10 Ideas for Relieving Stress During Coronavirus Quarantine
Learn some creative ways to relieve stress during the coronavirus outbreak when many of us are ordered to stay inside and find ways to entertain ourselves.
1. The Basics: Eating, Sleeping, Exercise
Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet can help you manage stress, reduce anxiety, and maintain a strong immune system. These goals may seem unreachable when you’re stressed out, but they don’t have to be.
It’s easy right now to eat for emotional reasons, particularly if you’re prone to that, which most of us are, according to Joyce A. Corsica, Ph.D., director of outpatient psychotherapy and director of bariatric psychology at Rush University in Chicago. Before you give in to a food craving, ask yourself whether you’re really hungry or whether you’re actually frustrated, sad, or lonely. Once you identify the feeling, it’s easier to consider better choices, Corsica says. Here, other strategies for reinforcing healthy eating.
Whether you go to the gym regularly or like to walk, jog, or ride a bike outside, your exercise regimen has probably been disrupted, too. That means you’re probably not getting your usual stress-relieving dose of the feel-good neurotransmitters endorphins that exercise provides. But most areas still allow solitary outdoor walks and runs, and today, there are more ways to exercise indoors than ever. And you may not need a whole lot of physical activity to improve your mood; even a 15-minute walk can make a difference.
And though it’s not surprising that stress can keep you from sleeping well, a lack of sleep and an abundance of stress can create a vicious cycle: lying in bed awake can lead you to ruminate even more, and those swirling thoughts can further keep you from dozing off.
Basic bedroom sleep hygiene—keeping the room cool and dark, staying off electronics before bed—is a good place to start. Some sleep apps may be helpful as well, by blocking out outside noise, for instance.
2. Focus on the Short-Term
It’s hard right now not to wonder how the pandemic will resolve, but thinking shorter-term has been found to be a more useful way to handle the stress, according to a study led by Neupert and published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
“My lab’s study found the best recipe for trying to deal with everyday stressors is to try to simultaneously plan ahead about what you can control and stay in the moment mindfully,” she says. “That means recognizing what’s going on in the present without trying to change it. That’s what we found was the best combination of resilience to stress.”
These findings might be especially relevant now, she says. Mindfulness—staying focused on the present—has long been known to help reduce stress, and there are techniques you can use to get better at it, such as yoga (you can search for “yoga for anxiety” or “restorative yoga” online, and if you’re new to yoga, here’s how you can get started) and meditation (the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center provides free online guided meditations).
Mapping out and following a plan for the week or just the next day can also help, by giving you a better sense of control, experts say. Clinical psychologist Paula A. Madrid, Psy.D., of New York City, recommends creating a daily schedule of simple, reasonable actions to take: call a friend, try a new recipe, work in the garden. If you’re working from home, shower, and dress, says UC Irvine’s Garfin.
3. Talk to People Regularly
Just because the majority of us are self-isolating at the moment doesn’t mean that your social life has to stop. Okay, so we can’t meet up in person at bars or restaurants, but there are still plenty of ways to keep in touch with your friends, family, and colleagues. Tons of video call apps and services are available like House Party and Zoom that will let you speak to multiple friends at once and have fun—virtual drinks, pub quizzes, bottomless brunches, and even bingo nights have already popped up all over the world in the last few weeks.
Alternatively, of course, you can stick to texts, messages, or a classic phone call—it’s up to you. But however you do it, make sure you do. It’s more important than ever to check in on each other emotionally and provide support, encouragement, and distraction during this stressful time.
4. Limit Your Intake of News
Watching and reading endless news stories about the pandemic? Getting accurate information is crucial for well-being during quarantine, according to a review of research published in February’s The Lancet. Having the right info about the real risks of contracting COVID-19 and the reasons for self-quarantining and social distancing can also help keep you from catastrophizing, experts say.
At the same time, too much information—even if it’s correct—can be overwhelming. “Staying glued to the TV, watching the exact same press conference three times, is probably one of the worst things you could do,” Garfin says.
How much is too much? Madrid’s rule of thumb is “Do not watch the news more than an hour a day.”
