The Coronavirus has put the world on hold, and forced most of us to stay indoors. By keeping a distance from other people, we not only decrease the risk of infecting ourselves, but also decrease the risk of unintentionally infecting others – especially the elderly and vulnerable among us. I can’t remember a time when it seemed possible to save lives by staying home and doing nothing. And yet it does not feel like nothing.
Although many of us have often longed for a day off, the reality looks a lot different. Staying home might be enjoyable at first, but quickly turns into a psychological challenge when we are being forced to do so, making us feel restless and stressed. Naturally a lot of this stress stems from the fear and losses due to the virus itself. But even outside of Corona, being bound home is a challenge for our mental well being.
Many of our daily routines and habits are suddenly no longer feasible, because they require us to get outside and be with people – whether it’s our morning coffee at Starbucks, our dinner date with friends, or football practice with the kids. We are the social primates but now we have to redesign our entire days to meet not only our financial and materialistic needs, but also our psychological and emotional ones, while maintaining our distance.
The pandemic is affecting us in many different ways, and if we want to step up to the occasion, we need to become more aware of how it is affecting our mental health. In the following, I will highlight five challenges from being home bound and how we can take the energy that resides inside each challenge and pivot it toward our mental well-being.
#1 The Challenge of Movement
Most people do not own a private mansion, and except in rural or suburban areas most may not have even a simple private yard. If not, when we stay home, we are literally confined to the boundaries of a very overseeable apartment.
That’s a challenge!
Despite our fancy cars and technologically advanced smartphones, we are all still animals. And just like any other animal, we all have an innate desire and need to move and use our bodies.
The link between physical movement and psychological health is well established, and everybody “knows” they should probably exercise more. Now that much of the world’s population is forced to stay home, this is probably truer than ever before.
The obvious antidote to a lack of movement is to move your body! Yes, you can no longer go to the gym, but this does not mean that you need to give up exercising altogether. Push Ups, Sit Ups, Squats, and even Burpees; all of these exercises require little space and no equipment at all. Yoga online.
Here is my favorite way to start: put strength and flexibility into many moments during the day. After all, you are home; no one is watching.
Do sloooow curls with a gallon of water until your muscle is exhausted (an 8 count up; and 4 count down). Then do the same raising it from behind your head to the ceiling. While doing the dishes, do toe raises. After each dish you put into the dishwasher, do a squat or almost touch your toes. Make up games and challenges; involve your family. Once you start to get creative, you can considerably increase your physical movement and training throughout the entire day. And as you do (trust me) more cardio related options (Burpees!) will start to seem doable.
Yeah, it’s weird. So is being homebound! Make the best of it. Put strength, flexibility, and movement throughout your day.
Your body as well as your mind will be grateful.
#2 The Challenge of Staying in Touch with Nature
When you take a walk through the woods, you might notice something curious: You start to feel more energized, your body moves more easily, and your mood brightens up. This is because nature has a direct and measurable effect on our well being.
Fresh air, direct sunlight, and the scent of plants – all affect us physically and psychologically. Even the sound of birds might add to this effect. However, when we stay indoors for an extended period of time, we miss out on these effects, and suffer from their absence.
Unless you are living in an area that is on complete lock down, you may still be permitted to go outside, wearing a mask and maintaining a considerable distance from other people. You may only be allowed to go out once a day; or to walk your dog. Make the most of it. Seek out nature. See if you can walk through the woods or a stroll along the lake.
When there, rise to the challenge and bring your full awareness to the world we live in. Notice the insect and animals; smell the smells; feel the grass underfoot. Look at the sky; watch the clouds; feel the breeze. Catch some warm sunlight. Listen carefully and see if you can hear nature through a chirp, or rustle. Savor it. Your soul will be up lifted
#3 The Challenge of Meaning
We are all creatures of habit, and chances are you have certain habits that provide you with a sense of purpose and meaning. You might get fulfillment from doing your job, or from going after your hobby, or just from spending time with the people closest to your heart. Naturally a lot of these activities are no longer feasible.
