Most of us are fortunate not to have our physical health seriously impacted by COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Nevertheless, disruption is now a worldwide phenomenon. Staying in, to keep ourselves and our community members safe, is the right thing to do but having our life events cancelled—from working and school to weddings, concerts and graduations—is a major adjustment. But, getting creative with our self-care and communication can still help us reap the practical and emotional support we need.
We’ve put together some common sense tips which, as always, are supported by science:
Keep a daily routine. Having some structure gives meaning to our days. So make a plan for the hours ahead with some things you want to accomplish and stick to it. It’s okay to start small (make breakfast, respond to emails, organize desk), and to include some exercise to boost your mood and immune system.
Track your daily thoughts and moods. You might have seen some of the coronavirus chronicles popping up on-line—people documenting how drastically most of our lives have changed in recent weeks. Writing about your day can help you clear your head, stay healthy, and even sleep better. It may also reduce intrusive thoughts, improve your memory and help you more effectively cope with stress.
Pay attention to your breathing. Even if you’re keeping to a small space with several people, try to find a spot where you can relax for a few minutes to focus on deep breathing. Studies have shown that this can evoke the so-called “relaxation response” which can reduce stress and anxiety by slowing your heart rate and stabilizing your blood pressure.
Take time to savour the small but significant things. Open the window and listen for birdsong, start that book you haven’t had time to, or have a conversation with a friend. Time in isolation just begs us to slow down, sit up and take notice of the things we often overlook.
Express gratitude. Keep a journal of things you’re thankful for, including loved ones (or tell them directly!), which can help you mentally and physically, and you may even feel closer to them even when you’re apart. If lists aren’t your thing, spend a few moments thinking about framing your situation in a positive way. It’s easier said than done but, if you think about isolation as an opportunity to work together with your community to keep others healthy, then those positive emotions can be transformative.
About the authors:
Heather Hansen is a journalist and researcher at Cardiff University; and Dr. Thuy-vy Nguyen is an Assistant Professor of Social Psychology at Durham University in the UK.