Doesn’t it seem like the world around us has suddenly slowed down, but inside, we're still adjusting to a new rhythm? We are all affected as the outside world shuts down due to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.
Everyone might have different experiences of self-quarantine or self-protective isolation. You might be suddenly busier than ever, frantically trying to manage work and family responsibilities from home. Maybe you’re struggling with frustration, stress and sadness at being temporarily unemployed. Or maybe your brain just feels frazzled and lethargic, reeling from the jolting changes.
If you're spending most of your time inside, it might feel like your physical environment has shrunk. Outside, the natural world is still there, strangely quiet.
How can we adjust to such dramatic changes?
The sense of isolation from the outside world and the compression of our personal and work lives can certainly contribute to anxiety and confusion.
Here are some tips to help adjust to these changes:
Try looking at your current situation like a painter or photographer, from different angles. Can you see the advantages of isolation along with the obvious disadvantages?
Thinking from different angles is a favorite topic of University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen Dubner. In chapter 4 of their book Think Like a Freak (2014) they advise, “The modern world demands that…we think from a different angle, with a different set of muscles, with a different set of expectations.” This was never truer than now, when our world feels upside-down.
As author and educator Grant Lichtman says, “Facing challenges, both problems and opportunities, is vital to personal success. This is the arena in which we can grow, excel, create and expand.” The Falconer (2010, iUniverse. Kindle Edition). Now is the time.
Try making a list of the advantages of your current situation. If it feels hard to focus on the positives do some simple physical exercises first to help clear your mind. See if you can imagine how to utilize your current situation for your long-term goals; close your eyes and visualize it. Then write down some new actions that you could take. Choose a couple of your favorite ideas and make a plan.
As you consider your particular situation, it may be an ideal time to ask bigger questions, such as, “Who am I?”, “What is my purpose in life?” and “What do I really want?” If you're like most of us, a lot of your time might normally be taken up in driving here and there, juggling daily tasks and obligations. Being constantly busy, most of us don't take the time to ask (and answer) these questions.
Set aside time to consider the life path that you’ve been on. Do you want to stay on this path? Or are you at a crossroads, making a choice about the next phase of your life? Another good question is, “Who am I listening to?” What does your inner voice, your true self tell you?
A great handbook for this kind of self-assessment is I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years, and the accompanying Personal Workbook, both by Body & Brain founder Ilchi Lee (2017, Best Life Media). They are both good tools for developing a better awareness of where you’ve been and where you’re going, of who you are and who you want to be.
We all need to stay informed as the current virus situation changes, but obsessing all day over the coronavirus news coverage is not healthy, says Dr. Aarti Gupta, PsyD, of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. She recommends limiting your news time to two 30-minute sessions per day, from credible websites rather than social media.
For most of us, our usual habits and routines have been completely disrupted. We may sometimes say that routines are tedious, but when they are suddenly taken away from us, we can slide into “stay-cation” mode filled with aimlessness or lethargy.
Psychologists recognize that the lack of constructive daily routines is a contributor to anxiety and depression, and that establishing a meaningful routine can be valuable in supporting mental health.
Self-quarantine can actually be a great time to intentionally make a change in your life. Start by making a daily schedule with blocks of time for on-line or outdoor exercise, meditation, self-care, cooking, reading, learning a new skill, and connecting with friends and loved ones.
Cast yourself in a new role, while you have the chance. If you’re a teacher, try being a student. If you’ve always been a gym rat, try jogging or hiking for a change. Try new activities just for the purpose of giving satisfaction and meaning to your day. Vary your schedule day-to-day, so that every day is not the same. Take the opportunity to refresh your daily life.
We all miss elements of our past routines, but scientists are finding evidence that doing things differently can be good for our brains. As we learn to do something differently, we grow new brain synapses. It may even be possible to improve memory and counteract the effects of aging on the brain by making the effort to change habits and learn new skills, both in our thinking and in our physical exercise habits.
If you’re looking for a boost to your new routine, Body & Brain centers provide 1-hour online energy yoga and taichi-qigong classes to their members, as well as a variety of on-line wellness workshops.
In April, as part of our national Get Bright Campaign, Body & Brain is also offering free classes to the public. Contact any of our centers to learn more.
You can also take the opportunity to share helpful yoga, tai chi, meditation, and self-care tips with friends and family from Body & Brain TV, our free YouTube channel. Check out hundreds of easy-to-follow videos and live “quick classes” for adults and kids.
In the end, even a pandemic doesn’t last forever. Look at this as a time to begin creating a new lifestyle moving forward, for a stronger and more resilient you!