Staying Sane in the Coronavirus Pandemic
What’s your pandemic sanity strategy? Have you intentionally created some kind of plan to nurture your mental health in this time? Or are you winging it and hoping for the best?
None of us could have imagined the situation we currently find ourselves in. And while you may have accepted the reality of the Covid-19 pandemic on one level, you might be experiencing some feelings of “unreality” from time to time.
This will be especially true if you are in a lockdown situation (hi Victorians – hang in there), if you are separated from loved ones (like many of our expat guests are), or you’re feeling a serious financial impact from all the recent changes.
The Importance of a Pandemic Sanity Plan
Not only are many of us feeling the tangible and practical impact of the virus pandemic (lockdowns, restrictions, finances), there is also the very real impact of uncertainty. Knowing so little about Covid-19 and what the future looks like is a big part of the reason that mental health support services have seen a significant increase in demand.
So, how to navigate these times?
I have put together a list of 12 tips for maintaining pandemic sanity during a crazy time that has no discernible end.
1. Clean Thyself!
Even though you may not be leaving the house much (or at all), please make your daily ablutions a non-negotiable.
Put on the deodorant, take care of that skin, and DEFINITELY brush those teeth.
Not only does bathing constitute a necessary part of functional, healthy living, it FEELS GOOD too. Even when you are feeling BLAH, drag yourself to the bathroom and cleanse yourself – you are sure to feel way better afterwards.
2. Get Dressed!
If you are working from home, or going about your usual day, be sure to get into some “real clothes”.
What are real clothes?
Something that you would leave the house in. CLEAN clothes that you wouldn’t be embarrassed to answer your front door in.
Why does it matter what I wear?
Just as we feel more confident when we are dressed in our favourite outfit, we feel more positive when we are wearing something that smells fresh.
Yes, you heard me. Get moving. In the house or out of the house (preferably – if you can).
Movement (especially high-intensity exercise) is mindful. When we are mindful, we are connected to our physical selves and we are less lost in our thoughts (and our anxious brain). Doing this gives your brain a break from all the thinking and it can only focus on the exercise (or we trip over etc).
4. Good Vibes Only
No, I haven’t gone all hippie on you.
I am suggesting that you try to avoid the energy-suckers. Who are the people who drain you? Who complains a lot? Who tells you life is all negative?
It might be a family member, a friend, a colleague, a neighbour, the person on talk back radio or television.
Whoever it is – stay away from them for now. I am not saying you need to exit them out of your life (well, maybe the radio, social media, and TV people who spout opinions rather than facts), but just put them on a less regular rotation. See less of them or engage with them less, for now.
Instead, seek out the positive people, watch the silly upbeat program, listen to some music you love.
5. Drink More Water
Yep, you’ve heard it all before. BECAUSE IT WORKS.
Drink more water and notice how you have more energy, are less reactive, sleep better, and are less likely to snack (how close is that fridge when you work from home!).
If you find water boring and blah, try noticing how it feels when the cool liquid enters your body and goes down your gullet into your stomach. If you really tune in, you can feel it. Then notice how your body starts to feel more awake and alive a few minutes after having a (large) glass of water.
6. Change ONE Thing in Your Diet
You don’t have to do an overhaul or the dreaded detox but make a teeny tiny adjustment to what you eat.
For example, you might like to eat less meat. You could choose one type of meat to eradicate from your diet (rather than going vego overnight).
Or perhaps dairy is causing you some trouble? Take out one dairy snack.
Too much caffeine? Have one less coffee each day.
These tweaks seem small (and thus, doable!) but they can pack a big punch.
Imagine if you altered one aspect of your diet each week. How would it look at the end of a fortnight, a month, 6 months or a year?
You would likely have an enviable diet, and – even better – an enviable mental health state where calmness and serenity reign! Aaaah bliss! Pass the almond decaf latte…
7. Do Something for Someone Else
It may seem counterintuitive to do something for another when you are feeling down or stressed, but trust me, it is a great antidote to a low mood.
Helping another doesn’t have to mean an ongoing commitment, great tracts of your leisure time, or doing something you hate. Choose something that feels manageable, and do that:
- Call a friend you know is finding things tough and ask how they are.
- Pick up some rubbish from your local park or beach (wear some gloves and don’t do this if you are in a lockdown situation!!).
- Indulge a hobby (in the guise of helping others) like I am (I am doing Knit for Cancer using the beanie and scarf patterns they supplied online). It’s a double bonus – you feel good for helping someone who can never thank you, AND you get to do something you enjoy.
8. Try Something New
Try something different that you don’t usually do.
This is a great way to get mindful, and being mindful is a great way to get away from overthinking and all the issues that brings.
Doing something that isn’t part of your usual routine means you will be more inclined to focus on it and lose yourself in it, rather than habitually going through the motions. It could be learning a new language, taking an online course, painting, reorganising or cooking a new recipe.
It might not necessarily be something you have never done, but might be something you haven’t done in ages.
