Thanks to the COVID-19 situation, a lot of you are experience being stuck in the house for the first time. While spending time at home can be lovely, when it’s mandatory it doesn’t take long for it to start to morph into…something else.
Stuck in the house: how to deal.
I’ve been mostly housebound due to chronic illness for the last two years, with three years of working from home before that. When I started seeing “HOW TO SURVIVE WORKING FROM HOME” articles last week, I rolled my eyes. I didn’t want to have patience for anyone whining about being inside for a few weeks. Just learn to deal with it, I thought, that’s what I had to do.
A friend texted me yesterday asking if I had any advice for managing depression and anxiety while under self-quarantine, and suddenly I felt like a jerk. I want to be a source of support, not judgement.
Being stuck inside can be really, really, really hard and I happen to be an expert, so I’m going to share my advice.
Find ways to break up the day.
Normally your day is split up by the things you do: maybe you go to work, you run errands, you pick up your kids, whatever. It divides your day into zones. When you don’t leave the house, you lose those markers and your day just becomes a big sticky, nebulous blob of time that your brain doesn’t know how to process.
If you don’t find other ways to differentiate your day, it will make you feel weird and bad.
For me, it’s really important to have rituals. When I get up, I brush my teeth, wash my face, take all my morning meds, and put in my contacts. Then I go downstairs, take more meds, make tea, and eat breakfast while reading. It tells my mind that the day is officially starting! When I finish my tea, I decide what I’m going to do next.
Give your brain different things to do.
When you’re stuck at home, it’s vital to give your mind different kinds of things to do.
Spend time in different rooms of your house or different chairs, listen to different music, read different books. Dig up the half-finished scarf you started three years ago and try to remember how to knit. Download a computer game you loved when you were younger and see if it’s still fun (I love The Sims). Draw a picture or find the coloring books in the back of your bookshelf. Bake something time consuming that you wouldn’t normally bother with.
Give yourself some time to experience silence. If you’re bored by or want to be distracted from your own thoughts, listen to a podcast or audiobook.
I also find it very helpful to seek out concrete tasks, especially when I’m feeling out of control. Organize a closet, a drawer, or a bookshelf: just take everything out, re-order it, and then put it back in. Sometimes embracing a tangible task that you can accomplish from start to finish is the best feeling in the world.
Maybe you’ve always wanted your shirts to be in rainbow order? Now is the time to make that happen.
Eat, drink, and sleep.
If you don’t take care of your body’s basic needs, you will feel worse. Low blood sugar, lack of sleep, and dehydration are easy ways to tank your physical and emotional health. This sounds easy, but it isn’t, especially if you’re used to a work schedule giving you meal cues.
I like to keep a full glass of water with me during the day so that I’m always sipping, in addition to drinking a full glass of water with most meals. I have a hard time eating regularly, especially when I’m feeling lousy, but I feel SO much better when I eat every few hours – even if some of that is Luna bars or spoonfuls of peanut butter.
These things are really important, especially if you’re trying to keep your body in virus-fighting shape.
If you follow me on IG you know I am a notorious insomniac, mostly because of my health issues. When I chatted with my Dr the other day about coronavirus planning, she emphasized sleep more than anything else. It’s easier said than done, but I’m trying!
Be in your body.
This was originally “move your body” but the truth is that I’m often too sick to do that, and if you’re self-quarantined you might be too.
If you can stretch or do gentle exercises like yoga or pilates or even walking in place, there’s a whole world of routines on the internet that you may want to look into.
If that doesn’t sound good, take a bath or hot shower and think about how the water feels on your body. Run your hand across your pillow and focus on how the material slides against your fingers. Use a face mask or slowly exfoliate and then lotion your legs and take note of the sensations. Lie on the floor and take some deep breaths.
Sometimes when my thoughts are running away with me, listening to something that I can focus on instead of my own internal monologue is the best thing for me. I particularly enjoy Belleruth Naparstek‘s meditations, yoga nidra, and the Calm app.
You don’t have to get dressed.
You don’t have to get dressed but you DO have to shower and change your clothes sometimes, even if you live alone. You’ll feel better in clean clothes and it’s good for you to go through self-care routines like changing pajamas, brushing your teeth, and washing your hair if you have the energy to do those things.
If you can’t stomach the whole shebang, or if you’re too sick to do so, embrace partial measures like just washing your face and changing your underwear and then putting your most comforting PJs back on.
When you can’t do everything, find something smaller to do and do that instead. If you can’t do anything, remember that that’s okay too and try again later.
Tidy up your space.
If you’ve ever had a goldfish or a hamster, you know that small enclosures need to be cleaned regularly. Treat yourself at least as well as you’d treat a pet.
Do your dishes, change your sheets, tidy up your clutter periodically. It makes a difference.
If you’re too sick/depressed/overwhelmed to clean for long, that’s okay too. Try setting a timer for 10 or even 5 minute increments and cleaning in tiny bursts. It’s worth it, I promise.
Phone a friend.
Don’t forget to seek out human interaction, whether it’s email, text, DM, or voice-on-voice contact. If you’re lonely but don’t want to talk, facetime a friend while you both watch the same movie.
This applies even if you live with people: don’t make your partner or roommate(s) responsible for all of your human interaction.
If you have friends who are sick or who you know are overwhelmed, please reach out to them. Depression, anxiety, illness – all of these things make it so much harder for people to make the first move in initiating contact, no matter how lonely and isolated they might feel.
If you think someone might need you, don’t put the burden of initial contact on them. They might not answer, but they’ll still see that you tried and that’s important.
Give yourself a Close of Business.
If you normally work in an office, your brain is used to having your commute as a separation between work and leisure. Now you’re going to have to manufacture that boundary.
When I’m working from home and I want to end the day, I will often close my laptop, say “done!” out loud, and then put my computer in a different room. You have to actively release yourself from the feeling that you’re on duty or you won’t be able to shake it off and you’ll feel guilty and anxious when you try to relax.
Interact with nature.
If you have a yard or a balcony, use it. If you don’t, go stand in your driveway, on the sidewalk, or on your front steps – whatever you can manage while staying stay away from people. Mr. DitL and I have been going for walks around the parking by our townhouse.
If you don’t have safe outside access, open your windows and breathe some fresh air. Think about the color of the sky. Look at tree branches waving in the breeze and think about how wind feels. Notice the the sunset and the stars. It’s good for you.
It’s okay to not be okay.
This is a weird moment in time and it’s scary and hard. It’s totally okay if you’re just getting through the day. You’re okay. You’re doing great. And never forget that we’re all in this together: you’re not alone.
I think that’s all I have. I hope that some of it helps!
And now one more thing before I go:
While you’re stuck in your house for the next few weeks, please remember that many chronically ill and disabled people are stuck in their homes all of the time, with no end in sight. Take a minute and use this experience as an opportunity to grow your compassion for your housebound friends.
When you’re out and about again, think of those of us who will still be stuck in our living rooms and check on us a little more frequently.