At this point you’ve been inside for at least a week or two (perhaps more), and it’s starting to take a toll. You’ve binged watched Netflix’s Tiger King, you’ve surfed social media, and you’ve eaten tons of snacks, but now what?
Millions of people worldwide are confronting a new and unforeseen challenge, how to do their part for global health by staying inside. This is not as dramatic as fighting on the front lines, but it has its own dangers.
Like most of you, I thrive on being out in the mix. I love attending colorful parties, dining with rambunctious friends, and strolling around my neighborhood for an iced coffee. With this off the table, I have taken a step back to think out ways I can re-engineer my lifestyle and explore new ways of finding balance. At first I was lazy, and suffered from a bit of low mood. Then I told myself to get up and make some new plans to resist falling into a pit of despair.
For the last couple weeks I have been experimenting with a few things that help me stay happy, sane, and safe. This’s a work in progress but my hope is to find the silver lining in these uncertain times.
I talked about this in my recent post about working from home, but for me it’s crucial to build a schedule. In times like these it’s easy to get lost in a perpetual groundhogs day, one amorphous blob of time following another. Lacking a schedule can impact your weight through mindless eating, you productivity (there is always tomorrow), and your sense of self worth. With no work or social commitments, you have to find structure for yourself.
Wake up when you would normally and set specific times for specific tasks. If you’re working remotely, follow your regular business hours. If you’re not working or a freelancer, schedule times for things like exercise, reading, and meditation. Giving activities a specific time slot helps actually accomplish them and the catharsis of small achievements goes a long way to protecting mental health.
According the Mayo Clinic exercise is one the top ways to combat anxiety and depression. Recent studies have show that exercise is more effective than medication for many people struggling with their mood. You don’t need to feel depressed to see the benefits of exercise because it can makes even happy people happier.
Regular exercise releases endorphins, giving your body a natural high. Beyond the immediate chemical reaction, working out can boost your sense of self esteem. This is especially important when you’ve been alone in sweat pants for weeks. Feeling good about yourself is a top priority.
There are so many ways to work out at home it’s hard to know where to begin. I found the p90x system online and that has given me great results (love the structure). If you’re missing your spin class, an exercise bike is a great option. At the very least just get a set of light weights, I find resistance exercise is a great form of stress relief.
There is no right or wrong answer and no pressure to do more than you’re capable of. Ten squats and a couple jumping jacks is already a million times better than just sitting on the sofa. The important thing is to take small steps and congratulate yourself for trying.
This is hard but necessary. It’s easy to slip into waves of passive entertainment, but do your best to resist that temptation. Blogging is not only a part of my career, but also a way to express myself. There are probably tons of ideas flying through your mind and now is a great time to get them out. I touch on journaling in my post about happiness rituals and think it can help a lot.
If this means picking up the guitar, do it! If it means making a new meal, do it! If this means sketching in a fun notebook, don’t let anything stop you. I’ve found tons of Art Therapy Activities on Pinterest I am excited to start.
The great thing about the modern world is there are tons of resources to learn new skills. I recommend Pluralsight as a way to master all those digital creative skills you wish you had (And to edit the pics you took with your new camera). YouTube is also full of content creators explaining all sorts of skills. Don’t look at this as down time, this is a chance to expand your skill set.
If you’re more of a book worm, Yale University is offering a a course on The Science of Well Being for free.
Now is the time to get through that stack of books sitting on the shelf. Over the years it’s easy to tell yourself that you don’t have time (despite an embarrassing amount of Netflix) but now that excuse is out the window.
I recommend reading a real book. While there are tons of options from Kindle to Audible, there is something soothing about holding real paper in your hands. It’s great to read without the endless temptations and distractions that the internet offers. Also, there’s nothing more satisfying the finishing the last page of a long read.
Right now I’m reading about the past to take my mind off the present. I recommend Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. While this book is set in the 30s, any modern urbanite (or New Yorker) will identify with the characters. Proof that nothing really changes.
Put down the ice cream and frozen pizza, this is not time to over indulge. Without social occasions and dates coming up, it is easy to let you waistline expand, but you’ll regret it later. Use your free time to learn how to cook some tasty healthy meals. This will help you feel good and accomplished, hopefully you won’t miss your favorite restaurants as much.
I like to try new cuisines and right now I am on a Vietnamese kick. I have also tried to make my own hummus and my own pita, not everything has been perfect but I get joy simply from the act of cooking. Finding balance in my day means setting time for a nutritious meal and the bonus of getting away from screens makes it worth it.
We’re governed by circadian rhythms, our body’s clock that regulates functions including sleep/wake cycles and mood. Because our bodies are focused on a light, a little sunshine and can do wonders for you overall well being. It will make you happier and help you maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
I realize that in a world of stay at home orders this is easier said than done. If you can, go out for a few minutes to an uncrowded park to get a bit of sun. Otherwise try and sit and work next to a bright window. It’s surprising how much a little light can help.
You can also try a light box. A Harvard Medical School study shows light boxes that produce light intensities of more than 2,500 lux work can have a positive impact on mood. (a cloudy winter day provides around 4,000 lux and a sunny day provides 50,000– 100,000 lux).
The article recommends that you use the light box early when you wake up, with a fluorescent white light box of 10,000 lux without ultraviolet wavelengths. Position it 12-18 inches from your face for around 30 minutes, keep your eyes open but don’t look directly into the light. This is a great life hack when cooped up inside.
Stuck inside, especially if you live alone and in a city far from family, can make it very difficult to get your social fix. It can be hard when life revolves around the office and happy hour. Socializing increases feelings of well-being and decreases feelings of depression. Research shows that it’s the best known way to improve your mood and may even lower your risk of dementia.
While you can’t go out and talk to friends and family, you can still connect with them digitally. Invite friends to virtual dinner and drinks. Schedule a time, pour a drink, and chat like you would if they were in the room. With Face Time, Google hangout, and Zoom it has never been easier. Face to face connection will help you cope with the loneliness of this crisis.
Make sure you schedule time finding balance between friends and family. I have planned weekly happy hours with friends on Friday afternoons to keep in touch. We all find it a wonderful way to keep connected.
It’s easy to beat yourself up. Just remember if you’re feeling lazy and lonely you’re not alone. Literally billions of people around the world are trapped inside feeling just like you. The worst thing you can do is set unrealistic expectations and feel guilty about not reaching them.
Taking these little steps to finding balance I guarantee will make you feel better. The above recommendations are what work for me and I think they can help others. If it’s not for you then no sweat. Give yourself permission to what’s great about yourself and not look for the flaws.
If we accept our limitations and practice self love, I really believe this can be a time for personal growth. Being stuck inside can help us realize what really matters, like family friends, and health.
Stay healthy friends!
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