Millions of Americans are in limbo. In between jobs. On furlough. Laid off. Or working longer hours than they’ve ever worked. Although eventually the stay-at-home orders will be lifted, you need to understand that life won’t be the same, at least not for a while—and certainly not until we have a reliable (and FDA-approved) vaccine or cure. Even then, our economy will be impacted. This shouldn’t scare you, but it should serve as a reminder that this pandemic won’t end anytime soon—and as this New York magazine journalist points out: There Is No Plan for the End of the Coronavirus Crisis.
You may be losing track of your days, baking more bread than you’ve ever baked, struggling to re-learn sixth grade social studies for the sake of your child, or binge-watching every episode of Parks and Recreation for the fourth time, but here’s what you need to know: this pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint.
How will you feel in six months or a year if you continue living the way you’re living? What can you do now to make your new normal more bearable? How can you maintain mental wellness throughout the duration of this pandemic? Consider ways to avoid burnout and maintain your sanity throughout the crisis.
Establish a long-term routine
Reading the news night after night, morning after morning, will drain you. It will impact your sleep, your energy, and likely your mood. If you want to know what’s happening in the world, set aside a certain time of the day to digest this information.
Work with your family, partner, or roommates to determine what your next six months will look like (yes, six months). Maybe you’ve found a routine that’s working but won’t last. Imagine this situation will last for a long time and set aside time to discuss what needs to be done and how this new lifestyle can work semi-permanently.
Maybe you’ve been using a closet for a workspace. Maybe you and your partner have split the chores but one of you is more drained than the other. Maybe you have a side-hustle you’ve been meaning to start launching. Consider how your current lifestyle will impact your mental health (and the mental wellness of your quarantine crew) week after week. Maybe you need to physically rearrange the furniture in your house. You might move your dresser into the closet so you can make a yoga spot in your bedroom. Don’t be afraid to make changes (big and small) during this time.
Here are some helpful resources:
Consider your monthly needs
Many of us don’t have access to hair salons or dentist offices or physical libraries or public parks. This is fine, for now, but what happens when your hair gets too long or you need an oil change or you need to fertilize your lawn?
What you used to think was “essential” might simply be a preference or a habit. Getting your haircut every two weeks. Traveling to Florida to visit your in-law every spring. These are non-essentials, but they are things you should take into consideration. Maybe you buy hair cutting scissors and have your spouse cut your hair. Maybe you plan a weekend-long video session with family members (including virtual game nights and brunches) to replace the reunion.
You don’t have to do exactly what you used to do, because life isn’t what it used to be, but you need to find a way to incorporate your old preferences into your new situation. You may even learn that something you’re doing now is something you want to continue long after this pandemic is over (like running every morning or turning off electronics every Sunday). How will this change when you return to work? Consider how you will maintain these new habits.
Perform mental health check-ins
A crisis of any degree is devastating, and a pandemic is no exception. Prepare for the anxiety and the grief.
Start implementing mental health check-ins ASAP, if you haven’t already. Schedule—or set aside—time to focus on how you’re feeling and how you’re handling the situation. Are you binge-eating or skipping meals? Are you losing your temper with family members? Are you avoiding mundane tasks like showering or doing laundry? Pay attention to your family members’ mental health, too.
One of the best ways to check in with yourself is to find a space alone (away from the chaos) and write down your thoughts, your fears, your stressors, and your expectations. Consider how you might improve your mental wellness throughout this pandemic. Have you established a meditation practice? Maybe you should. Do you miss your friends? Plan a video call. If you realize, while checking in with yourself, that you are feeling extremely anxious or depressed, you should consider speaking with a mental health professional.
Embrace the unknown
This is the most simple, though often the most difficult, idea to accept. We don’t know when this will end. We don’t know what will happen to the economy or the workforce. We don’t know how technology will play a role in our lives post-pandemic. We just don’t know. Accept that and prepare for it. You cannot predict everything, but you can prepare to cope for the inevitable.
At some point this will end and no matter what happens, the question you should be answering is not “what will happen after?” but rather “what do I want my life to look like post-pandemic?”