Coping During a Pandemic Part 2: How to Manage A Quarantine Lifestyle During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the previous article we talked about the struggles with anxiety during the pandemic. This is a troubling time, and many of us are in a circumstance that we could not have been predicted: stuck inside for almost all day. This will likely help us re-think how grateful we are for our freedom to walk outside. Despite that gratitude check, it’s still very difficult to be cooped up inside. In this article we will provide some ideas and some evidence-based tips for coping better with a quarantine lifestyle.

Quarantine Schedule

For most of us, prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, a regular daily and weekly schedule was a norm. Now that we’re in a quarantine lifestyle, we argue that a schedule on a daily and weekly basis is also the best choice for maintaining our mental health. This is a time of significant challenge for us financially, emotionally, and relationally, so part of the purpose of recommending routines is to help manage and balance our needs in the most effective way possible.

Let’s start with a proposition: the optimal schedule for us in times of peace and prosperity will be different in a time of struggle. Therefore, we need to create a schedule for ourselves that draws on what is effective in a time of peace in prosperity, and adapt it to our current circumstances. This is what we do, we adapt. We are so smart and resilient as humans because we know how to adapt. Given all of these ideas are correct, then let’s explore the optimal schedule in a time of peace and prosperity

Wellness Routine

As we’ve talked about at trainings and with our patients, the best concept for thriving seems to be something called “wellness.” This is an integrative, biopsychosocial, view of human optimal functioning. Different authors use different ideas in their wellness models, but we’ve chosen the one that seems to fit best based upon our collective experience of helping people recovery from mental illness and addiction, because creating a new lifestyle is key to mental health. The model we chose includes seven ideas: play, connection, physical activity, rest, sleep, mindfulness, and focus.

Here is a breakdown of each idea and how much/little is needed for every adult:

  • Play: seems weird right? Well, humans are a type of very sophisticated mammal, and all mammals need to play. Can take the form of sports, board games, outings to the beach, trivia, and much more. Play is good for our brain and our mental health, regardless of our age. How much is enough? Good question, that depends upon your interests in different types of play as well as your time limitations based upon the other ideas here. We bet you don’t play enough, so let’s try to work in more fun!
  • Connection: When we feel connected there’s nothing better, humans were designed to be “in relationship”. We need people, but generally we need connection (e.g., why so many own pets). Some people are more introverted so they need less big group interaction, whereas others are more extroverted, so they “recharge” in a more constant socially rich environment. Knowing how you’re built will help you figure out if you need more or less connection. Knowing how often you feel “lonely” (even in a crowded room) will help too. We can help you figure that out.
  • Physical Activity: We seem to sit a lot nowadays; however, humans, like all other animals, are not supposed to sit all day. We have an inherent need to be up, active, and moving. Moreover, having a regular exercise routine, or regular engagement in sports, has been shown to be effective in helping regulate mood and decrease stress. We need about 45 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per day.
  • Rest: We need rest in the form of taking a break to go for a walk, listen to some music, maybe a quick nap, etc. to let our brain unwind and get re-focused. The number of breaks will vary based upon the intensity of your work or other activities, as well as your general stress level.
  • Sleep: The average adult between ages 18-60 needs 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep helps the body heal and our neurotransmitters reset, too little or too much can through off our homeostasis. If you wake up not feeling rested, that’s not good. We can help get that on track.
  • Mindfulness: often called “non-judgmental awareness,” or “paying attention on purpose, in the moment, without judgment” by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This mindset/attitude can be practiced in meditation or all day, depending upon your goals. We recommend a consistent daily mindfulness practice (30-45 minutes) of mindful walking, meditating, dish washing, whatever activity works.
  • Focus: as naturally curious and productive creatures, we can find purpose through having a job, building a career, volunteering, reading, or learning about a topic online. Part of optimal brain and, indeed, relationship functioning is having a designated period of time to focus on activities that provide purpose. The amount of time you spend in a “focus” mindset will vary based upon your financial needs, your personality, and your circumstances.

So, now that you have an idea of what’s needed under non-pandemic circumstances let’s talk about how to tailor them to a quarantine lifestyle.

It’s simple, do your best. There is no “right” way of handling this. This isn’t a question of science; it’s a question of self-compassion and resilience. We’re tough people, we can handle this. Most people naturally struggle to have an optimal balance of these 7 traits even when times are good. In quarantine you might have less access to a gym or weights at home, so you can shift your 45 minutes into an in-home cardio workout of some sort. Or, maybe your connection routine was built around weekly gatherings/meals with friends/family, so now we can use Skype or Zoom to have virtual social hours. This is a time for us to flex our creative muscles. We can do this. And, ending on the idea of rest, maybe you need more breaks. For many it’s hard being cooped up at home, we’re not really built for this. If you find yourself going stir-crazy, provided it’s safe and you follow official guidelines, maybe you can go for a walk or even a jog. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, take more breaks. If you’re struggling to find work, as many have, this might be the time to take on a side job or learn a new skill. Regardless, the goal here is to be realistic with yourselves and your loved ones, and have compassion for the challenges we face now in a quarantine lifestyle. You can do this, we can do this.

If we can be of any assistance to you please don’t hesitate to reach out, we’re available by phone at 747-222-7464 or online at https://www.pcicenters.com/.