Mental Health During Quarantine

This was a more fun assignment to dive into. It was my graduate Technologies in Writing course, and at the beginning of the course, the world changed. The COVID-19 pandemic had shut down pretty much all of the world and people were forced to live like we haven’t maybe ever. At this point, mid/end of April, the drudges of quarantine began to set in. People had to stay sane. So this blog that we had to create for the course seemed like a natural place to explore how to stay sane and healthy during this particular time. I am fortunate to live in Colorado where the sun shines 300 days a year, and the weather is mostly wonderful. Therefore, health and wellness is priority in this state. Through this task, I had to build a structure that worked and I had to stick with it, then I needed to unpack the most successful aspects of the structure I created and write about it. What you find below is what I found works for creating a more satisfactory life during quarantine.

What do we do with all of this time?

We’ve watched every Netflix show. Every HBO movie. Rewatched Super Bowls and NBA games. Listened to the top 100 albums of all time (SGT. Peppers is the greatest still). There’s no bars, restaurants, or events to go to. Hell, even parks have removed basketball hoops and soccer nets to prevent people from playing.

We’re social creatures, we need outlets.

It’s widely known that the novel coronavirus has greatly affected the economy. What has been less reported is the residual impact it’s had on other areas of life. The Washington Post reported deaths associated with, but not caused by, the virus on April 27th. The findings they released are scary in terms of deaths not caused by the virus. What the WP calls “Excess Deaths” (being those unattributed to the virus itself), has caused 66% MORE deaths than the virus itself. For reference on the specific numbers, from the beginning of March through April 4, the coronavirus had taken 8,128 lives, while excess deaths were responsible for NEARLY DOUBLE that number at 15,400 deaths, according to The Washington Post.

One of the reasons for this is fairly simple: people have been afraid of catching the virus at doctors’ offices or hospitals, and therefore have avoiding seeking treatment for otherwise preventable issues. Other issues in these excess deaths are closely linked towards suicide, homicide, and substance abuse, with significant increases in domestic violence cases, according to a a study conducted by Yale University partnered with the National Center for Health Statistics.

In a less severe category, who has not suffered a severe lack of motivation while stay-at-home orders have been in place?

So the question becomes how do we change this terrible trajectory?

This is more difficult, as the answers for this have been sought after for the last 20 years while teen suicide rates and school shooting statistics have shot through the roof. But the answers are relatively simple, though can be difficult to establish as they are not necessarily over-night fixes.

A lot of research indicates that students do better both mentally and emotionally when they are involved in structure and after school activities, likewise for adults who find fulfillment in their daily lives.

What does this tell us?

Structure and purpose is extremely important to mental and emotional health.

Building Structure in a Structure-less World

It’s so easy to not set an alarm when daily life has been changed so dramatically. However, this simple practice sets the tone for a more disciplined life in quarantine. Start your day as you normally would, and even add things you may not normally do.

Here’s a suggested schedule (set the hours how you would like, these are merely the structure I am following):

6 AM: Wake up, immediately make my bed.

The reason for this is simple. If you start off your day early, AND make your bed, you have already established that you will accomplish tasks throughout the day. Waking up on a schedule and making your bed reinforces discipline and structure. Both of which are keys to maintaining mental stability in a world you can’t control.

6–7 AM: Morning routine. For me, I get the coffee maker going, take my dog on a 30 minute walk, eat breakfast, shower, (and an important one) DRESS LIKE YOU’RE GOING TO WORK. This could also be a time when you add something in your morning you may not have during normal life. For me, I’ve added in a morning workout instead of after work hours, like I normally would have. Adding this in the morning, takes me to about 8 AM, ready to get to work for the day.

So that said:

7–8 AM: Workout. Period. Do this everyday to get those much needed endorphins. No one ever feels bad after a workout. It always makes you feel better.

8–11 AM: Money making tasks. Be the most productive during this time. Follow-up on emails, make phone calls, do EVERYTHING you can to be as productive as you possibly can. If it helps, set a timer for different tasks and MAKE SURE you stick to it. No playing with your dog. No online shopping. No time-wasting social media. Nothing. Do your work. Be productive. Show a sense of pride for yourself.

This comes with a caveat in this new world. If you have lost your job or on hiatus from your job, you still NEED to be productive. Write that book you’ve always wanted to write. Write the business plan for that business you want to start. Learn a language. Do something to sharpen your mental skills. But for God’s sake, do something that you can hang your hat on.

11–Noon: Eat lunch. This is the time that you can decompress and do those side things like playing with your dog and scroll through social media.

Noon-3 PM: Back to work. Repeat the morning. Follow-up on everything. Again, take pride in what you do. Hold yourself accountable for being the best version of you that you can be. A lot of accountability is lost at this point, it’s up to YOU and no one else, to make sure your accountable for your actions. AGAIN, FORCE YOURSELF TO BE DISCIPLINED.

3–4 PM: Get some energy out. Go for a walk. Get some yoga in. Take care of your physical health, as it directly impacts your mental health. And ESPECIALLY, DO NOT START DRINKING. You normally would not drink in the middle of the afternoon on a workday. This is no different. Do not be tempted for that break.

4–5 PM: wrap up the workday. Review your work for the day, make sure it is as good as it can be. This is your final moment to be proud of the productivity you put in.

5–6 PM: Have that drink. Do that thing to unwind. Make dinner. Try something new. I’ve been working really hard during this time to perfect my grilling skills. Maybe you learn how to make sushi, or that perfect buffalo wing recipe.

6–7 PM: Do something fun and active. Do not be tempted to sit in front of a screen. If you do, you’ll spend money you would otherwise not spend, or waste your time watching a show you otherwise would hate. For me, I’ve looked into as many ways I can be charitable with my time and energy. This is the time that I figure out how to deliver food to old people, or help those less fortunate than myself. It gives me purpose, and I can finish off that part of the day knowing I did something for other people.

7–8 PM: Skill time. Take on a skill you’ve never had before. Learn a language, learn to dance, paint, learn how to brew beer, anything. Do that thing you’ve always wanted to do.

8–9 PM: Read. Anything, just not on a screen. Read the newspaper, read a magazine, read a book. But read. Keep your mind sharp, and reading is a workout for your brain.

9–9:30 PM: Journal. Reflect on your day. Give yourself a grade for what you did that day. Be accountable in this time. Don’t sugarcoat and lie to yourself. And then make plans for how you WILL BE BETTER the next day. The sun will always rise, it’s up to you to rise with it.

9:30–10 PM: Get ready for bed, meditate, and decompress. Relax that mental anxiety you and everyone else is experiencing right now.

10 PM: Go to bed. Get a good night’s sleep.

Following this particular structure has made this quarantine at home much more bearable. I feel good and productive with purpose rather than anxious. Whatever you want to do, hold yourself to a routine. Hold yourself to a higher standard, as no one else will.