to hunker down in our apartments and houses, limit trips outside and social contact, things are feeling pretty “real” at this point. Aside from the general worry people may have about their physical health as they digest the news from around the world and here at home, there’s the larger toll this is taking on our collective mental health.
One of the main weapons we have to fight the virus is social distancing—a deeply unnatural practice for humans, but an essential one.
Here are some of the mental health practices to make sure to keep doing—or begin doing, for some of us—during the lockdown period.
- Have a routine (as much as you can)
We know how important routine is, especially for kids, under normal conditions. And when schools are closed and many people are working from home or told to stay at home, it might feel like all bets are off. But it’s actually much better for everyone’s mental health to try to keep a routine going, as much as possible.
Another reason is that keeping a routine reduces “decision fatigue,” the overwhelm and exhaustion that can come from too many options. So in the morning, rather than wondering whether to start work or help the kids with their online learning, it’s better to know what you’re going to do—make a schedule that everyone can get on board with, and try to stick with it (as much as is possible—don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t always work, and it’s sure not to work some days). This will free up some mental bandwidth during this time of uncertainty, which is already straining everyone’s cognitive capacities.
- Start an at-home exercise routine
Working out at home in these times is obviously a good way to stay healthy and kill indoor time.
There are lots of options, from Peloton and MIRROR to the old-fashioned ones, workout videos, skipping ropes and hand weights. Anything works that gets your heart pumping.
- Get outside—in nature—if you can
This is much easier in the country or suburbs, but if you’re in the city and it’s feasible, go for a walk in the park. Remember to stay six feet away from other people, social distancing! Not easy, but possible.
Lots of recent researches find that spending time in nature is a boon to both mental and physical health. For instance, multiple studies have found that time in green and blue space is associated with reduced anxiety and depression, and the connection may well be a causal one.
In fact, you can kill two birds with one stone: you exercise (walking, running) and get some fresh air. The air quality is so much better now, that there’s hardly any cars on the roads.
- Declutter your home
Working on your home if you have time can be a good way to feel productive and in control It is proven, that cleaning not only offers a sense of control, but it also reduces stress
Make sure you don’t become obsessive though. You can also use this extra time, if you have it, to reorganize and toss or donate items you no longer use is a very good idea.
- Meditate, or just breathe
Meditation has lots of research behind it, it has been proven to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and even increase the volume of certain areas of the brain. TRY THIS MEDITATION, I have made specifically for this pandemic times to help you ground yourself.
If meditation isn’t for you, just breathing slowly might be. Controlled breathing has been used for millennia to calm the mind.
Trying some controlled breathing work may be an especially healthy idea these days.
- Maintain community and social connection
We’re fundamentally social creatures, and during crises it’s natural to want to gather.
Social connectivity is, perhaps, the greatest determinant of wellbeing there is, and one of our most basic psychological needs. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite of what we can do right now, so we have to be creative, to maintain both psychological closeness and a sense of community.
Texting and social media are ok, but picking up the phone and talking or videoconferencing, or having a safe-distance conversation on the street, will probably feel much better.
- Be of service, from a distance
Being of service is one of the best things we can do for society—and on a more selfish note, for ourselves. Studies have repeatedly found that serving others, even via small acts of kindness, has strong and immediate mental health benefits.
Join organizing efforts to help neighbors in need of food or supplies, buying gift certificates to local business, ordering takeout from neighborhood restaurants, and helping fundraise locally can help the financial fallout that’s happening all over the country.
- Practice gratitude
This is not the easiest thing to do in these times, particularly if you’ve felt the more brutal effects of the pandemic, like job or business loss, or illness. But practicing gratitude for the things we do have has been proven countlessly to be hugely beneficial to mental health.
So even though it might be a challenge right now, write down some of the things you’re grateful for; or if you have little kids and it’s easier, try talking about and listing aloud things that make you happy and that you’re thankful for.
- Let yourself off the hook
The might be the most important thing to keep in mind—don’t beat yourself up when things are not going perfectly in your household.
On top of everything else, being upset with yourself is totally counterproductive.
If the kids watch too much Netflix or play too many hours of video games, it’s not the end of the world. If you can’t stick to your schedule it’s ok! No big deal. It’s much more valuable to everyone to cut yourself some slack, use the time to reflect on the important things, and try to keep a sense of “we’re all in this together” at the forefront.