Updated: Apr 23
Right now there are a million mental health articles about ways to cope with the social isolation and world uncertainty we're facing... Some of them are fucking terrible. Being mindful isn't so easy when your News App is blowing up and you're contained to an indoor space. What can you REALLY do, day by day, to reduce your anxiety and trauma response in these wild times?
1) Get outside in the morning.
As soon as you wake up, go somewhere for exercise. Don't give yourself the opportunity to loll around in bed, thinking about how little structure you have in your day and losing motivation by the second. Don't get depressed before you even start your day. Don't overthink your expansive free time and get stalled up with indecision. Get up. Get dressed. Get in the car. Go somewhere and be active in nature. Right away. After 3 days of this, you won't be able to go back to your old way of wasting the morning hours staring at a phone screen.
Your brain will automatically be in a different mindset, just from breaking your routine and doing something nice for yourself. You'll return home with less physical energy, a clear head space, and "permission" to lay around like a piece of trash the rest of the day, if you so choose. Best of all, you'll start to change your sleep/wake habits for long-term success. Even after this thing blows over, you'll have a new fitness routine that has been ingrained as a habit.
2) Cut coffee.
This is a hard one for me, but I've gone there in the past few days. I'm used to having something next to me for sipping all day long, and black coffee is my beverage of choice. But, I realized that waking up and pumping my bloodstream full of go-juice wasn't conducive to sitting around, trying to be relaxed with little to do. "Where is all this antsy energy coming from and why can't I shake it?" Your endless travel mug of coffee isn't helping. Following normal world routines during dystopian breaks from life is incongruent.
Instead of making a full pot and nursing it from 7am-5pm, I've been having a few sips of day-old coffee in the morning to get myself up and started. After that, I might find myself making a new half-pot in the afternoon when my energy naturally starts dipping and have a few gulps. The rest stays in my travel mug and gets used the following morning for previously described get-up-sips. That's it. Lessening the chemical imbalance in my body, day by day.
If you can't switch from coffee to no coffee due to caffeine withdrawals... get some tea. It's an easy swap that will hold you over until your body adjusts. It will fill the desire for a hot, bitter beverage when you're just looking for some semblance of your usual routine.
3) Give yourself permission to add enrichment.
You know how animals develop stereotypic behaviors when they're trapped in cages all day? No? Okay, it's my Animal Science education talking. But zoo animals lose their minds when they're trapped in an artificial environment. They start doing weird things like pacing, tearing their hair out, and obsessively fucking with elements of their surroundings. That's when zoo employees add games and toys to the mix, which is called enrichment. Don't be like a bored zoo animal; add enrichment to your social isolation.
Even in these shitty financial times, you must invest in a few things to keep you occupied. It doesn't have to be expensive, and it doesn't have to be fruitless. Start with some basics, just so you always "have something to do," even when you have absolutely nothing to do.
a. Read. Get a best seller on Amazon for under $10. Lighten up and enjoy an easy summer novel. Take notes. Doodle in the margins. Encourage a friend to do the same thing. Talk about what you're reading, and make it into a group experience. OR join audible and buy a credit package deal. Get a bunch of audiobooks and keep your head filled with fictional tales while real life seems to be stalled.
b. Create, wildly. Art projects don't have to be expensive, you can start super simple. When's the last time you purchased a watercolor set or a coloring book? Do you have some ripped clothes that you've been meaning to darn? Maybe there's a medium that you haven't experimented with before? There are no rules and no one even has to see your creation. Just put on a podcast, play around with colors, and see how you feel. If you ask me, alcohol ink is currently my favorite medium for a peaceful creative flow. "What should I do next?" isn't such a scary question when you have a stockpile of craft supplies.
c. Improve your surroundings. How many times have you told yourself you'll "get to it later" in relation to a dank corner of your room or a busted piece of furniture? How often have you stared at photos of indoor plants and wished you had the green thumb? How regularly do you envy people with the whereabouts to have a successful vegetable garden all season long? Go do some of that. Buy some temporary wallpaper and give yourself an accent wall. Hang those shelves you bought a year ago. Get a new plant to brighten up your room or re-pot an old one to refresh his soil and style. Repaint a dresser with cheap chalk paint. Rearrange the wall hangings in your house. Reorganize your bathroom counter. Need more ideas? I've got em.
4) Get a relieving evening routine.
You know what sucks? Feeling like you're endlessly alone and bored. You know what's a lot better? Setting up some sort of structure, so you have a period of productivity in the day and the relief of a fun outlet at night. When you have something to look forward to, it truly lessens the weight of the rest of the day. There is end in sight. There is a pattern to the day. There are reasons to care about how you conduct yourself.
So, if you're in a situation where you have partial-socialization, like a partner, family member, or roommate, I recommend trying to start a new routine together at night. Make a big, healthy dinner. Go for a long walk at dusk. Work in the yard. Find documentary series to watch on Netflix. Start a puzzle. Get into board games. Play with the animals. Take long drives and listen to music. Make something together. Have coloring competitions. Pick up an indoor exercise routine. Sit in the same room and make fun of social media together. Get nerdy about something obscure, and dig deeper every day.
If you're unlucky enough to be totally isolated, find something that you unabashedly love and do that every night. Whatever your (healthiest) guilty pleasure is, imbue. Fuck it, the world is going to end soon anyways. Kidding. But, if you're obsessed with makeup tutorials, go practice your heart out. If you love chatting, get a nightly phone call scheduled every day of the week. If soaking in the tub is your cup of tea, buy some goddamn bubble bath. If you're a gamer at heart, invest in some new adventures. If you adore mindless celebrity bullshit, watch E to your hearts content. Get dirty, make yourself happy in whatever way you can. Normal standards don't apply, as long as you aren't using substances or animal mutilation for relief.
5) Ask yourself, what have I always been meaning to do?
So, it's hard to remember right now, but the world isn't actually ending. Some day we're all going to come out of our holes like a hibernating ground hog and take a look around. What will you see? Did you spend your social isolation getting soft, flabby, and covered in zits? Did you let your mental health slip into a dark hole again, just because you didn't have the normal life constructs that force you to "be better?"
OR did you take advantage of your free time and move the dial in an often-neglected realm of your life? Did you apply your mental energy to becoming the person you want to be? Did you journal? Get more fit? Improve your diet? Teach your dog new manners? Read a self-help book? Write a nice note to your distant friend? Tame those feral neighborhood cats? Started that novel you've always wanted to write? Taken that free online course on a topic that interested you?
There are so many ways to spend your time. Don't waste it feeling bad for yourself and creating a bigger challenge to clean up later. Don't dig yourself into a self-sabotage hole when you could utilize this mandatory vacation to become a more well-rounded human, improved and ready for the next years to come.
COVID-19 is going to be something we all remember, forever. You might as well make it memorable in a positive way. Take this experience, like any trauma, and turn it into a strength. You can remember the mandatory social isolation of 2020 as the time you took your first steps towards living a new life and accomplishing all the goals you procrastinated. Don't get depressed, get determined.
Holler if you need anything.