This past year has felt long, and with a resurgence of the Covid-19 virus, it seems that many of us may be in store for more lockdown restrictions. And while we have begun to see glimmers of hope with the development of vaccines, we’re still living our day-to-day lives within the limitations a global health crisis placed upon us. How do we feel?
We know. It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone. The new measures we take to keep each other safe from the disease have changed the way we work, play and relax. Social distancing can make us feel isolated; working from home can feel less productive than normal; all the talk of “uncertain, unprecedented times” can make us feel anxious, or even scared. It’s only natural that all of this, combined with our own individual or interpersonal challenges, can be testing on our mental health.
However, from the limits of your very own home, there are still ways to create a sense of normalcy, productivity and fulfillment. Routine, even in the simplest sense of the word, can truly help you to achieve your goals on a regular basis and feel content, healthy and accomplished.
Why do I need a routine?
Your routine doesn’t need to be comprehensive. A routine is simply a foundation. Look at it this way: James Clear, the author of ‘Atomic Habits,’ wrote, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”
In this pandemic, we’ve likely all taken a fall of some sort. But you can only fall as far as the foundation you’ve built for yourself. With a solid routine, or at least a few concrete systems in place in your everyday life, at the end of a tough day, you’ll still feel grounded in your own skin. Your basic, personal routine in quarantine should be about doing all the small things to keep you on track to your long-term goals—even with unexpected setbacks. It should be about building systems that help you trust yourself and trust the process.
You don’t need to beat your personal running record every day, and you should never feel pressured to knock everything off your to-do list. All you need to do is take care of yourself. But, we know, sometimes that’s easier said than done, which is why we’ve listed some basic routine tips to help you feel more like yourself while circumstances continue to change.
Tips for Building Your Quarantine Routine
Romanticize your morning
This step is the one that will require the most activation energy, especially if you’ve never really been a morning person. But how you spend your morning sets the tone for your whole day. Your morning routine shouldn’t be about achieving as many things as you can before noon. Rather, what you do with your morning should help you begin your day feeling calm, focused, confident and positive.
To start your day on the right foot, try getting up early. Go for a walk. Center yourself. Meditate. Journal. Make yourself a delicious, nutritious breakfast with a cup of your favourite tea. A healthy, productive morning routine will always look different for different people, but the objective should be the same: before you start giving everything you’ve got to your job—or your job hunt—give a little to yourself.
Acknowledge your emotions
It’s okay—and totally normal—to feel frustrated, angry, sad, lonely or bored right now. In fact, it’s okay to feel those things any time. Every day, try to carve out time to identify your feelings, validate them and try to understand from where they originated. Maintain a journal and use it to jot down your thoughts. Are there actionable things you can do to alleviate stress? Are you feeling tired? Maybe you’ve not been drinking enough water, or you’ve been eating too much sugar. Are you feeling energized? Take note of the conditions that may have led to you feeling good, and plan to continue fostering those conditions.
A psychology tip for a bad day: What would you tell the child version of yourself if they were feeling as you are right now? What advice would you give to little you? Take that advice, and look after yourself.
If you’re able, try to get outside and get your body moving. Exercise has been proven to improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood. It improves your cognitive function and has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal. Whatever your fitness goals, make them a priority in your daily routine.
If you can exercise outdoors, that’s even better. In quarantine, many of us are missing fresh air and social interaction. A light jog or walk outdoors, while benefiting your physical health, can also give you those small, socially distanced interactions that greatly improve your mood. Just smile at a stranger who’s enjoying the same sun as you are, and you’ll feel your spirits begin to lift.
Fuel your body
Make time to feed yourself foods that encourage your overall health and cognitive function. Don’t skip meals. We know it may feel like there’s less to look forward to on a day-to-day basis these days, so it can really help to start getting excited about the little things, like food.
Try a new lasagna recipe. Make a set of overnight oats you know you’ll look forward to enjoying each morning. Brew new flavours of green tea to balance your mood and boost your immune system.
Make an “Essentials” list
We all know a list can help you stay on track of things you need to do. But in quarantine, with struggles to stay motivated working from home, it can really help to separate your list into two parts: those items that are essential to complete today, and those that would be great to get around to, if you’re able.
The items that you deem “essential” may be items that are more difficult or time-consuming, and if you’re prone to procrastination, they could also be the items that stay on your to-do list for days or weeks at a time. But by planning your week and committing to a shortlist of essentials for each business day, you can avoid procrastination and all the negative feelings that come along with it. Then, once those items are finished, you can more freely enjoy those additional items you wanted to accomplish, like a socially distanced walk with a friend or that quarantine reading you’ve been putting off.
One unfortunate delusion about quarantine has been that we should all be using the extra time we have at home to learn new skills, complete projects or renovate our whole lives. This is not necessary, and the pressure to use downtime hyper-productively can have real, negative effects on our mental health. Use downtime to relax—it’s incredibly important.
Clear space in your daily routine to do whatever it is you like to do for yourself. Enjoying a specific Netflix series? Watch it before bed. Reading a good book? Carve out an hour break from work in the afternoon to go read in the autumn sun. Play a musical instrument? Work on perfecting a cover of your favourite song or an original piece.
Don’t forget who you are and what makes you happy. Prioritizing recreation and self-expression creates balance, and ultimately makes us feel more motivated to accomplish those things that are more mandatory. Fill your cup before you pour into anything else; you can’t pour from an empty vessel.
Respect your space
This tip may seem to go without saying, but while we are all spending more time in our homes, it is important for your health—both mental and physical—that you keep your home clean and comfortable.
Sure, many of us still may not have the privilege to leave the house to go to work, but by waking up, making your bed and ensuring your laundry and dishes are done, you can help yourself to feel more in tune with your ordinary routine and more productive overall while working from home. Your space—now more than ever—is your centre of energy, and clearing it of any clutter or distraction only leaves more room for positive energy and focus.
In short, Covid-19 measures have indeed been challenging for almost everyone. But by listening to your body and acknowledging its needs, you can create and honour a revised version of your regular routine that helps you achieve your goals and feel your best.