Cabin fever is hitting hard.
As people struggle with suddenly being stuck at home in the name of slowing the spread of the new coronavirus, it’s hitting me how much practice I have with this whole social distancing thing. As an introvert who lives alone, has the freedom to work remotely regularly, and deals with mental illness, a good deal of my normal life involves a not-insignificant amount of hermitting inside whether or not I want to. Combine that with the fact that I’m a mental health reporter who’s learned a thing or two about self-care over the years, and you can probably guess that I have several mental health tips for times when you’re forced to temporarily hide from the world.
Of course, as with most mental health tips, a lot of what works for you will depend on personal circumstances. Self-isolating as someone who lives alone will be different than it is for someone stuck inside with a bunch of family or roommates, for example. Same goes for factors like if you’re working remotely, have an abundance of free time, or are taking care of or even homeschooling kids. So take what you like from these tips, leave the rest, and above all, look after yourself.
1. Open your windows and shades.
Not to be totally cliché, but a little sunlight and fresh air are going a long way in keeping me feeling somewhat okay lately. I know I’m not the only one whose place is getting a little musty—especially on days when I’m feeling too depressed to shower or tackle the dishes piled up in my sink. Cracking my windows might not solve all my problems, but it sure is helping my apartment not turn into a full-on depressive cave. Same goes for lighting some fresh-smelling candles, like Bath & Body Works’ aromatherapy collection. My favorite right now is the rosemary and peppermint scent.
2. Try to stick to basic self-care.
First, a confession: As I write this, it’s the middle of the afternoon, I haven’t showered or brushed my teeth, and I only recently remembered to take my medication and eat “breakfast.” Given everything going on, it’s important to accept that there are going to be good days and bad days, and that’s okay. That said, trying to practice basic self-care is a worthy goal every day, even if it only happens sometimes.
By basic self-care I mean activities like hygiene, drinking enough water, eating regularly, and staying up on your medication. If you deal with a mental or chronic illness, you probably know the bare minimum can take a lot of effort sometimes. If you’re used to these things coming easily, though, it might be jarring to find yourself slipping for the first time. Be kind to yourself, set reminders if they’d be helpful, and take it one day at a time.
3. Try sticking to a somewhat normal schedule.
When you’re stuck in the same place all day, time becomes an illusion real quick. Next thing you know you’re accidentally making yourself a cup of coffee at 7 P.M. instead of dinner. You don’t need to block out your entire day (but if you do—same—I recommend the daily planner Marvin), but stick to the basics. Make sure you’re still eating regular meals and snacks, taking stretching or movement breaks, and have a regular-ish bedtime/wakeup routine.
4. But don’t try to stick to it perfectly.
Yes, the goal is to hold on to some amount of normalcy, but we need to cut ourselves some slack, too, Rheeda Walker, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Culture, Risk, and Resilience Lab at University of Houston, tells SELF. “Some of us need to be able to stay up late some nights and binge on the news or sleep in,” she says. “We can strive for a normal schedule, but if we’re not ready for that today, we can try again tomorrow. We don’t have to beat ourselves up with everything else going on.”
5. Spend more time on a hobby you love.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that there’s an entire SELF contingent who has spent the past few weeks baking bread—and another cohort of people leaning hard into Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Hobbies are always important—they give us time to focus on ourselves and unwind—but finding ways to infuse our lives with novelty and variety is key right now. Pick something that sounds genuinely fun, relaxing, distracting, or whatever you need it to be.
6. Or learn a whole new skill.
You by no means should put a bunch of pressure on yourself to be productive or concentrate on ~self-improvement~ during a literal pandemic. But for some people, focusing on a new challenge is a welcome distraction. Now could be the time to fire up Duolingo and learn a new language. Sites like Skillshare have classes in topics like personal development, photography, writing, graphic design, and other creative trades (and they’re currently providing free premium memberships and scholarships to students, teachers, or those experiencing hardship due to COVID-19). YouTube is also a treasure trove of random tutorials. SELF’s health director Zahra Barnes is currently learning how to draw in Adobe Illustrator from this video. (And oh my god, her vector portrait of Solange was so good I’m tempted to give it a try, too?)
7. Foster a pet.
I’m not saying caring for a foster animal isn’t a responsibility—it’s a big one. But plenty of animal shelters across the country are looking for emergency foster volunteers to take in animals and help rescues avoid reaching capacity. It could be a pretty damn good use of all this time you’re suddenly spending at home. As a cat mom who lives alone, I can’t exaggerate how much it helps having animals around when I’m feeling lonely.
8. Lounge in clean, comfy clothes.
Now that more people are making the transition to working from home, a lot are pedaling the advice, “Get dressed like you normally would for the workday to set the mood to be productive.” Which, yeah. I see the point. But for many of us, now is not the time for optimized productivity. Yes, we still have to do our jobs, but we deserve to be comfortable and cozy, damn it. Still, there’s something to be said for leveling up from the same PJs you slept in. Try wearing something 1) clean, 2) comfy, and 3) maybe even kind of cute to see how it makes you feel.