In times of Corona, millions of people have lost their jobs. Team sports and literally any group activity now pose a health threat. And spending time with anyone but the people in your household is no longer permitted. We have to put many parts of our lives on hold, and what once brought you fulfillment is suddenly no longer an option. You may notice you feel aimless, lost, or confused. That’s a sure sign the challenge of meaning is upon you.
Cool! Rise to the challenge! Use this gut punch as a time to do a gut check.
Now is the time to examine what is truly meaningful to you and to find new ways of living true to your heart’s deepest desires. You may no longer be able to go to band practice, but you can still read up on music theory and practice by yourself. And you may no longer be able to visit your grandma, but you can still give her a phone call. You may not go to work, but you can still work on how to be helpful to others.
Reflect and redefine how to bring fulfillment and meaning into your life. You may find after the crisis passes you’ve learned things that will lift you up and guide you that you might have never touched without this sudden challenge.
#4 The Challenge of Accountability
When you are required to stay home, it’s easy to lose track of any structure. Waking up may no longer adhere to a strict time table; any chore can easily be postponed, because there is nothing else on your schedule that would urge you into action. There is no bus you need to catch, and your check in with your work may be disrupted.
It’s tempting to slack off, and not do anything. Instead, however, take the challenge of self-accountability. After all, this is a challenge you may face again later in life, through injury, illness, loss of employment, or retirement, or even another pandemic (oh no!).
Decide when you wake up, and what you do each morning. Commit to a time when you start with work, and commit to a time when you stop. Read a book you wanted to read; practice a new skill you wanted to practice. Grow – in the way YOU want to grow.
And here is a little paradox: self-accountability becomes more real if you confide your plans to your spouse or a friend. Don’t let yourself shift the accountability to them – use sharing to make your commitment internally real and externally known. We are better in a group than we are alone – use the groups you are part of to support your self-chosen goals and values.
#5 The Challenge of Connection
We all crave human connection. It is one of our heart’s deepest desires, directly at the core of our being, shaped by thousands and thousands of years of human evolution. Ask one hundred people about what matters most to them, and almost everybody will give you an answer that revolves around being connected.
When we decide to socially isolate ourselves, we deny ourselves a piece of our humanity. Research on orphans has famously shown how a lack of connection can severely disrupt our psychological and emotional well-being. And if you effectively isolated yourself over the past few weeks, you might already begin to notice the effects on your own mood and well being.
My wife (who is Brazilian) sent me the sweetest video of babies hugging (under a Portuguese title that said this is what would happen in the first reunion after the required isolation). I smiled when I saw it – but then it literally brought tears to my eyes! I yearn for those days! I miss those hugs!
You can watch the video by clicking here.
And no, right now, we cannot connect that way. But we can connect other ways.
Being safe is about physical distance, not social distance. Even if you have to stay home but can rise to the challenge and learn how to be more socially close than ever.
Ask more meaningful questions. Listen more. Stop trying to be so interesting, and focus more on being interested. Talk with your friend. Send them pictures of things you did together. Do a Zoom trivia contest to see who remembers more about past adventures. Confide in them, laugh with them, and share your fears and worries and hopes and dreams.
Feeling connected to other people goes beyond mere physical contact. Instead, it’s about being emotionally available for others, having people who are emotionally available to you, and knowing you share the same humanity and the same human experiences with billions of people all around the world.
You are part of a greater whole, and no amount of social isolation can ever take this part away from you.
These five challenges each contain an unique energy. Yes, that energy might show up as a “problem” or a frustration … but look deeper and it presents a challenge and an opportunity, to learn more about how to pivot that energy in a direction of growth that will allow you to be more fully human; to be more whole and free.
Now may not be the time for “think books,” but if you want to explore this idea further my new book, A Liberated Mind, may help.