Conscious quarantine coping


Alia McMurray

As we enter our fifth week of quarantine here in Illinois, feelings of disgruntlement and general frustration seem to be reaching a new high. 
What may have started as initial excitement over finally having the chance to binge watch every true crime television series ever released onto Netflix, or to taking full advantage of that new Disney Plus subscription, has slowly devolved into a general sense of unease and dissatisfaction.  With most schools holding classes online, workplaces using Zoom calls and facetime, and social media apps like Instagram and Twitter constantly at our fingertips, our screen time has reached at an all-time high. 
Unfortunately, mindlessly scrolling for hours online as we slowly melt into our couches has left many of us feeling bored, lethargic, antsy and unfulfilled. 
Luckily, there’s quite a few ways that we can use this time to reconnect with ourselves, introduce healthy habits, and improve our mental health along the way.  Before jumping into anything though, the first step is self compassion.  These are unprecedented times, and you don’t need to learn a new language, get six pack abs, or become Marie Kondo in order to feel like you have a purpose and are doing enough. 
Be gentle with yourself, and don’t create unrealistic expectations that will discourage you if you don’t meet them.  This is a time to be flexible, try new things, and to let go of self judgement if they don’t pan out or if you don’t end up doing them.  That being said, there are a few easy, low pressure things you can implement into your life during quarantine that might help you feel better, both physically and mentally.
1. First, it helps to create some sort of routine.  Our bodies and minds tend to respond very well to regularity, and it’s a way of creating certainty in very uncertain times.  Try going to sleep at around the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning, and aim for around seven to nine hours of shut eye.  This will regulate your circadian rhythms and make sure you’re getting enough rest so that napping the entire day will look less appealing. 
2. If you have access to enough food, eating regular meals throughout the day is also a great way to make sure your body has plenty of energy so that you aren’t constantly reaching for that bag of cheese balls in the pantry (although in some cases that is exactly what you need, in which case go for it).  While you’re in the kitchen, try experimenting with some new recipes that you’ve been really wanting to try but never had time for.  Certain ingredients might not always be available right now, but that’s a great opportunity to get even more creative with substitutions and culinary innovations.  The act of baking or cooking itself can be very meditative if you take the time to be fully present with the smells, tastes, and sensations of chopping, mixing, and stirring, with the added benefit of a tasty treat at the end that you might not get with a traditional meditation session.
3. Sitting around inside all day can often create achy and tired muscles and low energy, so it helps to get up every so often and move around. Moving our bodies daily is so important for our health, but it doesn’t have to be something intense that you dread, or else you just won’t follow through.
There are hundreds of ways to move your body, and they all count! If you are allowed to go outdoors in your area, try and get some fresh air and a small walk whenever you can.  Even just opening the windows to let the sun shine on your face can be an immediate mood booster.  While you’re watching a movie or show, do a few simple leg and arm stretches to get your blood flowing.
If you’re feeling more energetic, there are a plethora of amazing at home workouts that you can find all over social media and the internet, with or without workout equipment.  It’s easy to get creative, using cans of food or a full backpack as weights, or using a table or chair for step ups and dips. If you’re looking for a more calming form of movement, there are free yoga videos on YouTube and from studio websites around the world that can help you feel more grounded and relaxed.
No matter what you choose to do, just getting your body in motion a little bit during the day can make a huge difference in how you feel while you’re sheltering in place.
4. Having some sort of mindfulness or meditation practice can create a sense of inner peace and help calm down anxiety and racing thoughts.  Sitting quietly and focusing on the breath for as little as five minutes a day is enough to feel more relaxed and focused.  If you feel like you need more guidance or are a bit intimidated by meditation, there are some great apps with free content such as Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer, that have hundreds of free guided meditations that range from sleeping meditations to musical gong meditations.  Regardless of what you are searching for, there is something out there for you.
5. Another way to cultivate mindfulness and introspection during this time would be to start writing in a journal.  Even if you don’t want to write about your feelings or your experiences right now, an amazing practice to start is gratitude journaling.  This is something that everyone can do, and it couldn’t be more simple.
At the beginning or end of each day, simply sit down with a pen and paper, and write down at least three things that you are grateful for.  They don’t have to be elaborate, and even on the worst of days there will always be something to write down, like “I’m grateful that I have a body that allowed me to get up this morning.”
This practice will help cultivate a feeling of gratitude that will start to seep into the rest of your day, and you will start looking for the little things that make you happy in these scary times.
Maybe it’s your daily cup of coffee in the morning, or wearing your favorite pair of fuzzy socks.  Whatever it may be, it’s the small pleasures and experiences that help to remind us that although things are not the way they used to be, there are still things that can help carry us through this.
Featured image by Kevin Donovan/Observer Staff