Many of us are currently on lockdown at home while we are practicing physical distancing. Staying home for a day or two, maybe even a week, sounds like fun. A week of “at-home vacation” can be a great way to spend your free time, but what happens if that week extends into two weeks, or a month, or longer? Suddenly, the “at-home vacation” begins to feel like isolation, and isolation leads to depression. So, how do we maintain our mental health while practicing physical distancing? Every family will be different. The family with four preschool and elementary-aged children will have a very different challenge from the widowed, senior adult living alone. But there are a few things that every family can do to stay mentally healthy. Here is a list of ten rhythms for maintaining your mental health while being at home.
1. Maintain a schedule.
One of the things that we enjoy about vacation is the time to sleep late, ignore the clock, and have unscheduled free time. That works on vacation, but extended time in isolation needs a schedule. We know that sleep is directly related to mood and that our sleep patterns need to be consistent. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. Make sleep patterns a part of your schedule. Also, schedule the time that you will do chores, watch TV, and eat meals. The better able that you are to maintain a consistent daily schedule, the less likely you are to succumb to depression and anxiety.
2. Have a project.
In order to stay emotionally healthy, we need to feel that we have accomplished something. Do you remember when you said, “If I just had one more day this week, I could get a lot of things done?” Well, here is that one more day. Think about those projects around the house that you need to do (i.e. wiping down those blinds, sorting that sock drawer, or cleaning out the garage). Choose one project each day. Your projects can also include things that you have put off, such as writing an article, sending Thank You cards, or scanning old pictures into online folders. The main thing is that every day needs to have a project and at the end of the day, you will feel good about getting something done.
3. Continue or start spiritual disciplines.
A part of your daily schedule needs to include some time for spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, and journaling. Of course, this will depend on your home schedule. If you have preschoolers, this will have to be done when they are occupied or after they go to bed at night. If you are living alone, this may be a longer period. But regardless, if it is ten minutes or a full hour, you will need to have a time of spiritual nurturance.
4. Limit TV news.
I am all about keeping informed, but with 24 hour news channels, we can easily get caught in a news loop that feeds us with constant bad news. If we are currently staying at home, then we already know that the news is bad. And, bad news (all day, every day) can lead to anxiety. So, limit the amount of time with TV news. Decide what news you will watch and when you will watch, and then turn the news off.
5. Maintain contact with family and friends.
Think about who needs a call. You can make a list of friends that you have not spoken to in a while and call a different one each day. You can have FaceTime calls with family to make sure everyone is able to talk. Make sure that you are having a conversation with those that you love every day. My recommendation is that you make this a part of your daily schedule.
Set aside some time every day to exercise. Sunshine is a disinfectant, and walking in the sun can be a great source of exercise. You can also find online videos with exercise. Norepinephrine and dopamine are brain hormones that are activated by exercise, and they are mood managers. An easy way to keep a good mood is movement.
7. Eat healthy.
Being isolated at home can lead to bad food choices. Potato chips are not a vegetable. Unless we are careful and very intentional, we can begin to eat a diet that is not good for our mental health. By not eating out, we can make choices about a healthy diet. So, have a family gathering and plan the menu together. Use this time to try new recipes. It is also a time that family can come together in the kitchen to plan and cook together. Most grocery stores provide home delivery, so take advantage and eat well.
8. Learn something new.
So, you have always wanted to learn French. You have always wanted to try to knit. You have always wanted to read those books that you were assigned in high school. Give yourself a challenge to learn something new during this time. There is more than likely a YouTube video on just about anything that you want to learn.
9. Play together.
Puzzles, video games, board games, card games, word games, and online games are good sources of play. And, they can pass a lot of time. A movie can be a form of play, but play needs to be active as well as passive. For every movie you watch, play at least one game.
10. Tell family stories.
Ask each family member to tell one story about the family that comes to mind. This is also an activity that you can do on FaceTime with family members who are living away from home. The family stories that we tell are a way of discovering the family values. It is always good to be reminded of who we are as a family and for what we stand. You might want to record these so that when physical distancing is over, you will have a record.
You can begin to make your own list. The important thing is that you use the time well so that you can stay mentally well.