There are days it may feel like time has stopped—like the world is at a standstill.
Yet occasionally, it may seem like things are slowly creeping back to normal.
We can sit down again at outdoor cafés, or slip into the woods for a long weekend, and momentarily forget about our new normal.
But that new normal is omnipresent. Conferences have gone virtual, live music venues have shuttered, our West Coast forests are on fire, and well over 10 million Americans are currently unemployed.
These are challenging times, no doubt. The uncertainty is leaving even the most optimistic of us feeling unsettled. In fact, research shows depression, anxiety, and substance abuse have spiked during the pandemic.
So what can we do? We can be proactive and take charge of our well-being. And while we shouldn’t make light of what’s currently happening in the world, we can use this time to improve our mental health.
Here are 11 productive coping mechanisms you might consider:
1. Talking to a Therapist.
Talking to a professional can bring comfort and clarity no matter the circumstances. During the pandemic, it may be all the more beneficial. If you’re hesitant to get started, know that you can always stop or find a new therapist. The benefits may surprise you, though.
Plus, telehealth is on the rise—and many mental health practitioners are going virtual with their appointments. With sliding-scale and low-cost options available, therapy has become increasingly accessible.
2. Adhering to a Routine.
During times of great change, a routine can make life a whole lot easier. Try to structure your day the same way you did pre-pandemic to maintain a sense of normalcy. Aim to keep regular mealtimes and work hours, and continue integrating the things you enjoy into your life.
Feel like your usual routine is impossible during the pandemic? Create a new one. Family time after dinner, reading before bed, and a short walk during your lunch break can increase your sense of enjoyment.
3. Scheduling a Weekly Social Hour.
Speaking of routines—just because you can’t see large groups of friends in person doesn’t mean you can’t gather virtually (or with a bit of physical distance). Meeting with loved ones on a weekly basis will give you something to look forward to.
Weekly socially-distanced meals, or online games, can help you stay connected to loved ones outside your immediate family. From online Pictionary platforms to trivia, you may even make new friends during these scheduled social sessions.
4. Adopting the Pomodoro Technique.
Are you working from home and struggling to adapt? Are distractions getting in the way of your productivity? This is where structured breaks—like those encouraged in the popular Pomodoro Technique—may come in.
The Pomodoro Technique encourages workers to focus for a specific amount of time (generally 25 minutes), and then to take a short break before diving back in. You might take a walk, prepare a meal, or make a phone call. This will allow you to recharge and maximize your productivity.
5. Eating Well, Sleeping, and Exercising.
These are a given—and they’re critical to both our mental and physical health. That said, far too often we neglect diet, exercise, and sleep when we’re stressed. No matter the feelings you experience during the pandemic, aim to eat well, get enough rest, and work out.
Though these wellness best practices won’t make your problems disappear entirely, they’ll bring clarity and help to keep your mindset (and body) in check. Plus, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take our health and lifestyle for granted.
6. Picking Up a New Hobby.
Maybe you’ve taken up sourdough bread-baking or banana bread-making. Maybe you’ve bought a piano or invested in a bass or cello. With lots of time on our hands, and recommendations to continue staying home when possible, now’s the time to pick up a new hobby.
You’ll be more engaged as a result. You’ll feel a sense of purpose in the midst of all the uncertainty. From photography to woodworking or painting, you may even be surprised at how much you enjoy your new pastime.
7. Practicing Mindfulness.
Live in the moment. Be mindful of your surroundings. Focus on the things you enjoy. Viewing life with a glass half full can make a real difference when you feel anxious. Aim to be grateful for the things you do have: a loving family, a career or hobby you find fulfilling, and of course your health.
If practicing mindfulness is difficult for you, know that you don’t have to make a production out of it. You can be mindful during “micropractices,” or those little habits we perform throughout the day. Washing the hands and brushing the teeth are just two examples.
8. Celebrating Wins.
A big project at work, a major home renovation completed—celebrating wins can yield great results. Recognizing accomplishments not only brings physical benefits, but it reinforces the behaviors and outcomes we want to see in other areas of our lives.
With that, I invite you to train your brain to focus on the positive. Prepare a great meal after every victory; share the positive with friends and family. The truth is that celebrating even the smallest achievements can bring us closer to those large, overarching goals.
9. Creating a Comfortable Home.
We’re spending a great deal of time in our homes right now. Contractors were booked all summer, building porches and patios to make home more comfortable. And as we make our way into the cooler months, you may want to focus on creating a more inviting indoor space.
This isn’t to say your living space isn’t warm and lovely as is. That said, you might consider investing in that new desk you’ve been eyeing—or doing some feng shui to craft that reading nook you’ve always wanted.
10. Opting Outside.
I don’t know about you, but spending even just a short time outside can help take me out of a foul mood. Experts would agree, as researchers believe taking just 20 minutes to go outdoors each day can make a difference.
Green spaces work wonders for our physical and mental health. So whether you want to prepare a picnic, walk your dog around the neighborhood, or take a fall camping trip, make time to opt outside.
11. Taking Time Off.
Rest! Recharge! Even if travel is off the table in the traditional sense, it’s important for workers to prioritize their health. Yet the Wall Street Journal revealed that employees have been casting their vacation days aside this year.
Nonetheless, research show that working around the clock is far from ideal. It can lead to stress, burnout, and a host of other issues that ultimately hinder productivity. And since 73% of U.S. workers have access to paid vacation time, people may as well use what they’ve been given.
So take care of yourself. Accept the varied emotions you’re likely feeling this year, and do what you can to protect—or even improve—your mental health. You’ll come out stronger on the other side.
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