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How to Maintain Sanity During A Shelter-in-Place


... brought to you by a psychologist living in US’s first containment zone: Kimberly S. Fishbach, Psy.D

Summary: Stay physically active and socially engaged. Keep perspective. Stick to facts. Make a schedule. Be creative. Focus on what you can control.  Acceptance.


Make sure you move your body. It will elevate your mood, get the endorphins going, reduce stress, and keep your muscles from deteriorating. 

Stretch, download workout apps, do yoga, virtually train with your personal trainer, do the pushup challenges, join one of the numerous fitness classes being offered online right now (some are free), do dance cardio, run up and down the steps, or take a run around the block (as long as you can stay socially distanced).  Staying socially engaged is also very important as companionship is a basic human need. Of the people who contacted me for advice, 90% of them said isolation has been the hardest thing for them to deal with. Schedule different people to talk with ahead of time so that you have something (or someone) to look forward to each day. This may include brief check-ins with elderly people or family, virtual happy hour with friends, or meeting new people on a dating site or online chatroom/support group. Platforms consist of facetime, zoom, skype, google video, and more. Don’t forget that it is okay to set boundaries with others around what you choose to discuss (e.g. no COVID-19 related topics)! Lastly, therapists are still very much available through teletherapy. Don’t hesitate to utilize mental health services for support.


Please stay neutral & objective in your perspective and language. The words you use to describe your situation in thought or casual conversation will affect the way you feel (and act).  For instance, if you didn't test positive or get exposed to someone who is, avoid using words that imply involuntary isolation (e.g.  “trapped,” quarantined,” “on lockdown,”).  You'll otherwise exacerbate feelings of isolation/ depression and lose sight of the following facts: Fact 1: You do have control over whether you choose to leave your home, it is just strongly discouraged to do so for anything other than essentials. Fact 2: This is temporary. Fact 3: There is a bigger picture. You are (voluntarily) staying inside because it is a civil duty to protect the vulnerable people and workers on the frontlines. You are one of the unsung heroes self-sacrificing to save our country, literally. In light of staying neutral, also avoid panic-inducing words, such as “apocalypse” or apocalyptic- related jargon, even metaphorically. This pandemic is unquestionably scary, worrisome and will likely result in both short- and long-term consequences across all fronts. That being said, while it may feel like the end of the world, this is not the apocalypse.  If anything is going to cause the end of days right now, it will be a result of human behaviors dictated by selfishness, discrimination, panic, and the "save yourself" mentality. That is just as contagious and deadly as the virus itself. Work together by donating food and masks, think twice before you buy more than 2 of the same product (essential workers and immunocompromised people need it more), and spread love, encouragement and awareness - not fear, panic and paranoia. Focusing your energy on compassion, gratitude and charitable efforts will also improve mood and keep you mindful.


Stay away from media with extremist views and get your COVID-19 information and updates directly from reliable sources: CDC, WHO, Fauci, Infectious Disease specialists, etc.


One thing that is difficult for many people (including kids), is being thrown off of a routine. So if there is one thing that will help us feel more in control, it’s maintaining a daily schedule that includes both productivity (e.g. work), downtime, and getting some air. Not only will this give some sense of normalcy, but making schedules are shown to boost confidence, reduce stress, and increase sense of accomplishment.  Here are a list of questions for daily consideration that you can also use to guide your schedule and maintain well-being:


How do we adapt to novel situations we’ve never been in? Get creative. Not only is this a solution to many issues we are facing these days, but it is a means of acquiring a state of “flow”; one of the factors that contribute to happiness.  ( Now that some of us have some more spare time, I have no doubt that brilliant inventions will surface, people will find new hobbies and interests they never considered, and there will be so many opportunities to do things virtually than we ever thought possible.  Some ideas: Read a book, learn something from Ted talks, foster a dog and train it, teach your own pet new tricks, do Disney’s virtual rides with your kids, order something from Ikea and put it together, grab popcorn and watch a movie with friends using ‘Netflix Party’, dance, meditate, cook, bake, paint, do some spring cleaning while listening to reggae, learn an instrument, go through your phone and delete contacts you haven’t talked to in 10 years, organize and delete gmail messages from your inbox, spend time with your family, or spend time with yourself to catch up on much needed self-care. Catch up, reflect and reset.


Anxiety is often triggered by fear of the unknown, fear of dying, feeling a loss of control, or forgetting to breathe throughout all the emotion. The COVID-19 has made us all feel powerless in many ways, including the way we live our lives and its effects on the stock market to name a few.  Attempting to control what is out of our hands may result in frustration, irritability, burnout, depression, and/or other detrimental outcomes that can weaken our immune system along with our mental health. Try to redirect your focus towards what you have power over, even if you have to practice doing it 100 times a day. Mindfulness apps such as Headspace or Calm are helpful in teaching the skill. Here are some examples of things you can control: Your own social distancing from the people who won’t implement it themselves, the TYPE of people with whom you socialize, how you choose to follow CDC recommendations, practicing gratitude for the things you DO have and CAN do, staying present, how we respond to our thoughts, making the decision to implement the suggestions listed in this essay, reducing time spent watching news and COVID-19 updates, limiting social media if it brings no benefit to you, watching more comedy, or better yet, completely unplugging.


What we are experiencing is unlike anything we’ve seen before (at least since 1918).  At the same time, it is what it is and it’s happening whether we like it or not. When I say accept, I don’t mean convince yourself it’s okay, you’re fine with it, or you agree with it. Rather, take time to understand the sequence of events, ALL the facts, and the biological/psychological phenomenon(s), that led us to this moment in time (and the way you’re responding to it).  Accepting a situation of this magnitude takes time, patience, and repeatedly making the conscious effort to choose the road of acceptance. The sooner we make peace, the sooner the suffering will dissipate.

Here is another article I liked for a few additional cognitive strategies:

*Stay healthy, Stay considerate. The sooner everyone cooperates at the same time, the sooner we can get back out there.*