Yael Schonbrun Ph.D.


Three Daily Experiences to Create Well-being In Quarantine

How to wisely choose daily experiences to maximize your quarantine well-being.

Posted Apr 13, 2020

News headlines around Coronavirus terrify, with work and schools shut down. And the economy, well, it ain't pretty. If that wasn’t enough to give you a sense of doom, many have either lost their jobs or are all trapped in their houses trying to figure out how to work in an entirely new way while simultaneously figuring out how to homeschool children.

The first phase of this quarantine has been an unsettling one (to say the least). Even if you're lucky enough to have your health, fortunate enough to have financial security, or to be connected to loved ones, you might still be feeling despondent. You’re not ungrateful or even lacking perspective (though gratitudes and perspective can help), you’re missing some key ingredients for well-being. By learning what kinds of experiences contribute to greater well-being, we can each travel this next bit of unprecedented road with greater health in hand.

Psychology researchers have long studied various factors that contribute to well-being. According to one theory called self-determination theory, self-motivation and mental health improve when we have experiences in three unique categories: autonomy, connectedness, and competence. That means it’s easier to cultivate greater well-being when we have opportunities to freely choose activities, to connect to people or ideas we care about, and when we can gain skill and mastery in activities we regularly engage in.

Pixabay No Attribution Required
Source: Pixabay No Attribution Required

Of course, having experiences in each of these three categories is more likely when we can engage in the world in lots of different ways. Being stuck in your home makes it much harder.

But stuck at home we are.

Rather than fight the restrictions and endanger others, or ourselves, it’s helpful to get creative in meeting our emotional needs. That work begins by creating greater awareness around which kinds of experiences are most acutely absent.

You can ask yourself daily:

  • Have I connected in a meaningful way today to someone or something I care about?
  • Have I had the chance to do something today simply because it was important to me to do it?
  • Have I accomplished a task in which I used or built a skill, or in which I felt competent?
    Pixabay / No Attribution Required
    Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Required
Pixabay / No Attribution Required
Source: Pixabay / No Attribution Required

For needs that have gone unmet, consider how you can meet them within the constraints of these current, highly restrictive circumstances. For example, being stuck at home with children can offer a terrific set of opportunities to feel connected, but a ridiculously impoverished set of opportunities to experience autonomy. Consider waking up early to have a cup of coffee on your own, settling them in front of the television screen and reading a book, or asking your partner to take one for the team while you go for a walk.

If you are missing your work as a place to enjoy experiences of autonomy and competence, set yourself a goal for building a new skill while you’re quarantined at home. You can be intentional about setting goals to gain mastery of the remote software your company has adopted, learn to cook a new dish, juggle a soccer ball, or even get your abs in shape. Goals in each category may be smaller than the ones you typically establish, but by adjusting expectations, you make it easier to have experiences that satisfy each of the categories of well-being need.

The stress of Coronavirus spreading is real. So is the hit to well-being resulting from the restrictions placed on our physical, work, and social life. But as much as we don’t have control over our circumstances right now, we can positively impact our health if we thoughtfully and creatively choose some of our daily experiences. We can seek ways to meet our needs to have experiences of autonomy, connectedness, and competence, and we can savor those experiences more deliberately and deeply.

The stress and uncertainty are likely to continue, but by focusing on ways to create specific kinds of experiences—those of autonomy, connectedness, and competence, we can nurture our own greater well-being.