So here we are, all of us stuck at home. Self-quarantining, or at least self-isolating. No going to the gym, the movies, the restaurant. No quick stop at the bar to have a few pops.
No more work at the office. No meetings, or water cooler gossip. No lunches with friends. No handshakes with clients, hugs with patients or shared computer screens with colleagues.
We are apart.
We are at home.
And mostly, we are really anxious.
Not only are we faced with the worst global pandemic in over a hundred years, but we are also in the grip of a whole new social order. Most of us have lost the routines that have shaped and defined us for years. We have lost our sense of order and our sense of accomplishment.
In the old world, we did our jobs during work time, and we enjoyed our leisure during rest time. All of it was social. All of it was understandable.
But what does it mean to a working professional when suddenly he is expected to continue working when there is no set daily schedule? What does it mean to a family when the kids aren’t going to school, Mom and Dad are stuck in the house trying to order online and stay in touch with friends, and nobody has a clue when any of this will end?
For me, being at home, with no interactions all day other than the brief moments when my therapist husband emerges from his office video calls, the unstructured time is incredibly stressful.
The loss of expectations makes me feel as if I’m useless. How can I feel good about anything I’ve done, when there were no demands anyway? The truth is, for this child-care provider on hiatus, there is nothing keeping me from sleeping all day. There is nobody who needs me for anything. I could live in pajamas, eat potato chips out of a bag, and watch TV from dawn to dusk.
But I would feel horrible about myself if I did that. Useless, pointless, depressed, anxious, and generally crappy.
So here are some things I’ve learned to do to help me to get through this strange time. None of this is rocket science, but it is the result of many years with summers off and a passing acquaintance with anxiety.
I hope this helps you.
1. Make a list
I learned this simple trick years ago when I was just out of graduate school. I had a cranky, demanding, yet insightful boss who taught me about “the List”. Every evening, before I go to bed during this crazy time, I write down a list of things that need to be done the next day.
But here’s the key: I always start the list with a couple of things that I’d definitely do even without “the List.” Things like: Make the bed.
OK, I’ve been making my bed for about 60 years. But I put it on my daily list because when I walk into the kitchen in the morning, with my sense of doom wrapped around my shoulders, I can check off my first item while my coffee is still dripping.
You get it?
For me, the list always includes a few household chores (laundry, wash floor), a few personal items (practice violin, foot exercises) and a couple of creative or work-oriented items (write “list” article for medium).
By having things to cross off my list, I help to keep myself calm. I help myself to feel productive.
2. Get outside.
This seems so obvious. Like, seriously. We all know this, right? Nature, fresh air, blah, blah.
But if we don’t make a plan, and promise ourselves that we will step outside every single day, its just way too easy to sit on the couch with the clicker and the Oreos. I am lucky because I have two young dogs. They are sweet enough to allow me to miss a couple of days of dog walking, but they DO need their exercise.
They’re my prompt to get out and move a little. Breathe some actual clean air. I can’t begin to describe how my mood is lifted every time I force myself up and out there with Lennie and Bentley.
3. Treat Yourself
Folks, this is no time to be on the kale and grapefruit diet, OK? You need to have a sense of pleasure when so much out there seems dire.
If you’re a cook, whip up something a little decadent. I’ve been baking a lot. Brownies, black bread, cookies. Making them feels good, but eating them feels even better.
You’re living through a freakin’ global pandemic! You deserve a bowl of ice cream.
Or that expensive skin cream that you saw on Amazon. Or a cozy blanket on Etsy.
Or a drink. Or a movie marathon. Or two hours in the tub with bubbles.
Whatever it is; give it to yourself. You’re not out there infecting people, are you? That makes you an international hero.
Indulge yourself. You’re worth it.
4. Learn something
OK, let’s be real here. I’m in my mid-sixties. I’m not going to try to learn how to water ski at this point.
But I know that feeling stuck, feeling a loss of forward momentum, contributes to anxiety and depression.
So learn something new.
It can be a new recipe or learning a bit of a new language. That water color painting that you always thought you’d be good at? Yep, now is the time to try it!
We are so lucky to live in the age of YouTube. You can literally teach yourself to knit a hat while making your own sauerkraut and singing in Swahili. Just YouTube it.
But learn. Stretch. Do something that lets you look in the mirror as you brush your teeth and say, “Damn. I’m good.”
Nothing in this life is more important than laughing. Science tells us that laughter boosts the immune system, creates good neurochemicals and makes us feel better.
Laughing when it seems like the end of days is an essential activity.
So dig out those stupid old videotapes. Binge watch “I Love Lucy” or “Soap.” Go on Amazon and rewatch “Blazing Saddles.”
Listen to raunchy comedy on the Comedy Channel of Sirius XM. Or Facetime your little brother and retell the story of the time you set Mom’s curlers on fire.
Just laugh. Laugh out loud.
In the end, we are all sharing an amazing, historical experience. We’ll have stories to tell for generations to come.
Let’s not throw in the towel or let ourselves be overtaken by our fear and angst. Let’s work together, share our cookie recipes and our best jokes. And let’s keep going.
Meet you on the other side, OK?