I’m a pretty extreme introvert. I don’t like being with more than two other people at one time, and even that is a very draining experience. If given a choice, in most cases I’d rather curl up on the sofa as a contented homebody than go out. When I do go out, my outings are still very introverted: I’d rather go alone to the mall (let me shop at my own pace and only for what I planned to shop for), solo my photography outings (much easier to take 100 shots of this particular flower without worrying that I’m boring someone to tears), and so on. Even going to a movie alone is just fine with me. But mostly, I stay home. So, all this social distancing stuff hasn’t really had much impact on my day-to-day. Except…
Except that right now I feel anxious about being required to stay in. I’ve been learning to live with anxiety for the past year and a bit, ever since I broke down mentally because of the toxic work conditions at a past job. It hasn’t been easy. Medication helps, and generally speaking I’m a lot better now than I was. Planning to intentionally get out of the house at least once a week, or every other week, has also helped. There’s a lovely cafe nearby that I particularly enjoy spending time in. When my husband visits, we often end up there with our tablets to do creative writing. But now, just like everyone else, I’m faced with the unfortunate reality that going out in public is unsafe and unwise. Places like cafes, where multiple people are intended to congregate, are among the last places anybody should be going during this pandemic…which really sucks for me and everyone just as much as it sucks for the business owner. I hope they won’t have to close shop and will still be there when all this is over.
When news about COVID-19 started to ramp up and authorities started recommending social distancing, I didn’t expect to feel the way I currently do. At first, I just nodded and thought, No problem. I’m already doing these things. But as time has gone on, higher anxiety has settled in, and not just because of the turn the news has taken. Even though I normally prefer to stay home, it seems the lack of even having the choice to go out if I wanted to is triggering a spike in bad feelings. I’m back to feeling listless, sleeping poorly, and pacing. My home is very small: less than 600sqft. There’s not a lot of space to pace in! I find myself missing the option to go sit in the cafe for a couple of hours. I want to go. It was part of my routine and now that routine is disrupted.
Don’t get me wrong: I completely understand and agree with the reasons we should all stay home right now. I don’t want to get COVID-19 and I certainly don’t want to spread it to anyone else.
There’s another aspect to this: Unlike others who have unfortunately been laid off or had their normal work hours suspended, I don’t suddenly have a bunch of free time that I didn’t have before. Running a home-based business means there’s still work to do every day. But having my normal routine disrupted, leading to anxiety and all the associated negative effects (including a resurgence of depression!), means it’s hard to stay motivated. Why bother working when…? These thoughts are hard to ignore. I know I’m not alone.
Cabin fever is real and so many people are going to be experiencing some degree of it right now, some for the first time. Self-care at times like these is so important. I have to be willing to give myself a break and realize that, while it’s impractical for everything to just grind to a halt, each day can’t be “business as usual” either. These are extraordinary times. That doesn’t necessarily mean calling for extraordinary measures on a personal level, but we should all realize we need to give ourselves room for some extra latitude.
Even though I personally don’t feel like I have more free time now, I know I have to self-care, and probably self-care more than I would if COVID-19 was not a thing. Here are some self-care measures that everyone can consider doing:
- Keep some “personal space” and “communal space” at home. This one doesn’t apply to me since I’m the only person in my home, but for people who suddenly find themselves in the house with their family 24/7, it’s important for mental health to take some time apart from each other as much as it is important to spend time with one another. Usually, getting out of the house to go to work or school equates to having time away from your spouse and siblings, which is healthy. People need to have experiences away from one another, even if it’s for nothing more than the opportunity to have interesting discussions around the dinner table later. Conversation will be stunted if everyone is spending every moment together.
- Spend time in your yard. It seems to me that a lot of adults tend to only use their yard when there’s yard work to do, unless they’re having people over for a summer BBQ or party. Otherwise, the yard ends up relegated to pets and kids. Go sit outside to watch the birds, soak in some sunshine, play with the kids/dog, have your morning tea/coffee, read a book, listen to music (use headphones! Your neighbors don’t need to listen with you!), meditate, have a nap. If you’re a shutterbug like me, take your camera into the yard and try exploring to see what unique photo opportunities your yard is hiding. It’s a great place to practice macro or near-macro shots. If you live in a high-rise and only have a balcony, you can still make your balcony into a self-care space. If your high-rise has some green space around it, you can also make use of it if your community rules allow it.
- Practice siesta. Being anxious all the time takes a lot of energy. Taking an afternoon rest or nap can help ease stress and restore energy for the latter part of the day when it’s really needed. Just don’t siesta for too long or too late in the day, else you won’t be able to get to bed properly later.
- Maintain a regular bedtime and waketime. It’s easy to slip into a “stay up late; sleep in” habit when you’re at home all the time. After all, who’s going to chastise you when you don’t have to be at work the next day? But keeping to your normal routine (or close to it, if you were like me and used to have to get up at 5am every day) will honestly be better than breaking from it. Make sure to still get 7-9 hours of rest every night!
- Have smaller meals more often. When stuck at the office, it’s often the case that people have to grab what they can, stuff their face with it, and then get back to the grind because there’s so much to do. Cramming in a few big meals isn’t great because energy (blood sugar) goes up and down sharply between each meal, leading to lethargy as things taper off. Instead, splitting the recommended amount of food across more intervals means blood sugar and energy will stay more level. Be sure to choose more healthy snacks: making a smoothie or a small fruit/vegetable/cheese/deli meat platter for yourself are good ways to go.
- Pick up a quiet hobby. No, I’m not biased when I say that crochet and knitting help ease stress. Soldiers with PTSD regularly use these crafts as a way to help them manage their condition! The quiet hobby doesn’t have to be yarn-related though if yarn really isn’t your thing: there are many other hobbies that are good for stress relief.
- Read. This one is a bit tricky because we all know it’s also better to limit time using tablets and smartphones. But, for many people (like me!), there just isn’t enough space at home for physical books and the library is not a viable place to go right now, so the eBook app on their device is the only solution. Either way, it’s important to take the time to read.
- Exercise. This one might feel hard to do right now because gyms are closed but there are lots of exercises that can be done at home. Or, if you’re lucky enough to live near walking trails, go for a daily walk (so long as your local authorities haven’t restricted that kind of activity).
The worst thing to do is nothing. Believe me, I know for some people it’s hard to even feel like you can do much more than ooze out of bed in the morning, but in the long run, it’s worthwhile. I heard someone say once that it takes longer to put yourself back together than it does to fall apart in the first place, which seems absolutely true to me. Even if your current mental state doesn’t allow for all of the self-care methods that are relevant to your situation, starting with just one or two and trying to work up from there to a healthy balance is a good start. In these uncertain times, it’s important to be kind and considerate to one another, but it’s just as important to be kind and considerate to ourselves.
There are lots of other ways to self-care; the internet is a wealth of information about positive ways to help cope with anxiety and depression. What are some of the things you’re doing to self-care right now? Leave me a comment below!