This article is published on Goodtherapy.org
To govern your own day is often a much better use of psychic energy than to focus on a global event over which we may have little power. Putting your attention and effort into what you can control can be an excellent antidote to fend off and prevent feelings of stress, anxiety, panic, and depression. When we live each day with a plan, we bring the power back into our own hands.
Planning and managing your day can be a crucial ingredient to becoming a productive and happy individual. Creating and living a meaningful day may also lead to feeling good about yourself. Your confidence will likely lead to positive thoughts and feelings about others. This positivity will help you maintain better physical health and may be contagious to others. In today’s often difficult world, you can help yourself, family, friends, and community by following some the guidelines highlighted below.
4 Ways to Cope with Stress Related to COVID-19
Let’s look at some of the ways you can make an appreciative difference in your life and, by extension, make a positive impact in others’ lives.
1. Stick to a schedule as much as possible.
Especially during times of crisis when we have no control over extraordinary circumstances, mapping out and executing a plan for your day is critical. Creating a structure for your day can give you the opportunity to gain control in your life at a time when you might feel otherwise.
Structure your day as closely as possible to the way your day played out prior to the pandemic. Make sure you wake and sleep at the same time, as well as eat and take breaks at scheduled times, as best you can.
It is important to include start and end times for all activities that make up your day. Spending as little as 15 minutes daily on lower priority or overwhelming activities may be enough to make a huge difference in your feeling grounded and more comfortable during these uncertain times.
To benefit fully from a mindfully-planned day, add as many of the following activities to your daily calendar as makes sense. For example, you may not schedule your job in every day, but you it’s likely you will benefit from “me time” activities daily:
- Work. If you are working from home, don’t let your work hours extend past the time you would normally work. Keep the same start and end times, and attempt to stick to this rule as stringently as you can. Carve out a spot in your home that will function as your work space, even if it is the corner of your dining table. Don’t worry about the mess-only the people living in your home will see this. Besides, we are all in the same boat. We all understand.
- Physical movement. Any kind of movement will do. Dancing. Shaking tension out of your body with comedic arm and leg flailings. Walking. Biking. Jumping jacks. Squats. Stair climbing. Yoga. Calisthenics. You get the idea: just move for at least 15 minutes every day.
- Meal prep. Make sure you keep your home stocked with healthy foods as best you can. Focus on fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, healthy fats (olives, olive oil, avocado, nuts, nut butter), protein (dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, beans, tofu), and whole grain products. Limit added sugar and processed foods. Whenever possible, portion out the healthy fats and protein ahead of time so you keep your calories and fat/saturated fat grams within the prescribed level.
- Upkeep of your home. Picking up. Straightening up. Cleaning. Laundry. Shopping. Cooking. Keep these to a minimum if you are overwhelmed or unmotivated. For example, if you’re not into straightening, up you can schedule in 15 minutes each day to focus on one room or small area only. This continual aim of 15 minutes daily will help you with housekeeping maintenance and can make a significant dent if you have a longstanding clutter problem.
- Caring for family members. If you are caring for children, adults, or pets in your household, setting a strict schedule may be difficult. Set up a schedule as best you can around major tasks, such as meals, bathing, playtime, medication time, etc. As a second step, be kind to yourself and build flexibility into your daily schedule so that priority is given to the people and situations in your charge. If other tasks for the day do not get done the way that you expected, then so be it. Encourage yourself to feel good about doing what you can. Allow yourself to not be perfect in all your roles. Set yourself up to feel good about how you organized your day and how you met challenges throughout. Recognize that being perfect is never possible, and that during this time of “shelter-in-place,” your time is likely in even higher demand with competing responsibilities. Allow yourself to move through your day free from guilt and full of grace and gratitude.
- “Me” time. This daily component should never be glossed over. If you are thinking that you do not have enough time to spend with yourself, then think again. A minimum of 15 to 30 minutes daily will allow you to regroup, revitalize, increase your joy, and be more efficient at taking care of your other daily items. Ideally this would be time you spend alone. The list of possibilities is endless. Take a bath. Read a book. Watch a movie. Meditate. Do yoga. Close your eyes while sitting or lying comfortably. Pay attention to the sounds of nature outside your window. Listen to calming music. Research something that is interesting to you just for the fun of it. Immerse yourself in a project that has nothing to do with work or family, one that is just for you.
