There are many flavors to the current stay-at-home upending: You might be alone or with others. You might be working or idle. You might live on property you can roam or be confined to an urban shoe box. Whatever your situation, there are ways to cope, extreme circumstances notwithstanding.
I’ve worked from home as a writer and editor for many years. Mostly, this has meant butt-in-chair for hours on end, though pre-pandemic I escaped twice a week to teach yoga classes. You might assume I’m introverted. I am. I’m also extroverted: College dorm-mates deemed me “Most Outgoing,” and for much of my professional life I was a shoe-leather journalist. In other words, whether or not you like being cooped up, I’ve surely experienced some shade of what you feel about being homebound.
Here are 5 things that helped me not lose my mind while confined all these years:
1. Connect with nature, inside or outside
If you can be in nature (safely), do it. Get a workout by trimming your garden, lawn, shrubs. Get dirt under your fingernails by pulling up weeds or planting something—don’t wear gloves; it won’t center you as much. Being around trees helps lower your blood pressure and lighten your mood, and studies show nature’s therapeutic effect is good for your heart and helps keep your cortisol levels in check. If you can’t be outdoors but have indoor plants, keep them near you and touch them. Open a window if it lets you feel the sun or wind or hear thunder, birds or rain.
2. Get on with people you like—and not through text or social media
Even if you love being alone, you need to interact with others. Humans are social creatures, and we don’t stay sane in isolation. Texting, emailing and social media are forms of connection, but not ideal. We need to talk with others, and seeing each other is even better, so make it happen using good ol’ phone calls or live video services such as Skype or FaceTime. Even if you’re at home with people you dig being around, you need to shake it up. A cycle of the same faces and personalities day after day will make you loopy.
3. Ignore everyone and everything
Yes you need to connect with others. But you also need time alone, away from everyone and the onslaught of news. You choose how you want to spend this time, and make it last at least 20 minutes a day. To be sure, certain activities soothe frayed edges more than others: Reading a book will calm you more than playing video games, but do as you will.
4. Do one thing at a time
You’re stressed right now. Who isn’t? And so you’re trying to handle lots of things at once, from checking the markets to finishing work assignments to texting nervous friends to eating (at least that’s what happened to me). Don’t. You will be terrible at all of them. I was: I burned two fingers and still haven’t crossed important items from my to-do list. The few days I was productive came thanks to mono-tasking—doing only one thing at a time—because, the truth is, it’s impossible to actually do more than one thing at the same time, so you end up constantly switching among tasks and not completing anything worthwhile.
This one is predictable and unimaginative, yes. But it works. I don’t need to direct you to studies because by now everyone (I hope!) knows that exercise boosts mood. What might be less known is that walking is arguably the best form of exercise because it’s safe for pretty much everyone, you can make it gentle or intense, and it has both cardiovascular and muscle-strengthening benefits. But if you prefer some other form of physical activity, get to it, even if it’s for just 15 minutes a day.
Mitra Malek has worked from home as a contributing editor for Yoga Journal, a copy editor and proofreader for Sounds True and The Himalayan Institute, a wellness content creator for companies such as Vitacost, a ghostwriter, a meditation script writer and more. If she isn’t diligent, she ends up wearing pajamas all day and talking to herself too much.