During Lockdown 1, I (and nearly everyone else, it seems) did a few jigsaw puzzles. I have done these before of course! But I hadn’t done one in a few years and it was almost obsessively good fun! I couldn’t stop!
One of my sisters (in Victoria, bless her little cotton mask) tried it out and loved it. She sent me a photo of her completed “masterpiece” and laughed about how she may have slightly neglected some other duties in order to complete said puzzle!
9. Workday Boundaries for Pandemic Sanity
For many of us, long gone are the days of “bundy on, bundy off” where we clocked on and off at work. But when we work from home, we need to have a ritual that tells us when it is time to be active and “attend” and when we can switch off and relax.
I have heard plenty of people talk about bosses and colleagues emailing way after hours requesting this or that. It can be quite disruptive, even if you don’t immediately respond, to know there is someone waiting for you to do something.
Protecting yourself from this means creating effective boundaries around when working after work is warranted and when it isn’t.
For some of us, this is evident but with some jobs it is less clear, so you need to create that clarity for yourself. Once you have that established, you can then choose when to look at work emails and when to let these wait until the next work day.
If you are working from home, you might like to have a morning ritual (after your daily ablutions and dressing in suitable attire) such as going to a cafe for a pre-work caffeine hit.
Or if you are less “free” (hi again, Victoria), you might like to walk around the block to “work”, and at the end of the day, walk in reverse back “home” (as in, back the way you came – not as in walk backwards!).
These might seem a little silly but it will give your brain a chance to hit “reset” and get into work mode or relax mode more easily.
The walk to work can be dedicated to thinking about the day ahead, or the workout you just had, or how great your new matching tracksuit and hoodies look with your runners. The walk home can be about processing your work day, thinking of what you might eat for dinner (with the adjusted eating plan mentioned earlier – remember no large overhauls here), or what to watch on Netflix.
If you have kids staying home, no matter what their age, you can take them with you (or leave them home if there’s someone to look after them or they are old enough to be left alone so you can have a break from parenting for a few minutes). This may help them to get used to a new ritual to signal the end of the school day.
10. Bedtime Rituals for Pandemic Sanity
When it is time for bed, please establish a bit of a routine for getting ready for sleep.
Dimmed lighting signals to your brain that it is time to release the sleep hormone melatonin, so try having fewer lights on for an hour before you want to hit the sack.
If you are working in your bedroom (or studying), pack away your “tools” and remove all reminders of what else needs to be done.
Have an extra glass of water, or a warm drink if that is your thing (but still have the water – you will sleep better).
If there is a book you are reading, consider leaving 20 minutes or so at the end of the day to get through a bit more of it.
I never do any work when I am in bed but I might:
- Write out a supermarket shopping list into my phone
- Scan my favourite fashion website for a few minutes to see what is new
- Play Solitaire (antiquated, I know)
- Then read until I feel too sleepy, and it’s “lights out”.
All of these little rituals let my body know the work of the day is over and it is time to “power down” and recharge.
I mention meditation in many of my posts because IT IS AWESOME!
Meditation down-regulates our central nervous system and helps us to achieve a sense of calm and wellbeing. What’s not to like about that?
Maybe you feel like you’re pretty chill already. Well, so did I. Then I learnt to meditate and my chill is now next level. It is like MAGIC the way it makes me feel. And this experience is known by meditators around the world. We aren’t making it up.
If a meditation course is not available to you right now, try an app or an online guided meditation. It doesn’t really matter how you meditate – just do it and you will feel the benefits.
12. Acknowledge the Difficulty
This is a weird time. Even the most zen person is going to be feeling challenged right now.
Some people I have seen (professionally or in my personal life) are openly anxious about the pandemic. Others are denying it is having an effect, or reverting to the “first world problems, right?” type thinking where we minimise our experiences and anxiety.
Try to sit with the knowledge that there are aspects of this pandemic that affect EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US!
Sure, you might not have an elderly relative in a home where there is an outbreak (or you might, but I hope not). But you might be missing seeing friends, a planned trip, a packed bar (or a nightclub – remember those?).
Every person is missing something. Some have lost businesses, some have lost jobs, some have lost loved ones. Even if your story is not the worst one (and it rarely is), please take time to nurture your soul with some care, acknowledge that it sucks to miss X, Y, or Z, and be okay with feeling annoyed and inconvenienced by this thing over which we have little control.
This is self-compassion. When we are self-compassionate, we are more able to show compassion to others, and that’s a bonus!
Let’s lose the judgement as much as possible and be nice to ourselves and nice to our fellow human beings. We are all struggling at different levels and about different things but THE STRUGGLE IS REAL!
What Are Your Pandemic Sanity Strategies?
I hope these pandemic sanity strategies offer some support and relief if you are finding this time difficult to deal with. Perhaps you have some other mental health strategies that have helped you throughout the Covid-19 crisis so far? I’d love to hear them! Write to me in the comments below.