Humans are not wired to tolerate uncertainty. However, we are wired to be alert to threats. Our brains have evolved to do this automatically; planning for scarcity and other threats is important to ensure survival.
We crave stability.“We want predictability,” says Daniel Freeman, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford. “We want to be assured that the way our world looks when we get up in the morning is the way it will look when we go to bed. And if change occurs, we prefer it to be on our terms.”
Many people struggle to focus on the picture when their routines are disrupted or when they are forced to face their biggest fears. Other become extremely stressed, anxious and worry about everything that could go wrong.
The coronavirus is taking a toll on our collective mental and physical health. But we can make sense of it and still chose to spend our time productively — even with no return to normality in sight. “Trying to preserve some sense of normalcy is really important for people’s well-being,” says Dr Russell G. Buhr, a pulmonologist at U.C.L.A. Health.
Research shows a period of uncertainty and a lack of control in our daily lives can lead to increased anxiety. In these uncertain and stressful times, it’s important to manage our health and do our best to keep our sanity — for this too shall pass.
Let’s start with a few things you can do every day to maintain your physical and mental health, worry less and survive the isolation with your family, friends and yourself.
Limit update intake and practice news detox
We all want to keep up to date, but feeding your worries, uncertainties, and anxieties every minute of the day can take a toll on your mental health.
“If you’re losing sleep over what’s happening or you’re unable to concentrate on anything other than the risk that someone in your life has, you should probably consider [lowering] your dose of media to once a day,” says Dr Ken Duckworth, medical director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (Nami).
Try having a news detox every day, or allocate yourself a time limit for reading or watching news related to domestic or global updates.
Find a line between educating yourself with useful information that helps guide your decisions and overwhelming yourself with information that simply increases anxiety. If you’re really worried about missing something crucial, get your information from credible and the very best sources.
To give yourself a bit of mental relief, give worry a limitation
You can use the same stop-loss strategy used in stock trading to give yourself a break from worrying. In finance, some investors set a stop-loss on each trade at a price level at which they wish to exit what has become a losing trade.
The general idea behind the stop-loss strategy is to determine how much psychological turmoil you’re willing to endure and for how long. And what point you stop wasting mental energy on them.
When you find yourself in a cycle of worry and anxiety, stop and ask where your stop-loss point is, i.e. at what point do you stop worrying and let it go?
By giving every worry a limitation, become mindful about everything occupying your mind and choose to focus on other things instead of digging deeper.
You can also allocate yourself a daily ‘worry period’. “Give yourself half an hour to worry about this to your heart’s content, and then you have to go and do something else, writes Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, a Guardian columnist and author.
Following a schedule makes you happier!
Make a daily schedule and plan to follow it even in isolation. It reminds your brain that you are still in control.
It doesn’t have to be a long stretch of task. It can involve a five-minute task that can still help you get something done, connect with others or enjoy an activity with someone in person or virtually.
“You will find maintaining a plan will help you and your family adjust to different work and home life environment,” says Scott Kelly, a retired NASA astronaut who spent nearly a year on the International Space Station.
If you miss some of your plans, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s okay if your schedule is flexible and helps you and your family survive or even enjoy the time you are spending together. Be kind to yourself and find other ways to keep your mind from overthinking the isolation process.
Every little bit of movement counts
We are creatures of habit but right now, you need to reinvent new routines for your space. If you don’t have home gym equipment like dumbbells, you can still plan tiny movements into your daily routine.
When we’re confined to our home, move, move, move. Exercise is a “classic anxiety reduction strategy”, says Duckworth. You don’t need fancy equipment or a lot of time; you just need to weave exercise into your schedule.
Next time you are watching your favourite TV show, get up and do some squats during the commercials or in between episodes if you are binge-watching Game of Thrones. Do heel raises when you’re washing dishes.
Knock out some push-ups when you’re waiting for dinner. Do a few star jumps in your bedroom before a shower. Schedule a few stretches in the morning. “Dancing is also a great way to move your body. Turn on some music and boogie with your partner or children” says Anna Goldfarb of The New York Times.
Get your heart rate up, multiple times a day. Exercise will help get the adrenaline out of your system and channel the panic elsewhere. It’s also good for your immune system.
Get out and walk, even for just 15 minutes
In the current state of anxiety, even short walks make a huge difference. Six feet apart stroll can also improve your mood and well-being.
“In Milan, where life in the coronavirus “red zone” amounts to virtual house arrest, residents are still free, if not encouraged, to enjoy a walk or jog “for the sake of outdoor physical activity,” as The Washington Post reported, as long as social distances are respected,” writes Alex Williams of The New York Times.
“As long as the public health practitioners haven’t suggested a total lockdown, as long as you’re able to maintain a reasonable amount of distance and you’re being good about hand hygiene and especially if you’re staying completely home if you’re having any signs of illness, then getting outside for a walk is good,” says Dr. Russell G. Buhr, a pulmonologist at U.C.L.A. Health.
A walk outside clears your mind, and it keeps you active.
Find ways to remain connected
Humans are innately social, so social distancing and self-isolation will be a challenge for many people. While we can’t replace the value of face-to-face interactions, we need to think creatively in these circumstances.
“As helpless as we may feel stuck inside our homes, there are always things we can do — I’ve seen people reading to children via videoconference, donating their time and dollars to charities online, and running errands for elderly or immuno-compromised neighbours,” says Scott.
Modern technology has made it insanely easy to stay connected. Use tools like Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Facebook Workplace and Trello to stay connected with friends and colleagues at work. Positive social support can improve our resilience for coping with stress. Check-in with your friends, family, and neighbours regularly.
Find a hobby..fast
Although remaining inside is a good way to protect yourself, it’s also a great opportunity to find somethings you can do together with friends and family or a hobby that can keep you occupied. Keep in mind that many activities that can make the long days go by faster are better.
Complete a puzzle: The more pieces the better! Start a journal or blog about topics you care about. Write poetry. Download Duolingo, or a similar app, and teach yourself a new language. Learn how to cook new recipes. Read your favourite books or magazines. Knit or crochet. Start a gratitude journal — make a list of things for which you are grateful. Write a book with your family. Visit a virtual museum with your family. Learn a new skill via YouTube. making their garden a better space. Have a family movie time — make it special with popcorn.
If you have kids, let them be creative, give them some control and get comfortable with mess. Kids having fun do not keep things neat. Manage the chaos with a “tidy-up half-hour” for everyone before they go to bed. If you have a garden, get the children involved with ideas and suggestions for making their garden a better space. Declutter — take a deep breath and tackle their rooms together.
“Let them lead: help them gather material for junk modelling, a fashion show or house construction, but resist getting too involved. Their imaginations are better than yours,” writes Dawn Isaac, author of 101 Things for Kids to do Screen-Free.
It is very important to rebuild your daily life, maintain social connection, connect with family, keep moving, find a hobby that brings out the best in you and stay in touch with the people around you.
By adopting the right perspective and activities, we will emerge as more mature, fulfilled human beings. And remember, this too shall pass — we will soon recover our freedoms.
This article first appeared on Medium.