Life will always have its ups and downs, and even in the best times, maintaining wellbeing requires some level of "emotional hygiene" and intentional effort. But in the midst of COVID-19, social isolation means many of us have lost access to our go-to tools and behaviors. Where we once found social connection at work, we may newly find ourselves working solo from our own homes. Where we once looked forward to quality time with friends and family at shared meals and events, such gatherings are prohibited. Caregivers and parents often feel strapped for self-care time, and with schools and daycare closed, such time is even more scarce.
Although we can't simply wish the pandemic away, we can, even as adults, find new ways to de-stress and ignite moments of meaning and joy within our day. With all the new stressors impacting each one of us, we now more than ever have to take proactive steps to lift ourselves so we can better lift each other. Our new personal "pandemic friendly" wellbeing playbook may need to adapt in our current ever-evolving reality, and for most of us, it needs to include not just simple but ridiculously simple approaches that suit our preferences.
What we don't need now is added stress or pressure. Unfortunately, some of the guidance out there doesn’t align with the reality of our lives. For instance, the suggestion to use this time to “write a book” or “learn a new skill” you’ve been putting off is far out of reach for caregivers who are suddenly homeschooling their kids, employees or contractors who are working long hours (even if doing so remotely), and especially for the many of us who fit into both of those categories.
Inspired by Marsha Linehan, professor of psychology at the University of Washington, and the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), I pulled together a list of pleasurable activities that can be accomplished in limited time, within ones own home. Many of the items are also friendly for families with young children.
DBT leverages lists like this to help participants identify activities they can use to boost their mood and cope with challenges. While many of us need this in the best of times, most of us need an entirely new wellbeing playlist in the wake of COVID-19. Take only what works for you, as we will have our unique recipes for balance, and please feel free to add additional ideas and suggestions in the comments.
51 ways to find pleasure in the wake of social isolation:
IMPORTANT: The goal isn't to do all of these, rather it's to use this list to inspire ideas for a few activities or behaviors that best align with your unique preferences and needs.
- Get cozy - Don those warm socks and soften the lighting, or do whatever ignites your sense of cozy.
- Write a gratitude list - Set a timer for five minutes and start writing what you’re grateful for.
- Tap into purpose - Learn more about the power of purpose here. And here's more on the power of purpose at work.
- Write down your “moments of meaning” - Similar to the way one might approach a gratitude list, take five minutes to jot down at least a few moments in your week that stood out (e.g., a positive conversation with a colleague, observing a beautiful sunset). You may find yourself with many more than you would have guessed.
- Stream a fitness class - From boot camp to yoga, ymca360.org is just one of the places to find free virtual classes. Got kids at home? Check out Cosmic Kids Yoga online.
- Practice mindfulness - Headspace, leading mindfulness app, is now free for healthcare practitioners, and Mindful@home offers free live guided meditations from leading teachers.
- Color - For those who “don’t do mindfulness,” coloring is another way to quiet the mind. Not sure where to begin? Try this free virtual course with Mo Willems delivered by the Kennedy Center (yes, that Mo Willems).
- Do one thing at a time - Multitasking is taxing. Give yourself the gift of uni-tasking.
- Clean your house - Yes, many really do find this relaxing!
- Connect with friends and family - Connection with other humans is quite possibly the number one salve again stress. Block off more time than you think you need to reach out virtually to others.
- Smell cinnamon - Certain scents have the power to soothe. Essential oils are great, but so are items like cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, and coffee, which more people happen to already have in their home.
- Put lemon in your water - Find small ways to elevate the everyday experience.
- Bake - You can bake as a fun way to connect with your kids, for mental relaxation, to cozy up your home with delicious smells, or simply for the delicious outcome.
- Live by your core values - This one sounds big, but it can be as simple as identifying one of your core values and choosing one way to live it out. For instance, if “compassion” is a core value, you might reach out to check in on a friend or make a donation to a local food bank. If financial security is a core value, you might remind yourself that by continuing to work or look for a job (times are tough for so many) you are honoring your values.
