Strategies to survive and thrive during the COVID-19 pandemic: Overcome stress, anxiety and social distancing
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Fifteen minutes. That is all it takes. Fifteen minutes of watching generic news is enough to cause increased anxiety, bring down your mood, and lower your expression of positive emotions. Fifteen minutes of watching regular news – not even the catastrophizing COVID-19 stories we are now consuming 24/7.
Not only does this level of news consumption wreak havoc with our emotional state, but our mood doesn’t improve just by switching the news off.
We have to purposefully do something to bring our emotional state back to normal.
This is even more important when our regular routines are thrown asunder. Working from home, schools closed down, social distancing – none of this is a mood booster.
Anxiety in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic
I am basically a calm person. But today is different. My daughter is ill, and the 24/7 news is all about COVID-19 and the pending (almost) zombie-apocalypse. Even as a person who has been preaching calm to others, my blood pressure is creeping up.
I sit down to do some work and, instead, drift over to news sites or start scanning my social media – and of course, ONLY see COVID-19 scare stories. I start clicking and clicking, and before I know it, I have spent 2 hours consuming fear.
And I am a solid introvert. Social distancing is my happy place. For the majority of people out there who are more extroverted, the social distancing and closure of public venues must exacerbate negative feelings.
We have nowhere to go and nothing to do except consume negative news and twiddle our thumbs. Well, some are still looking for toilet paper, but that is another issue (and I finally found enough to tide us over – yay!).
How do you decrease anxiety when the COVID-19 pandemic is raging?
I don’t particularly appreciate feeling this way, and I expect you don’t either. Because I want to feel better and more in control, I have been brainstorming things I can do, and I thought I would share those ideas with you.
I have come up with a list of free or almost-free things you can do from home. Most are evidence-based activities that improve or stabilize mood. Some are activities that work for me, and I hope they work for you, too.
It is normal and understandable that you will resist doing any of these things. Your brain is going to try very hard to keep you engaged with TV. The fear- stimulus is addictive. I can hear my brain is telling me I don’t want to do anything but watch TV. However, I know from experience if I push myself, I will feel better after I accomplish something – anything.
Are you looking for things you can do that are proven to decrease anxiety and improve mood? In need of free or almost-free things you can do from home? Read on.
5 areas to pay attention to
My suggestions are categorized into five themes, listed below. I have also created a printable cheat sheet you can post on your refrigerator or elsewhere to refer to when you need a reminder.
- Take control of your daily life
- Engage your mind
- Use your body
- Connect with others
- Change something in your life for the better
Read on and then get your free printable cheat sheet with these, and a few extras not in this article.
Take control of your daily life
First and foremost – limit your daily news and social media consumption. Seriously. It is best if you shut it off completely, but I understand it is not realistic given we are experiencing a pandemic.
Limit TV news viewing
Set a timer and give yourself 15 minutes of TV or online news in the morning and again in the early evening – but NOT before bed. Fifteen minutes is more than adequate to keep you up on important events, and also enough to increase your anxiety. If you watch more, you will start on a revolving loop of the same news over and over.
Remember, the news shows and online sites are actively trying to keep you watching or scrolling, and they are experts on how to do this. Set a timer and walk away when it goes off.
Attend to daily chores
Lists, or crossing things off lists, give me satisfaction. When my life feels out of control, the first thing I am apt to do is to make a list of chores and cross them off as I complete them. I call these the “dailies.”
Even if this is not your typical style, it may be useful to adopt during this time of upheaval – when our daily routines are thrown into chaos by outside events. Children will benefit from a list too; it helps them feel more in control when they see the world around them spinning out of control.
What should go on the list?
I suggest only 5 items. Keep it simple, thus doable. Get everyone in your household participating. Complete these tasks first thing in the morning – before you check in with the news – and pat yourself on the back when they are done.
- Make your bed.
- Do the dishes.
- Fold and put away laundry.
- Sweep the floors.
- Pick up clutter.
While anecdotal reports are plentiful, I haven’t found any reliable scientific papers confirming that daily chore completion helps people feel better. However, I know they help me, and I expect others too.
I have a few decades and a few traumas and down-times under my belt. Traversing these experiences has taught me that if I push myself to do these 5 items every day, at the beginning of the day, I feel better. A lot better.
Engage your mind
Unfortunately, many of us are housebound either because someone is ill at home or because there is nowhere to go – everything is closed. But there are loads of places to “go” online:
- Take a virtual museum tour. Many museums now have excellent virtual tours online. The British Museum is an excellent example. Many more can be found at Google’s Arts and Culture site. One of my personal favorites is The Art Institute of Chicago. They have fantastic online access to their collection.
- Now that you are inspired by art, go create some – try this Art Prompt Generator.
- Can’t get to the theater, but love plays? Watch an award-winning play from home. Playbill provides links to 15 Broadway plays you can stream.
- Watch an inspirational TED Talk.
- Take a class. Udemy has 6786 free courses online, so there is likely something you are interested in. Many more can be had for under $15.00.
- If you have children, and they are out of school, check out my absolute favorite home school writing curricula. Brave Writer offers a free 7-day writing blitz. My daughter LOVED Brave Writer courses when she was homeschooling, and they absolutely taught her how to write better than many of her peers.