- Connect with others, including virtual visits. Play games with children. Paint your nails with your teen. Cook alongside your spouse or partner. Engage in a phone or video call with a friend or family member. Play a game online with someone who is not in your home.
- Limit exposure to the news. It is important to keep up-to-date with the ever-evolving information about the pandemic. We do need to check in every day to make sure we are aware of new protocols, warnings, and good news about COVID-19. However, spending too much time focusing on the news can often lead to increased anxiety and depression. It’s important to get the minimum needed information for the day and not to delve too deeply into individual stories. Pick a time of the day to view the news, and put it in your daily schedule. Make sure you do not choose the evening or night, as this may adversely affect your sleep. Use a start and end time that allows for no more than 30 minutes daily of reading, viewing, and listening to the news.
Plan your schedule one day at a time. Remember to include start and end times. Take time tonight to plan out your day for tomorrow. This will increase the likelihood that you will follow through with your planned activities as you begin your day with ambition and a road map.
At the end of each day, in addition to planning for the following day, tally up how many activities you achieved earlier in the day. Feel good about the chores, goals, tasks, or activities that you completed, even if partially.
2. Stay away from substance use (this includes keeping sugar intake low).
Keep caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and other substance use to a minimum, or cut these out completely. Eat sugar at a minimum, as well. The key is not to consume these in a larger amount than you did prior to this time. After this crisis has passed, you do not want to be worse off than you were prior to the pandemic.
3. Make this time in (y)our history count.
Look forward to the time when this is all over. Reframe your thinking about our world’s present circumstance as an opportunity to enrich your life. Take up a new hobby or dust off an old one. Learn a language online. Learn a new skill or dabble in the arts. Learn how to play or excel at chess. Play a musical instrument. Write poetry or a novel. Teach yourself how to cook. Volunteer. Write letters or make phone calls to senior family members or community members. Ask your local religious institution, community center, or medical center if you could be of assistance in a virtual manner. Enjoy time with your family under your roof. There is a ton of stuff you can do to make this time count. You can weather this complicated time well and come out the other end a happier and more confident person.
4. Remind yourself that any prior emotional challenges may be intensified.
Don’t be surprised and try not to catastrophize heightened emotions. If you had been arguing with your spouse or partner prior to the coronavirus outbreak and now you’re both home 24/7 together, don’t be surprised if the arguments increase in frequency. Challenged with your child’s behavior? It will be no big reveal if their behavior escalates. Also be aware that your child’s behavior may even remain the same, but you may have less patience and perceive the behavior as worse. Have you been battling depression or the blues? It’s likely that staying home, whether you live alone or with others, will increase feelings of depression. Many of us will feel an increase of anxiety to a significant degree during this unusual time. If you’ve been grappling with anxiety already, the pandemic will likely amplify your stressed and anxious feelings and behaviors.
- Remember to be kind to yourself. Be mindful that you may experience more stress. At the same time, practice not judging yourself or your loved ones during this unprecedented time. This combination of focused thinking will help keep your negative mood and behaviors at bay. Remind yourself that although we do not know exactly when this will end, there will be an end to it. Consistently tell yourself that this unusual time will not last forever. In addition, look for beauty and gratitude in as many moments as you can during this short-lived time in our history. This new way of thinking can help settle your jitters and smooth over conflicts at home.
- Stay in regular contact with your therapist and/or psychiatrist. If you don’t have a mental health professional to speak with, now is a good time to reach out and schedule a first appointment. Therapists and psychiatrists are offering sessions by phone and video more than ever due to the pandemic. Accessing mental health services has never been easier than now.
Be well. Be healthy. Take comfort in the fact that every single person in the world is experiencing this global stressor. You may be socially isolated, but know that you are not alone.