Quarantine Sanity Guide
As many of us around the world are in quarantine, and some in 24-hour lock down for a few weeks now, I thought I would share some simple tips and tricks I've incorporated into my daily routine that have helped me get through the days in relative peace.
We are living in some strange times and this is post is not meant to be a commentary on the ongoing situation or a litany of facts and figures. Nor is it meant to be a one size fits all tried and tested absolute guide to be followed. It is simply an account of what has worked for me so far, and if it has worked for me, with all the pre-COVID-19 problems I was already dealing with, I'm willing to bet that it will work for others as well.
Panic attacks must be at an all-time high during these uncertain times. I know I've experienced at least 2 full-blown panic attacks at the beginning of school closures and a few anxious moments thereafter. But since our 24 hour lock down here in Dubai, U.A.E that began 2 weeks ago (at the time of writing this, we are half way through our third week), I've barely had any anxiety. And I thought I would be a nervous wreck. I mean lock downs and 8pm curfews were bad enough but to be cooped up in the house all day long with a toddler and needing a government permit to go out (and that for essential reasons only) was enough to drive me over a cliff edge. Or so I thought. Yes, the first couple of days were hard, as my family and I were getting used to being in each other's faces 24/7, but after that it got easier. So here's what I did:
1- Stay away from the news!!! I promised myself at the beginning of quarantine and school closures that I would not obsessively refresh my news page or watch or read anything COVID-19-related. I even deactivated my Facebook account and exited all Whatsapp group chats where I believed people would feel the need to provide a play-by-play of the current events. While I check Instagram every now and then, I make sure to skip over any posts that discuss the current situation. But in that respect, I have been lucky as most of the people I follow don't talk much about it. This is not apathy. It's self-preservation. And an intolerance for what I believe to be fear-mongering on a grand scale. Anything that is worth knowing will somehow find its way to me, so I really don't need to indulge in this unhealthy obsession. It's worked, for the most part. To the point where when I do read something COVID-19-related after some time away, I actually do so with a sense of detachment. And that has, by far, been one of the greatest contributing factors to my sleeping soundly almost every night.
2- Breathe!!! Everything is going to be alright. And even if it doesn't feel like that right now, you can still breathe. Human beings are highly adaptable. The world had been through much worse. So this too shall pass. When I had my panic attacks, I learnt the best way to keep them at bay was to breathe in deeply for 4 counts and breathe out for 4 counts. That along with a little prayer I say at night repeatedly where I focus on the words helped me take my mind off of the source of the panic.
3- Don't put unnecessary pressure on yourself to be productive during this time. There is a meme doing the rounds on social media that says: "If you don’t come out of this quarantine with either: 1.) a new skill 2.) starting what you’ve been putting off like a new business 3.) more knowledge, you didn’t lack the time, you lacked the discipline." Many people found this offensive because it's bad enough that we are dealing with a collective trauma, an event that is forcing us to face our past and current traumas. Some people are facing unemployment and loss of homes and a struggling economy. Just making it through the day is a medal-worthy achievement. Some people don't have the mental energy for much more than that. Especially people with children. I don't think so, So even though, I keep putting off certain things that I've been meaning to get started on, I just cant bring myself to feel guilty about surfing the net for hours or watching tv shows and movies. I know I'll get to the productive stuff eventually. I'm not trying to get through a lifetime's worth of to-do lists in one day. If I do one thing a day that's productive I give myself a pat on the back and move on.
4 - Go within. Perhaps now is as good a time as any for introspection. As we are being told to stay indoors, perhaps we should also go within ourselves. I know this can be triggering for some people. But think of it this way, if you are not seeing people who are likely to trigger you, then you won't be triggered. Think of this as a cleansing period. I know there were a lot of people who I used to see on a daily basis who talked of nothing else but the news, and it just made me anxious. Now I have a break from them and I can just focus on myself. Journaling has also helped me in that respect. Getting my thoughts out on paper first thing in the morning has helped me whenever anxiety rears its ugly head.