- Listen to a podcast – especially this Special Siblings podcast, Managing Anxiety in an Uncertain World. You can also try “How Worried Should We Be?”, featuring yours truly.
A note on reading
You might be wondering why, given I am a massive fan of reading, that I haven’t put it on the list above. While this, indeed, is an excellent time to pick up something to read, you may struggle to concentrate on a book.
I know I am experiencing frustration with my usual reading list right now. I read a few pages or even just a paragraph, and my mind wanders. This is normal for an unsettling time like this.
Even so, it is still possible to read. I suggest looking for an uplifting novel, short story, or novella. Audiobooks may be easier than print. This is an excellent time to try a free Audible book. I can send a free book to a new Audible subscriber, so shoot me a comment if you have a book you want, and I’ll try to send it to you.
My go-to, feel-good reading list:
- Anything by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Seriously. If I am down or low, I read one of her novels. Unfortunately for me, I have read every one of her books. Actually, there is not a single one I would not recommend, but one of my absolute favorites, besides Pay It Forward, is Don’t Let Me Go.
- Where the Heart Is
- The Braid
- The Story of Arthur Truluv
- The Persian Pickle Club
- Motel Pool
- Last Bus to Wisdom
- Something Like Happy
- Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
- Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
- This Tender Land
Novellas or Short Stories
I am also going to try some of the short story collections recommended by one of my go-to book recommendation sites, Literary Hub.
Use your body
We need the endorphins we get from physical activity.
- Gaia TV has a one-month free trial with an exhaustive list of stretching routines, workouts, and yoga practice sessions.
- Although I haven’t tried Fitness Blender, I plan to. They also have a massive collection of exercise and yoga videos — all free.
- Take a virtual walk. I had no idea these sites exist, but you can walk on your treadmill while virtually walking through the redwood forest. Or other fabulous nature trails. To get you started, I found the following possibilities:
- San Diego Trails, virtual hikes
- US National Parks virtual hikes
- 4K Relaxation Channel on YouTube to either explore a virtual hike or watch nature and wildlife.
Connect with others
- Write a letter. I mean a real letter. On paper. With a pen. Sent in an envelope with a stamp. It is fun to receive letters, so try writing and mailing one. Your parents would love to receive a letter from you. Likewise, if you have grown children, they will probably cherish a heartfelt love-note from mom or dad.
- Start a group text with your family. I have 7 children living across the USA, and we have a running group text going into the third day now. It is fun. Every photo or note lightens my heart and connects us; take screenshots of some of these exchanges, so you remember these times.
- Call or Facetime a friend or family member and DON’T talk about COVID-19. OK, give yourself one-minute to update each other on your toilet paper status, but no more. Talk about something – anything – else.
- Start a conversation over coffee, at mealtime, or randomly when you need to lighten the tone. As an aid, Google conversation starters, and you will find more than you will ever use.
- Try a round-robin storytelling experience over dinner. For example, have one person start the story and then pass it off to the person sitting next to them. We have done this a few times on holidays, and it always ends up giving us a lot of laughter and fun. If you are struggling with a starter, try this:
“This was my last chance. The only store in town left. I headed to the toilet paper aisle, and I spotted it. Only one solitary package of toilet paper sitting alone on the otherwise vacant shelves. The last of its kind to be found. I looked around me and saw an elderly woman driving her motorized scooter toward my target. I…”
Change something in your life for the better
We always lament we don’t have time to do “fill-in-the-blank.” Now is your opportunity. If you have turned off the news and attempted even a few of the suggestions above, you probably feel a little better. Time to tackle a – gasp – PROJECT. Try one of these:
- Find 10 things (or 5) you no longer need and get rid of them. Challenge everyone in your household to do the same.
- Clean out just one drawer, cabinet, or closet.
- Automate a task or bill payment.
- Change your bedding (for me it always feels better to climb into a freshly made bed)
- Back up your photos. You know you need to.
- Hang pictures. My children living in Virginia just sent a group text update showing themselves hanging pictures that have been crying out for a wall. Good job, guys!
- Start a budget. If you don’t have one now is a perfect time to start. You have time. Heck, combine it with #3 and automate it with YNAB or something similar.
My mood is already better
I feel my mood lifting just researching and writing this post. Finally, I feel like I now have a go-to list of things to do that will help me not only survive but also thrive during the COVID pandemic. My anxiety is decreased, and my mood is lifted even though, other than making my bed, I haven’t actually done anything else – yet. Except I haven’t checked the news. Hey, it works.
Download your free cheat sheet (with bonus suggestions)
It is hard to get motivated sometimes, but posting this cheat sheet on your refrigerator or some other prominent location in your home can help remind you or a family member that there ARE things to do besides worry and watch the news.
- Bonus cheat sheet: You’ll get a printable sheet and join my newsletter. Just click below to subscribe and once you confirm your email (watch for a message in your inbox) your printable will be delivered to you.
- Print the 8.5×11 inch page – any printer will do.
- Hang your cheat sheet where you can see it.
I put my printed sheet front and center on my refrigerator.
Here is a sneak peek of the color version you will receive.
Now it’s your turn
Do you have additional ideas on how to cope? What are YOU doing? How are you helping your children? We want to know. Share your suggestions in the comments below.
One last item
You all know Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, have confirmed COVID-19. Rita created this Quarantunes playlist on Spotify. It’s nice. Enjoy.