How to Maintain Psychological Health During the Quarantine
Why is it so easy to sit in front of a screen during the quarantine?
Posted May 07, 2020
Life during a quarantine is a new experience for me, and I’m guessing that nearly all of you feel the same way. I love my wife, family, dog, home, hobbies, and work, but getting accustomed to life on home confinement has been challenging. Shifting many of my routines has made me very aware of the need for balance in my life and activities.
It is exponentially more difficult to maintain psychological health during the quarantine. I have been writing for years about how psychological health and adjustment for kids and adults are supported by a balanced and healthy play diet. The basic concept of play diets is that play is crucial for kids and, to a lesser degree, adults and that an overreliance on one type of play—all too often digital or screen-based play—is unhealthy. In today’s fast-paced world, digital play is not only immersive but also a key component for connecting with others and preparing for 21st-century vocations. However, because of the “irresistible” nature of screen-based technologies, it is far too easy to spend too much of our lives with digital play and too little being with people, engaging in physical activities, finding time for a creative experience, and just being in the moment, with no particular goal or structure.
Maintaining a balance of social, physical, creative, unstructured, and digital play is hard to do under normal circumstances and magnified in difficulty during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are quarantined: unable to go to school or work or out to eat and restricted from face-to-face social activities. We are unable to play team sports or go to the gym and limited in our choice of physical activities. To a lesser degree, we can’t readily obtain materials or collaborators for creative projects and may be restricted from visiting places where we can engage in unstructured time. The coronavirus quarantine funnels us to indoor activities, where screen-based, digital play is even more accessible than before. If you now conduct most of your work on a screen, as I do, you know what I mean.
As I sit at my computer at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night, I realize I have become more fully aware of the extent to which screen-based activities are a very powerful draw that is easy to access and can help to fill my time when many of my daily routines have been restricted. Normally, I have what I consider to be a moderately healthy play diet, with daily routines of exercise, plenty of social engagement, creative opportunities in writing and business development, and not quite enough unstructured time—along with a bit too much digital play that is mostly work-related. But it’s been hard for me as an older adult with grown children to maintain a healthy and balanced play diet during the quarantine.
The parents of school-age kids are finding it considerably more difficult to maintain a healthy play diet for themselves and their kids due to the increased demands placed on them during the quarantine. Still, it's important to put in the effort to have a balanced set of activities during the quarantine. It can build family connectedness, keep kids learning, maintain physical fitness, open the door to new hobbies and positive habits, and moderate overuse of screens.
I’m going to share a bit of what I have done to help me keep my own play diet balanced during the quarantine, which I hope can serve as a model for parents and adults who are struggling to navigate through this crisis. A follow-up post will provide details that can be more readily applied to kids.
One of my primary directives to parents about creating a healthy play diet for their kids is to model it for them. While my attempts at creating an adjusted play diet for myself due to the constraints of the quarantine may not provide a perfect model, I have had modest success with this, and my efforts may provide a model for you and your family.
- I have made time to exercise every day. I have an exercise bike in my basement to use on the many cold, rainy New England days we have had in the past month. But if the sun is out, I go out for a walk or a bike ride.
- I have made a concerted effort at social play. Most evenings we have Zoom parties with friends or family. They are fun—not as good as the real thing, but actually more frequent.
- I have used some of my free time to be creative and engage with nature. I have started vegetables and flower seeds for my outdoor gardens and have moved my many houseplants into new locations in my home. I would also like to do more creative play and education, for example, reading the pile of books I bought for when quarantined, but am behind on that goal.
- In regard to unstructured play, I have been carving out time to meditate on a nearly daily basis. Sometimes my “meditating” becomes a nap, but at my age, that’s probably a good thing.
- As for digital play, while I am spending too much time on my computer writing and developing tools for kids and families, I appreciate what my technologies are allowing me to do. I have limited my other screen time (mostly because there are absolutely no live sports on TV), although I have agreed with my wife to watch one TV/streaming show most nights. I can give a recommendation for The Crown, Sherlock, Ugly Delicious, and The New Pope, with a thumbs down to Tiger King. I watched one episode and had enough of that.
I hope these thoughts will help you find some balance during these unprecedented times. If you would like very specific recommendations for balancing your kids’ play diet during the quarantine, check out my other posts in this series.