5- Take it one day at a time. One hour at a time if you have to. This is something that I've been doing religiously. I'm not thinking about next week or next month. In fact, because I fear the panic attacks more than the actual virus, I consider every day that passes without a panic attack or anxiety as a good day. Of course, staying away from stressful conversations also helps. In fact, because I've been taking it one day at a time, I find that my days have a predictable comforting rhythm to them. When I'm wholly focused on the present moment or just the day ahead of me, it is easy to forget there is a pandemic going on. It takes my mind a moment to readjust to the reality outside whenever I have to go to the grocery store and see empty streets.
6- I know this one has been done to death, but stay positive. Start your day on a positive, grateful note, or end your day with one. Its funny, once I started doing that, just feeling grateful for my health and the health of my loved ones, for the roof over my head and food on my table, I started sleeping better. In times like these, it really is the seemingly inconsequential things, like having a well-stocked fridge, an internet connection, books to read, etc, that take on greater meaning.
7- If you have kids, enjoy the time you get to spend with them. I had a couple of panic attacks at the beginning of school closures and then when they announced a 24 hour lock down. I thought I would never be able to survive this, my daughter would not be able to handle being locked in the house all day long. But other than the first day that was a bit tough, we managed to get through it pretty easily. Of course, she's back to taking her afternoon naps which means her bed time schedule is a bit off course. But that can't be helped and I won't try to enforce any sort of stringent schedule on her. Sometimes we forget that this quarantine is also tough on our children, and any attempt to enforce pre-COVID-19 rules would just confuse them and make them more anxious. Having said that, I actually look forward to play time and study time with her. It gives me a break from staring at my laptop all day long. We've also taken to cooking and baking together. I let her help me mix the ingredients and knead the dough and then she is in charge of washing the dishes afterwards. And even though she misses school and her friends, I make sure she her day is filled with different activities that break up the monotony of watching cartoons all day long.
8- Engage in activities physical and mental activities. One thing I have been trying to do is work out more at home. Since the gym in our building has been closed for over a month, I've missed my running sessions. But I've managed to do a few work outs that make me sweat just as much as running on the treadmill. YouTube is full of them, and most of them are equipment free tailored for at home workouts. I've been trying to work out every other day or every 2 days and the more I sweat the better I feel about myself afterwards. But other than physical activity, I try to read as much as possible. I prefer reading just before bed, because it helps me doze off faster than watching something on my laptop or reading something on my phone. I've also started a few online courses. I haven't been as consistent with them as I should be but again, I'm not beating myself up about it too much.
9- Indulge in small pleasures. Give yourself a break. For example, I try to workout every other day but at the same time I'm not opposed to having the occasional treat or even baking it. Watch a movie that you've seen before or watch reruns of your favorite Tv show. Give your soul a break. Give yourself the liberty to just do nothing. If you want to take a nap during the day, do it. If you haven't even gotten to that one thing you needed to do that day then don't sweat it. After all, we are so busy under normal circumstances and so weighed down by responsibilities that we don't allow ourselves the space or time to just drop everything and be still. That is also a blessing and a pleasure in a way. We are all coping with something unprecedented here, so what if you haven't gotten around to your child's homework that day? Think of it this way, at no other time will we have the luxury and pleasure of just taking it easy so we might as well use this time wisely or rather, leisurely.
10- Last but not least, reach out to loved ones: family and friends. We live in an age where we have a plethora of means of communication: from Zoom to Totok to Google Hangouts to Houseparty and the list goes on. We may be practicing social distancing and I may have purposely cut myself off from anyone who might just add to my stress levels, but reaching out to some of my friends and family has been therapeutic for me, knowing that they are well and safe.
P.S: Please keep in mind this list is by no means exhaustive. There are a lot of things I do to make each day as stress-free and calm an experience as possible. But these are just a few of the techniques and habits that I've found the most effective. However, like anybody else, I'm prone to bouts of sadness and worry. I just try to ride those moments out by telling myself there are people worse off than I am and that ultimately we are all dealing with the same thing. And that nothing is permanent. Not even this.
Note: llustration by GoodStudio/Shutterstock