While we are well into the fourth month of managing the COVID crisis, it certainly continues to impact the daily lives and mindsets of many of us. Sure, we've established the perfect lunch time walk circuit and we've learned how to use a fun background on Zoom. But there are still internal, more intimate lessons for us to learn as we buckle in for several more months (or, not to be a pessimist, years) of a COVID-influenced lifestyle.
Everyone is managing COVID differently, but I've noticed in myself and in conversations with friends that some of us have slipped into harmful habits. While at first these crutches may have seemed helpful to our mental health, they may be negatively impacting us now.
1. Checking the news throughout the day.
If you find yourself refreshing the news or checking your Twitter feed throughout the day — especially in the middle of other activities or right before you wake up or go to bed — your mental health is at stake. While it's responsible to be informed, structuring your news consumption can keep you from undergirding your entire day with the anxiety and hopelessness the headlines are causing these days.
Try scheduling a window before and after your workday to check the news. Make sure that scheduled time isn't right before you go to bed (hello, nightmares!) or right after a mood-boosting activity like exercise or meditating, as it can counteract the centering experience.
2. Pushing yourself to be 'more productive.'
If you're still beating yourself up for everything you haven't achieved in quarantine, you're causing yourself undue stress. While you may feel the "extra time" that's presented by social distancing is the perfect playground for a self-improvement plan, it's important to remember that you're living through a pandemic and period of great social unrest. Many of us are managing new, exhausting emotions and expectations. The energy it takes to manage those is just as valid as the energy it takes to implement a new workout plan or creative project. Denying yourself the feeling of accomplishment for making it through this period of time isn't doing yourself any favors. In fact, it could be causing feelings of anxiety or depression.
Honor the hard work you're putting into your everyday by focusing on what you're getting done and keeping a gratitude journal. Write out everything you've accomplished — from waking up to helping your kids with homework to managing to call your mom, nothing is too small. If you're able to tack something on and feel it will improve your mindset, implement your lifestyle change in increments to create sustainable growth and protect yourself from burn out. Want to work out more? Try adding 30 or 45 minute windows a few times a week instead of dedicating yourself to two hour workouts everyday. Want to read more? Give yourself a time period before bed to read a book you've been interested in for a while instead of ordering a month's worth of obligatory reading.
3. Avoiding phone calls (and all other human contact).
If you've been avoiding Zoom calls and cancelling catch-up sessions with your friends or colleagues, you aren't alone. While we may have been booked for the first few months of quarantine, many of us are feeling burnt out by 2020's weird, socially distanced forms of communication. I know I find it exhausting to talk to a friend or family member for an hour without the small talk presented by the goings-on at a busy cafe, a restaurant menu to choose from or a shop full of candles or books to pass back and forth. Even worse: Having no hugs or proper eye contact makes any call feel less real! But it's critical to stay connected with others. Isolating yourself can lead to depression and anxiety.
Even if you aren't feeling good about booking your calendar full of calls again, take small steps to reintegrate human contact into your life. Challenge yourself to have one long call a week with a friend or loved one. Turn your video on during a work meeting. Message a colleague and ask to have a 15 minute catch-up call one afternoon. Small social interactions can make you feel a ton better, especially when they're a part of your routine.
And if you live in a part of the country that offers socially distanced, outdoor activities, make it a point to plan an outing or two with a trusted (and equally careful!) friend or family member. Being together in person feels way better than being together over video chat. Plus, creating plans a few days or weeks in advance gives you something to look forward to.
4. Making online shopping your latest hobby.
If you're really leaning into retail therapy, your new stylish aesthetic may be coming at the cost of your mental health. It feels great to online shop. I'm not a scientist, but you could tell me we get a bolt of serotonin when we click "buy" and I wouldn't be floored. Buying something that's supposed to improve your life is a great way to exert control over feelings of helplessness; I know I've made a few purchases to feel more in control of some aspect of my life or self-expression and when we're all feeling so out of control, it makes sense we're taking it out on our credit cards. But the twisted part is, once that new necklace or blender or whatever else you found online gets to your door, the excitement is fleeting. And those feelings of control? They're not really there.
While surfing stores online is a fun and theoretically exciting pastime (and let's be honest, there's not a ton more to do right now), binge buying can lead to feelings of helplessness and regret, especially in an era where financial instability is a constant worry. Even if you don't buy, inundating yourself with the things you don't have can stir up negative, lesser-than feelings.
To cut down on regretful purchases and still get that scrolling high, I suggest taking out your energy in another way. Basically, find a new way to scroll that puts you more in control. If you're always shopping for clothes online, move your energy to Pinterest and learning ways to revamp your old clothes. Or get more theoretical and move to making a vision board for your personal style with an aesthetic you'll build over time. If you're always shopping for home goods or decor, move your energy to researching crafts you can do for your home or ways to refurbish your belongings.
If all else fails, turn your retail therapy into something more baseline useful. For instance, romanticize your next grocery store trip by trying out new recipes or picking up a new snack or soft drink.
5. Failing to structure your space and time.
If you're still working odd hours everyday, working where you sleep and workout and also eat all your meals, or struggling to implement any kind of daily schedule, it's likely taking a toll on your mental health. While flexibility is a huge benefit of working from home (or just generally being home for the majority of the day), creating structures for ourselves helps us feel more accomplished, less anxious and less fatigued. Without a schedule, it can feel difficult to track the different, discrete things you did in a day, which can lead to nighttime spirals about levels of productivity or even the meaning of life, to be honest. The same goes for having separate spaces to do different things. Logging off from work at the end of the day and leaving your laptop in a designated office space feels a lot more resolved than logging off and setting it on your coffee table, just to stare at it while you watch TV or talk with your family members later in the evening. Similarly, decision fatigue is a real thing and offering yourself a million decisions a day by failing to plan is exhausting.
Structuring your time and your space helps you separate and prioritize your personal and professional activities. This means working to create a daily schedule for yourself and any dependents that balances what you want to get done — and sticking to it. It means building special spaces, no matter how small, for different activities so you can physically move from one to another. While this sounds like a lot of work, it can be a great investment if you're going to be working remote — or expect you will be social distanced — for the long haul.