How to Stay Positive and Sane During Social Distancing
By: Esther Chiang
My husband and I have been practicing social distancing (SD) by spending the majority of our time home. How long have you been working from home? Whether it's been months, weeks, or days, we can all relate to experiencing negativity at home as a result. I've provided some great tips on how you can avoid or overcome the feelings of negativity during this time of SD.
I have loved ones in a wide range of situations at home. Some friends have one roommate, some live alone, some have just their spouse, while others have a full house. Each of these situations will require slightly different approaches when it comes to needing socializing or learning how to live with each other in close quarters for extended periods of time. In any situation, the tips I've provided below can ease the anxiety, stress, tension, and hopelessness you may be facing at this time.
1. Don't focus on what you're missing out on.
It's very easy and natural to think about a routine you're used to. And when that routine is interrupted (whether it's due to SD or even unrelated to any of this, maybe your body recently experienced trauma like a surgery or you had a baby), you think about how you're missing out on what you used to do. I've been there. Three months ago, I was admitted into the hospital for serious food poisoning and I couldn't eat properly for 3 weeks let alone go to my usual spin or yoga classes. Even now, my husband and I moved to London only a few weeks ago, leaving our lives in New York with the promise that we'd venture all over Europe, Asia, Australia, and more. But now, we find ourselves not even leaving our town in a completely foreign country.
You can either dwell on the what-could-have-beans like you would a significant other you just broke up with, or you can choose to focus on what's here in front of you. You can focus on improving your skin care routine since you may have put that on pause for the last several days because of your busy life. You can focus on your children now that they're staying home from school and you from work, and you can have that extra time together that you didn't before. You can focus on pretty much anything else in front of you other than thinking about what you may or may not be missing out on. This isn't the end. You'll be back to your routine soon. In the meantime, take advantage of the slower pace of things.
2. Look back on what you recently enjoyed.
A friend of mine was overwhelmed by the constant bombarding of news, opinions, comments, and statistics about COVID-19 every time he opened some sort of social media or news. To counter this negativity, his FB status read something like this:
"I need anything other than hearing about COVID-19! I need some positivity! In the comments section, please post the 3rd picture in your phone (no cheating). Then, I'll assign you the picture number to post on your status for others to post."
Immediately, I asked him to give me a number to post on my status so that we could keep this positivity chain going. Next thing you know, my friends were posting positive pictures to my post and their friends to their posts. It was genius!
Another less publics way you can do this, is to look back on the pictures in your phone. I know you have hilarious memes saved in your screenshots folder or a picture of some delicious dish you recently had. It's okay to look back on memories to make us happy. That's the whole reason why travelers travel, foodies take pictures of food, and grandparents embrace holiday family photos of their grandchildren. At the end of life, all you have are memories to enjoy. So, reminisce on the good ones.
3. Be present. Be in the moment.
This doesn't go against the point I made earlier. When doing something, check in with yourself that you're completely present for that activity and only that. Whether it's making a meal for your family, having a workout session indoors, working from home, or reading a book, etc, don't let your mind wander into thoughts of fear and anxiety or what you need to do next in your to-do list after this. Be present in mind and body in the activity on hand and with the people you are with.
4. Plan for the future.
Looking forward to your future also helps you to think positively. Have you ever planned for a trip to a beach or the mountains or overseas to a foreign country? And every time you think about it, you're counting down the days and you can't help but feel butterflies in your stomach from excitement?
I want you to embrace that. Now that you have more time indoors, you can plan for what you'll do when you can get back outside. My husband and I expected to be going on weekend vacations to a new country at least every other weekend while living in London. But as you can tell, we moved at one of the most inopportune times. So, now our plans have paused. But that doesn't mean I can't plan for our future trips. Honestly, it's still the winter season. So, it'll actually be a better experience to vacation once the warmer seasons come in. In the meantime, I'm still making lists of the museum and gallery exhibitions I plan on visiting, researching all of the UK cities and European countries to travel to, and looking up restaurants I haven't tried yet in London. I encourage you to do the same. This way, you can thoroughly research your future vacation to maximize the experience instead of just winging it. Look forward with optimism.
With most of our family and friends thousands of miles away and barely having plugged into a community here in London, it can get lonely while practicing SD. Thankfully, our family, friends, and colleagues overseas have reached out to us via group chats, emails, and video chats (ie. Facetime). If we didn't have this, negativity would have definitely taken over by now.
