The call to practice social distancing can feel difficult when everyone around you looks and reports feeling normal. However, as the CDC and WHO have stated, staying home or limiting social interaction during this time is crucial. Over the next two weeks especially, as asymptomatic people are able to spread the virus without knowing it; staying home and limiting your social interactions could save lives. As difficult as it is, inviting friends over while it's unknown if they contracted the virus and unlikely they’d exhibit symptoms if within the first two weeks of exposure, is not a good idea. It is important to think about people 2-3 times removed from you and your social circle, like elderly family members and people with compromised immune systems who are trying hard to stay healthy.
The good news is that everyone is trying to figure out the best way to distance themselves socially from usual activities, and to find routine in schedules that have been completely upended. To normalize a time with so many concerns and unknowns, it's important to apply some of the same coping tools used to combat other life stressors and times of transition. Identify what you have control over and what you don’t, and don’t waste too much of your thinking in the latter.
Don’t abandon the usual ways you’ve been told to keep your body and mind healthy. Strive to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night, stay hydrated, and eat healthy, balanced meals. Maintaining your hygiene routine is a simple way you can maintain a sense of status quo.
Because you will be without the cadence of your usual work routine, it’s helpful to start your morning in the same way you would if you were leaving for the office. Get dressed, have breakfast, and then sit at your table or desk to draw up a to-do list for the day. Having a sense of direction and knowledge about how your day or week is going to look will help your productivity and sense of time. If your boss or team has not already implemented video or phone touch base meetings for each day, reach out and request this. It's a good way to stay connected on work projects/flow outside of slack messages and emails, and will help reinforce that how you’re feeling is shared by others.
While staying and working from home as a part of social distancing, limit your exposure to triggers that increase stress. For COVID-19 related stress this means setting limits on the amount of time you are reading on social media or listening to news about the virus. Removing such triggers gives your autonomic nervous system and your “flight or fight” stress response a break. Reducing stress and tension in the body allows you to focus your thinking and behaviors on ways to support yourself in maintaining a sense of calm. Another positive of disabling or ignoring social media and news sources while working, means you will be more productive and wrap up work earlier than expected.
Schedule some breaks in your work day by moving to the kitchen to eat lunch or by sitting outside to call and talk with a friend. If the weather is nice, take a walk around your neighborhood to admire the beginning of Spring and to get a change of scenery.
Remember to be kind to yourself. This is not your usual routine or a normal day, it’s okay to feel overwhelmed at times.
To help combat irritability, fatigue, stress, fear, loneliness and boredom that can arise outside of work from home time, here are some ways to practice successful social isolation.
● Tackle a home project you have been putting off. Been meaning to clean out and organize your closet? Want to start an herb garden or rearrange your books? Make a plan and execute it over a couple of days.
● Check out cookbooks and your favorite online chefs (Alison Roman anyone?) and meal plan for the week. Prep, make, and eat! Look for pantry essentials recipes that will use up what you already stocked up on. Some sites to get you started, Healthy-ish, Smitten Kitchen, and What’s Gaby Cooking
● Get back in touch with creative endeavours you started or “keep meaning to get back to” like journaling, blogging, drawing, coloring, or if you’re more ambitious, try your hand at jewelry making, painting, or other crafts you can learn from how-to videos online
● Read! Use your e-book reader to check out books from the library, or sanitize and trade books with a nearby friend
● Write a list of 3-5 things you’re grateful for or feel positive about each day. This can help redirect the tendency to focus on negative thinking during times of heightened stress
● Practice deep breathing, breathing in calm through your nose until your belly extends, and out stress through your mouth until you press all the air out of your diaphragm.
● Follow a guided meditation or progressive muscle relaxation script, engage in stretching or yoga
● Check out your free online workouts to do at home. Many workout companies are offering 1-month free during this time and You-Tube has free workout videos as well
● Build a playlist and share with your network, or just turn on a song and dance
● Write letters to your friends, or plan a care package to send someone. Sometimes helping others helps you feel that much better
● Plan Zoom, FaceTime, or Facebook messenger weekly group video call with friends or family and mix the calls up by playing a game or recapping a movie or show you all watched
● Teach someone over video something you love, be it a cocktail or cake recipe, a song, or how to knit
Reach out to a therapist if you feel unable to decrease your stress and anxiety. Talking and processing what you’re feeling can help you identify where you have control and how to best execute it.
Take care of yourself using these methods to remain productive and safe. Everyone will get through this together - apart.