How to Stay Sane While Sheltering in Place During COVID-19

Tips to keep you resilient during and after the public health crisis.

Posted Apr 13, 2020

Our resilience is being tested in the COVID-19 pandemic at individual, national, and even global levels in a way never seen before.

Those who haven’t been conscious of their own resilience will discover it in themselves, the result of “living to tell” about earlier difficult experiences in their lives. Others (hopefully) will develop it through their experiences of pulling through the COVID-19 pandemic without being physically or emotionally beyond repair.

The first tip in talking about a traumatic experience like the pandemic: Don’t expect yourself, or life or the world, to be exactly the same as you and they were before the novel coronavirus arrived in our lives. Being and becoming resilient means accepting that things, including yourself, will be different.

For example, if you are now wearing a face mask while you’re around other people in public places—as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends—chances are you will think twice about not wearing a mask once we get back to a more normal state of affairs. COVID-19 has made us much more aware of the ways people can spread microbes to one another without realizing it. Will that new knowledge lead us to permanently change our behavior? Or will we choose to forget what we know about respiratory droplets until the next time a deadly viral pandemic strikes, as it will surely do?

That’s an example of how a lesson we learn from our trauma changes us. It’s how we adapt and survive, and arguably become better able to care for and protect ourselves.

Likewise for the emotional effects of social distancing and the awareness of the profound, widespread illness, death, and sorrow in the world all at once.

It’s fair to say millions, even billions, of people worldwide are experiencing a profound uptick in feelings of anxiety because of the pandemic. It’s also highly understandable.

 John-Manuel Andriote
The beauty of flowers and plants helps sustain our hope as it lifts our spirits.
Source: John-Manuel Andriote

Fortunately, there are concrete steps we can take to reduce anxiety that don’t involve medication or even meditation. Here are some I have found helpful in managing my own anxiety during this extraordinary time:

  • Stay informed and updated on the news—but (important but) limit your exposure to TV images of pain and suffering so as not to become overwhelmed by grief. Consider reading the news online or in a “real” newspaper instead.
  • Focus on the positive actions you can take to prevent exposure to the virus, including social distancing, hand-washing, and wearing a face mask while you’re around others in places like grocery and liquor stores.
  • Don’t catastrophize or minimize the health crisis by exaggerating statistics or allowing loudly opinionated, under-informed public figures to influence you.
  • Remind yourself “this too shall pass,” and when it does we will have changed, hopefully for the better if we learn from our experiences to be more resilient as we face future challenges.
  • Reflect with gratitude on everything good and positive in your life and in the world.
  • Think about your loved ones, your shared histories, things you’ve been through and survived together in the past.
  • Make sure that voice in your head we refer to as “self-talk” directs your thoughts and actions from a place of information and positive action, not fear.
  • Get outside (socially distanced as needed, of course) into the sunlight and nature. There is a beautiful springtime unfolding out there, and a walk or hike can do wonders for you.
  • Have flowers and green plants in your home. Their beauty and "aliveness" are inspiring.
  • Listen to upbeat music. Dance! It’s incredibly therapeutic.
  • Celebrate joyfully each positive step toward resolving the COVID-19 pandemic and those on the front lines caring for the ill.
  • Laugh. Regularly. Watch funny shows, movies, and stand-up comedy.

And one final tip: Give yourself permission to cry as needed. It's healthy and a normal human compassionate response to suffering, and we are all suffering. Even the most resilient people need to vent the buildup of sadness at all we are living and witnessing. It's a hard time we are all going through together. But we can get through it together, while holding it together too.