- Leverage your strengths - The VIA Institute on Character has a free survey to help you identify your top strengths, so you can put them to use in these challenging times.
- Dance - Choose a favorite song on Spotify, or an entire playlist, and dance like no one's watching.
- Go for a walk - If you are still permitted to go for a stroll, this has countless benefits for health and wellbeing.
- Tour a museum - Google's Arts and Culture collection enables us to virtually tour some of the world's most famous museums from our couch
- Wear clothes you feel great in - Veteran remote workers advise getting dressed no matter what.
- Name your feelings - Negative feelings tend to amplify when we push them down. “Labeling” is a simple practice that can help us tame difficult emotions. When you feel the feelings bubbling up try saying “oh hello anxiety” or “hi there fear.” Don’t forget to also notice the positive feelings.
- Draw your feelings - If naming feels out of reach, try setting a timer for 10 minutes and drawing what’s inside.
- Cry - So often we feel unburdened after a good cry. Cry to a friend, or alongside a touching movie.
- Take a nap - Here are some tips from sleepfoundation.org for napping well.
- Cook a special meal - Special can range from gourmet to simply setting the table like you would for a treasured friend's visit.
- Create a resilience journal - List difficult experiences you’ve overcome, especially ones from which you emerged stronger.
- Recall a pleasant memory - Think about a place you visited that relaxed you. Imagine it vividly enough and you may start to feel as if you were there!
- Journal - A simple notebook yields endless possibilities. Many teachers are recommending kids to keep a daily journal they can share with their friends once schools are back in session. So "journal time" can be a family affair.
- Watch TV - For many, Hulu and Netflix are key ways to relax.
- Watch a movie - Ditto.
- Watch something funny - According the Mayo Clinic, laughter really can be the best medicine.
- Laugh - Seriously, just start laughing!
- Limit news consumption - How would it be to limit your news consumption to one to two times per day of checking into trusted sources?
- Craft - Arts and crafts can be joyful and soothing for kids of all ages.
- Make a highly achievable to-do list - It can feel good to check those boxes! Each item can be as simple as “eat breakfast” and “shower.”
- Send a gratitude letter - Dr. Martin Seligman touts the benefits of sending a letter to someone detailing something they did that you are grateful for. You can read this to them aloud or send it by email.
- Freewrite about your best possible future - A crucible in positive psychology, you can learn more here.
- Do something kind - Send a nice text, make a donation within your means, or find other ways, small or large, to practice kindness at a distance.
- Support local business - Many businesses and restaurants still offer delivery.
- Listen to music - Music has many psychological benefits, including reducing stress, helping to manage pain, and even helping to curb overeating.
- Get a full night’s sleep - When we lose the regular rhythm of our day, we may also find our sleep disrupted. Here are some simple tips from the CDC for "sleep hygiene" that can nudge us towards better ZZZs.
- Treat yourself like you would a best friend - A common source of stress is negative self-talk. For instance, we might berate ourselves for not getting enough done in a way we would never speak to even our worst enemy. Therapists and psychologists often recommend to instead try to speak to yourself as a friend. It may be harder than it sounds so I recommend simplifying by practicing for two minutes at a time.
- Hug - Hug someone in your household, or if living alone, give yourself a bear hug.
- Play “would you rather?” via text - This age-old game has endured for a reason.
- Send a meme - It may ignite laughter and all the psychological benefits that go along with that.
- Start a text chain - It might be hard to carve out time to keep up with all our friends and family individually. Instead, try grouping family members or groups of friends together for group chats to enhance the fun and reduce the pressure.
- Disconnect - Take a two-hour break from technology.
- Drink a warm beverage - You can do this by yourself, or ask a friend to join you for a "virtual coffee."
- Kick your feet up - A key pose in restorative yoga is lying down with the legs up against a wall.
- Look for the helpers - In the wise words of Mr. Rogers: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world."
- Play with your pet - If you love pets but don’t have one, look up pet photos.
- Breathe - Take a few mindful breaths.