9. Make your bed.
If you’ve read any of my other articles about mental health, there’s a good chance you know I’m, like, a bed-making evangelist. It’s my go-to simple self-care tip and one of the few instances where I consistently practice what I preach because it’s such a small way to do something nice for yourself. I’m happy to report that this belief holds up in COVID-19 isolation. Making my space feel nice and put-together is more important than ever because, well, I’m stuck here and our surroundings have a real impact on our mental health.
Only using your bed for sleep and sex (instead of for things like working, streaming TV, or playing video games) is a good way to protect your sleep, too. Otherwise, we run the risk of associating our beds with stimulation instead of relaxation. Fellow SELF senior editor Patia Braithwaite tells me that because she lives in a studio, making her bed is an important way to signal to herself that she can’t get back in until bedtime.
10. Have some solo dance parties.
Sarah Madaus, editorial assistant at SELF, takes three dance breaks during the day now that we’re all working from home, complete with an upbeat playlist featuring Rihanna and Tame Impala. “I have never been a good dancer, so I just kind of flail around, jump, and lip-sync,” she tells me. “By the time I'm done, I'm usually laughing at myself and visibly happy. It helps me let off some steam and come back into my body a little bit.”
11. Get outside.
In case there’s any confusion, you can still go outside while social distancing—you just have to be careful about it. You should time it to when a ton of people won’t be out and about so you can maintain a six-foot distance from others. Beyond that, I highly recommend being intentional about your excursions. Every day, decide what you’re going to do and when (such as a walk to the park at dusk) and set a reminder. Otherwise, it’s easy to procrastinate or forget just how necessary it is.
12. Spend time in different spaces in your home.
You probably know in theory that it’s not great to veg out on the same spot of the couch all day long, but if you’re anything like me, you might conveniently forget that most of the time. According to Walker, making an active effort to switch things up as much as you can is a solid way to keep from feeling fuzzy and lethargic. Depending on your situation, moving around a ton might not be possible (like if you live in a studio or have a bunch of roommates), but even a little is better than nothing, like switching between each end of the couch throughout the day.
13. Stay social.
Maintaining social connections is more important than ever. If you’re feeling crappy, it can be tempting to cancel FaceTime dates with friends or let calls from your family go to voicemail. That’s healthy sometimes—you don’t want to pressure yourself when you need to be alone—but definitely make sure you’re getting in some socializing. Like getting outside, it can be helpful to pop plans on the calendar to make sure you actually follow through and don’t accidentally isolate for days at a time.
14. Set “no coronavirus talk” boundaries.
I don’t know about you, but all of my group chats—once little virtual paradises filled with memes, gossip, and support—have turned into neverending streams of panic, stress, and links to new coronavirus news. Having people to process all of this with is important, but it got to a point that I was basically only talking about the pandemic. So I had to set some boundaries. For me, that has looked like muting certain chats and only checking them when I have the bandwidth (and also starting chats dedicated to specific topics, like Animal Crossing or what we’re binge-watching). For you, it might look different. Sally Tamarkin, SELF’s features director, has implemented something similar IRL in her household: She and her wife have a “no coronavirus talk in the bedroom” rule so they don’t start or end their day in that headspace. You can also set these boundaries with yourself by managing how you consume your news and social media.
15. Do some mini home improvement.
I love my apartment, but being stuck in it has made me hyper-focus on everything even mildly annoying: My closet is organized in a really weird way, that Tupperware drawer is a disaster, a different drawer is stuck, my bed squeaks, and is that really the best place for that cat tree? Turns out, addressing these problems—and even getting creative with a little furniture rearranging—has kept me busy, distracted, and unplugged when I can’t turn off my mind. Plus, switching things up might make your place feel new-ish enough to appease your cranky quarantined brain. It definitely did for me.
16. Write down your thoughts.
You might not normally be a journaling person, but now is a good time to start. In isolation, we’re set up to get really in our heads. And let’s be real: Right now, our heads might be pretty dark places. Writing everything down helps. “When we get our thoughts out of our head and onto the page, we don't get stuck in our minds ruminating over the sad, the negative, and the stressful,” says Walker. You don’t have to worry about penning a whole narrative, either. Walker suggests freewriting or even scribbling down words and emotions without bothering stringing them into sentences.
17. Lastly, go easy on yourself.
We’re all going to need a lot of self-compassion to get through this without totally losing our minds. There are a lot of messages out there about how you should be spending your time—what you should do to remain productive while working from home, projects and goals you should knock out now that you have all this “time” and “freedom” (lol), rules to follow to look after your mental health, the list goes on. All that advice is helpful to a point, but don’t forget that this is an incredibly wild, unprecedented, disruptive situation, and our brains and bodies are responding accordingly.
Basically, do what you can to look after yourself, but also don’t pressure yourself to go on like everything is normal. Everything is not normal. If the only thing you do while stuck at home is get through the best you can, that is more than okay. Plenty of us are in the same boat.
'This article originally appeared on SELF'