How to Pause Lockdown Anxiety and Actually Get Work Done
Keep stress down by creating a mini work/school day.
Posted Mar 16, 2020
By now we all know that precaution is the only answer in the face of the coronavirus. I could list all the things that are cancelled, but you already know, you’re living it. What isn’t cancelled is our need to grow, to love, to connect, and to feel a sense of purpose—that’s hard to do in these uncharted times especially when the times keep changing within the course of an hour. It’s OK. We can do things that are hard.
By our nature, we don’t do well with uncertainty or surprise, or illness, or fear, or limitations, or isolation, or lack of structure, or boredom and so we have wrapped up in the coronavirus pandemic all of that and more. You need to look no further than the faraway days of last month when we got thrown for a loop by surprises at profoundly lower levels of magnitude—a friend bailing on us last minute, or we couldn’t get on the WiFi at Starbucks—we were indignant and frustrated.
Being home without a plan is adding to our anxiety. Whether you are a parent home with kids, or you are an adult or college student home without a whole lot to do—wandering around worrying and not settling into anything will add to your stress. At the end of the day, you won’t feel like you had “a day.” We need to up our flexibility and resilience game, and super-fast to Olympic level. But the point is, we absolutely can.
How do you ground yourself? Create just enough structure. I was talking to a college student last week, whose semester abruptly went to online instruction. I suggested that she create three categories of activities she can do at home. She said, "I have three categories: eating, sleeping, and moping. Or eating, sleeping, and panicking.” We can all relate. We can spend time panicking about what we don’t know or dwelling on feeling stuck, but that’s not going to feel better.
With no structure, we get lost. Too much structure and we feel confined. Seeing a schedule in writing, however simple or obvious, really helps! Then we don’t feel like we have to reinvent the wheel every day. Feeling free as a bird, it turns out, doesn’t feel so free when it’s two weeks of self-quarantine.
It’s worth spending about 15 minutes right now to help your body and mind feel that there is some normalcy in these very different times. The following ideas are a plan for “just enough” structure. Decide what amount of time feels right to you for each category.
When working on this idea with kids “just enough” may range from 15 minutes to an hour or two depending on their age and capacity for attention. For adults—same thing. You can decide that each category is an hour or more. It’s less about the amount of time, and more about having a sense that you have “somewhere to go.” This way when you’ve “finished” your workday—which might just be two to four hours of structure, your down-time will feel better because it will feel different from the rest of the day. Choose your own categories—these are just suggestions. You may decide to choose three categories among these each day, you don’t need to do all every day.
Parents: Create with your child your version of the categories below—write them down and then with your child brainstorm specific activities within each category. Once you have the categories you can ask your child each day when they want to do what in what order. Or, you can decide on the order, either way. Just remember, kids do well when they have a little choice or input within the parameters you set.
Teens and Adults: Create these categories with yourself. Brainstorm specific activities within each category, write them down. Talk to a friend to get inspiration and ideas about their categories and to help each other stick to your goals.
Category One: Mind Expansion
This will help you feel like you are gaining things (knowledge) and you are! Not just losing the frame of your day.
Parents: This includes classwork that was sent home, online learning, reading to each other, audiobooks, reading about science, art, music. Set a goal: One really interesting learning point a day that you can reinforce and talk about at dinner.
Teens and Adults: In addition to online work you may have, let your mind breathe and grow. Read—create an impromptu reading group with a friend or join one online. Watch a couple of TED talks a day or other educational videos, take a virtual museum tour, download a language app and expand vocabulary, read poems, share your findings with friends via text. Enrich each other’s lives.
Category Two: Be Creative
DIY project, paint, draw, cook, bake, collage, play charades (even in a google hangout!).
Category Three: Share Love and Kindness
Whatever your age—research shows that thinking about others makes us feel better. Write letters of appreciation and love to people in your life and email them, check in with your neighbors just to let them know someone is thinking about them, collect clothing that you want to donate when it’s safe.
Category Four: Address Your Backlog
Parents: Help your kids organize parts of their room or their playroom—break it down in 15-minute blocks over the course of the week or two. It won’t be as painful that way. Have a 15-minute block for your child to clean out a backpack or desk.
Teens and Adults: What’s the thing that you never have time to do? If you need a chance to get “around to it,” your time may be now. Clean out that closet or junk drawer, clean out your car, upgrade your filing system—on paper or on your computer, organize your photos into albums, designate clothing to donate. Delete emails. Clean out your fridge. Organize your backpack or purse.
Category Five: Calm Your Body, Move Your Body
Worry leads to adrenaline. Climbing into bed at night with all that adrenaline and nowhere to go will mean restless sleep. Make a habit of taking a few seconds each hour to empty out your stress basket. Five deep breaths in and out will reset your nervous system. Text a friend and remind them to breathe! Then once or twice a day: Get your heart rate up. Walk outside if you can. Do a nature walk, exploring even if it’s right out your window. Do online yoga or exercise videos. Burn off the adrenaline, feel the endorphins—we all need that! Have a dance party by yourself or with your kids. Run around your yard. In whatever way: Move, move, move.
Category Six: Common Good!
Parents: Encourage brief blocks of helping out. Remember kids who do chores do better in life. Designate 10 minutes a day before dinner for a “clean sweep” everyone works on cleaning up. Or, when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed think to yourself, "Is there something that I can delegate to a child?" This would be a good moment to make sure that kids—even little kids—are clearing the plate.
Teens and Adults: If you have housemates, talk about how to improve the cleanup and maintenance of your space. Ask if you can be of help (at a safe distance) to the others you are living with. Post a note in your lobby or on Nextdoor.com. If people need help with groceries or pets, there may be safe ways to come to the rescue.
Category Seven: Sleep! Set and Keep a Bedtime
Especially in challenging times, we need to sleep. Turn off racing thoughts at night, and stick to a bedtime.
Parents: The temptation is to be lax about routines given that no one is getting up as early—don’t do it. Sleep makes everything work better. Kids need that structure and routine and rest. If they’re not happy about it, feel free to blame Dr. C (me) for it!
Teens and Adults: Yes, maybe you don’t have to get up as early to commute to your couch as you do your classroom or office, but your immune system needs you to sleep, and you know sleeping in will make you feel more tired, make it harder to go to sleep at night, and the cycle will go on. Even if you don’t stick to it like glue, make a target bedtime for yourself, set a friendly reminder on your phone a half hour before to start the wind-down.
We will get through this, and we will be stronger for it. In solidarity, I am working on this too. So let’s all take care of each other—virtually while social distancing, wash our hands, visualize good health, as jazz singer Bill Evans sang, “we must believe in spring.” We are all in this together. And together we will prevail. Here’s to less worry all around.
©2020 Tamar Chansky, Ph.D. Please share with those you love. Sign up for more ideas like these at www.tamarchansky.com.