• Jen Maffessanti

How to Not Lose Your Mind While Social Distancing

(Featured Image by Engin_Akyurt from Pixabay)

Times are weird right now. All over the country, schools and daycares are closed, events are canceled, restaurants and halting dine-in service, many workers are being moved to remote-only, and everyone is being encouraged to practice “social distancing.”

It’s a really stressful time right now. It certainly is for me. My 9-year-olds’ Montessori school is closed, so they’re home. Given my severely compromised immune system, I’ve been working from home for longer than most of my coworkers, and I can’t just release my kids into the wild to play with their friends like I would if I wasn’t trying to work and homeschool them.

I’ve struggled with anxiety since my early 20s. My delicate health and the current mood of the nation—of the world!—seem designed to pile worry after worry on me, and many others feel similarly.

But when the world throws you a curveball, there are ways to keep your head on straight. Whether you’re working from home or just staying home, dealing with kids or are kid-free, here are my tips for keeping your sanity during the current crisis.

Talk to Other People

Staying away from people physically doesn’t have to equal no social contact whatsoever. Extrovert, introvert, ambivert—we all need at least a little interpersonal interaction sometimes.

But technology is amazing! Humans are naturally social creatures, and innovative entrepreneurs have already created incredible tools for keeping in touch with each other. Most of them carry little to no additional cost to users.

If you’re feeling lonely, text a friend or family member. Schedule some time to have a video chat with them on FaceTime, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Zoom, Skype, or something similar.

Most of these applications also have text-based messaging services included if you don’t feel like using your out-loud voice. But having a video “date” at least once in a while, even if all you do is watch TV together, can still promote feelings of togetherness and ward off feelings of loneliness.

A younger coworker of mine also recommends online video games as a way of staying connected. Personally, I've always been a solo gamer, but he uses them to stay in touch with his brothers and other long-distance friends. There are lots of online gaming options to choose from, and the current models of Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch (to an extent) have internet connectivity. PC gaming is still a thing, so that’s an option, too. Play cooperatively or competitively, as you like. Who knows, maybe you’ll get good enough to make a career out of it.

Make a Schedule

If you’re working remotely, setting a schedule for yourself is important in order to get done all the tasks you need to do. Many companies still have “business hours” that remote workers need to adhere to, so if yours does, some of that work is done for you. But if you’re not working remotely or you set your own hours, establishing a schedule and doing what you can to keep to it is just as important.

Humans crave routine. We like stability and predictability, even when we say we don’t. There’s a reason so many of us keep rewatching our favorite movies and TV shows instead of working through our to-watch lists on Netflix.

Having a schedule gives us that sense of stability and also lifts the burden of constant decision-making from us. Decision fatigue—the exhaustion we feel from repeatedly making decisions and why it’s so hard to figure out what’s for dinner after a long day at work—is real and can lead to poor choices and, ultimately, inaction.

Setting a schedule for yourself means that you only have to make a decision once when you set the schedule. This frees up mental energy for important things.

Of course, as our situations change, we need to be willing to revisit our schedules. Tagging calendar items with priority levels from the beginning makes the inevitable reshuffling easier.

A schedule doesn’t even have to be super-detailed to be effective. Even if it’s just general timeframes for waking up, eating meals, and going to bed, it’s better than nothing.

If your kids are out of school or you have others that you live with, it’s important to involve them in the scheduling process so that together you can work out a plan that works for everyone. Deciding that everyone is to be in bed and silent until 10 a.m. does no good if the people you live with tend to wake up at 6 a.m. or need to be working by 8 a.m.

(And speaking of kids being out of school, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) has some excellent resources for you and the young people in your life. For those finding themselves sudden homeschoolers, FEE’s Senior Education Fellow and expert on educating outside of a classroom, Kerry McDonald, offers some great insights and opportunities in her weekly newsletter along with a new Facebook Group for parents and teachers during the COVID-19 outbreak. For older students or those just generally curious, we also offer engaging videos and audio content, all free of charge.)

Set Goals

Setting goals goes hand-in-hand with setting a schedule. It can be difficult to plan your day or your week if you don’t have any kind of vision of what you want to accomplish.

Goals don’t have to be super-ambitious, especially if you’re not working, and they don’t have to be complicated. It can be something as simple as “clean the bathroom” or “call mom.” Or they can be as expansive as “write a listicle about not going crazy.” To each their own.

Whatever your goals are, be realistic—and gentle—with yourself. Acknowledge the limitations you face given your current circumstances, accept that there are just some things that you may not be able to do or change, and work from there. You don’t have to be the next Isaac Newton and develop a new form of mathematics while in isolation during a plague. Manageable goals that can be achieved with the resources you have access to can give you the sweet sense of accomplishment that we all so enjoy.

And put on real clothes every day. While it’s tempting to teleconference in your PJs (and goodness knows I’ve done it), putting on pants when you don’t technically have to gives a kind of officialness to your efforts and gives you critical motivation to accomplish what you wanted to do.

Self-Care Is Care

Whether you’ve suddenly found yourself crazy-busy with work/kids or you’ve suddenly found yourself with an incredible lack of things to do, it’s important to take care of your own well-being right now. It’s okay to take care of yourself. In fact, it’s vital.

With all this effort you’ve been putting in so far, it’d be a shame if you burned yourself out during social isolation. Take some time to read a book or watch a show or movie you’ve been meaning to get to. Take a nice bath. Close the door and meditate for a few minutes. Have a nap, if you can.

And remember, it’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of bad news, negativity, and outright panic right now. I’m not suggesting you ignore the news, but bear in mind that even though there’s a lot of turmoil and disruption happening right now, there is still so much we have to be thankful for.

Practicing gratitude can, over time, help you break out of toxic feelings and thought patterns and have a lasting positive benefit on your mental health. Taking a few moments every day to acknowledge and appreciate the good things in your life can also help alleviate and prevent anxiety about your current situation.

This Doesn’t Have to Be a Disaster

If you’re having some trouble figuring out what it is you want to do, maybe it’s time to go back to those dreams you’ve always had. Far from being a disaster, this is a great opportunity for you to do The Thing.

You know The Thing. The Thing you always wanted to do, make, or learn but never got around to. The Thing is different for everyone. For some, it’s a picture. For others, it’s a video. For others still, it’s writing that story or learning that skill. Maybe it’s as complicated finishing that project car or as simple as fixing that squeaky floorboard.

I know circumstances aren't ideal right now. Of course they're not. But you know what? They almost never are.

Regardless of what it is, here’s your chance to do it. I believe in you. You can do The Thing.

With thought, effort, and the desire to make it so, you can emerge from this crisis, from any crisis, not just unbroken, but better than when it began.

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