While we are replenished and fueled emotionally by our loved ones, my husband and I make it a point to reach out to our new friends in London, especially those living alone, to check in on them and schedule video chat calls. It's like double dates but via technology. Despite being a total introvert, I still recognize my need for regular socializing and I know others do too since we're all human. We have a video chat double date coming up with friends on Friday night. We plan on eating charcuterie while chatting like we used to do when we lived nearby.
6. Learn one thing new each day.
Even if you're busy working from home or you have young children, you have at least 30-60 minutes of down time you can spare while SD at home. It's a perfect opportunity to teach yourself something new once a day. I'm committed to trying out at least one new baking recipe each week. Doesn't sound too frequent, but you can challenge yourself to a new cooking or baking recipe everyday if you want. Many companies that usually charge for their classes are temporarily providing free baking or cooking sessions via Instagram TV or YouTube, so take advantage of it! There's no better time than now. If you don't live alone, make it a group effort with your roommate, partner, or children. You can make it even more fun by turning it into a cook-off competition.
Another way you can take advantage of more downtime is by taking an online course. I'm not really referring to an accredited college course for one semester. I'm talking more about a Udemy course that costs $25 for journalism or a Babble course for languages that you can study at your own pace. There are plenty of courses out there to enhance your skills without breaking your bank or requiring a structured time commitment. Whatever skill you wanted to learn but kept putting on hold due to time constraints, you can commit to now.
8. Catch up, but feed your mind.
Whatever mental to-do list you had for months or years to intellectually feed yourself, you can now afford to do. Maybe there are podcasts or audiobooks you've been meaning to listen to. My personal to-do list includes the Ted Talks I've downloaded but never got around to listening to. Maybe you're like me and you've purchased a ton of kindle books over the years but read each of them only 30% through. Here's the time to catch up. If you have young children temporarily out of school, it's a great time for you to take turns reading to each other.
My whole point of catching up is to keep the mind stimulated. It's so easy and effortless to veg on the couch everyday and binge on Netflix or TV shows, but we don't want our mind wasting away. I'd like to see you expand your mind. Learn something new.
I'm 100% guilty of taking hours to read Twitter and The Medium, watch CNN and BBC, and listen to any chatter from friends about how bad COVID-19 is in other countries and the impending doom they all seem to be foreseeing. After doing this for three days, I couldn't sleep on the third night. I spontaneously woke up at four o'clock in the morning and rolled around in bed having the worst-case scenarios playing out in my mind until sunrise. Many healthcare professionals, myself included, would tell a patient like me that chronic anxiety and stress will actually cause physical damage to your body since the mind and body are connected.
So how do you break this unhealthy cycle? The first step is to remove yourself for most of the day from the new coverage. I'm not saying crawl under a rock and hide. You can't hide from what's going on in the world and in your own town. But you can set aside maybe once a day to get updates and limit that time to minutes not hours. Do not go into a rabbit hole.
The next step is to take time to mediate. You do not have to be religious to mediate. Meditation is calming the voices and thoughts in your mind and focusing on something else. I personally like to focus on my breath. If my mind wanders from that, I try to focus on all of the things I'm thankful for in my life. You'll have positivity flowing through you like endorphins instead of the harmful stress hormones.
10. Air out the house.
This applies to whether you stay home all day or not. The air inside the house can get stale. And stale air just makes you feel a bit suffocated. Growing up, my mom always aired out the house once a day usually at sunrise. She told me it helped to remove the dust and stale air we exhale. It makes your lungs feel like you can breathe deeper. Doesn't it make you feel good to breathe in freshness? Especially now while it's still winter, nothing beats that cold crisp air in the morning.
11. Keep it tidy.
It's so easy to make the house messy now that you have more foot traffic in your house throughout the day. My husband is so very guilty of leaving wrappers of chips, candy bars, and pretty much anything anywhere in the house except inside the trash can. I'm guilty of leaving hoodies and mugs all around the house. Whether you directly notice it or not, you'll feel a bit stressed when you live in an unkept place and you don't want that to create tension within the household either.
Do yourself a favor. At least once a day, go around your house and just tidy things the way you would if you were inviting a guest over. Vacuum (maybe not everyday - I do it once every 3 days), throw things out, and put things in their designated place. It'll make you feel more at peace when things are organized.
When you're starting to feel that negativity creep up or to prevent it from ever occurring, I challenge you to try these tips to keep the peace in your household. It's been helping me so far, and I'll keep implementing these tips until we're all free to go outside again. Let me know if this helps you out! Feel free to email me or comment below. Would love to hear how you're doing!