And limit the number of media options to those that you really need. Stick with trusted, science-backed sources like the CDC and news from your state or local government and health department sites, which can advise you on issues such as park closings or transit changes in your area. If you’re frustrated by the ever-changing guidance and advice, know that it’s normal in a new situation. As experts learn more about the coronavirus, you can expect guidance to change again.
5. Keep Your Work and Home Life Separate
This might sound easier said than done if you’re working from home and your kitchen has become your office. It’s also a piece of advice that you’ve probably heard countless times before, but there’s a reason why. It’s all too easy to roll your eyes and slip into bad habits like working from your bed and not changing out of your pajamas unless you have a meeting with your colleagues or clients on Zoom.
While this might feel fun for a bit, it’s going to end up being super stressful and detrimental to your health. You won’t be able to compartmentalize your life like you used to, and soon you’ll be working late on your laptop, struggling to concentrate during working hours, and thinking about your work to-do list when you should be relaxing.
Try to replace this stressor by setting boundaries. Keep your bedroom for sleep and relaxation only. Stick to another room for work—preferably one with a table or desk—where you can set up your workspace for maximum productivity. Next, make sure you clearly define where your working day begins and ends so that you can mentally switch on/off from work mode. For example, having a quick shower in the morning and changing into “work” clothes—even if it’s not your usual shirt—will get you in the zone for working.
Adult coloring books (no, not that kind — these are just slightly more advanced versions of children’s coloring books) have been popular for a while now. Coloring is a simple, repetitive activity that’ll help you disconnect from the never-ending news cycle — Martello says it’ll help you reach the meditative state of flow where you’re not thinking about anything else. Throw on your favorite music, pour a hot cup of tea, and get ready to fill in the most intricate patterns you’ve ever seen.
Making food sometimes feels like a chore, but it can be a way to experiment and feel a small sense of accomplishment, all while doing something fun. Martello says that cooking can even be creative, and it is a great way to get back to our roots and focus on something simple.
If you haven’t gone grocery shopping lately, don’t worry — there’s plenty of delicious meals and yummy desserts to be made from the items shoved in the back of your pantry. And don’t forget to enjoy whatever you end up making. Your diet can wait until this craziness is over.
8. Do nothing for 2 minutes
Doing nothing may seem like a wild idea right now — there’s so much to worry about! But what if you challenged yourself to really do nothing for only 2 minutes?
The website Do Nothing for 2 Minutes is designed for exactly that.
The concept is simple: All you have to do is listen to the sound of waves without touching your mouse or keyboard for 2 minutes straight.
It’s harder than it looks, especially if you’ve been stuck in constant cycles of checking the news. If you touch your computer before the 2 minutes are up, then the site lets you know how long you lasted and resets the clock.
This website was created by the makers of the Calm, so if your 2 minutes of nothing helps quiet your brain, check out the app for more moments of calm.
9. Combat Frustration and Boredom
Some of the distress of being quarantined stems from boredom and frustration. Finding ways to stay occupied is important, so try to maintain as many of your routines as you can. Keep working on projects or find new activities to fill your time, whether it’s organizing your closet or trying out a new creative hobby.
Getting things done can provide a sense of purpose and competency. It gives you something to work towards and something to look forward to each day. So make a plan, list some things you’d like to accomplish, and then start checking a few things off your list each day.
10. Remember Why You’re Doing This
When you are feeling frustrated or cooped up, it can be helpful to think about the reasons why you are quarantining yourself. If you have been potentially exposed to coronavirus, avoiding others is an altruistic action. You minimize the chance that you might unknowingly spread the illness to other people, even if you are currently asymptomatic.
Flattening the Curve
Slowing the spread of the illness helps keep the number of sick people at a level that hospitals are able to treat. If infection rates spike abruptly as the disease spreads, hospitals and health care workers can be overwhelmed and unable to adequately treat everyone.
By doing your part to prevent the spread of the disease, you are protecting others and making sure that those who are sick are able to have greater access to available health resources. Reminding yourself of these reasons can sometimes make your days in quarantine a little easier to bear.