Shelter-in-Place has become our new reality, and it doesn’t look like that’s changing any time soon. Depending on how far we can suppress R0, estimates from various institutions and governments place us between 3 and 8 months before things return to a semblance of normal. This is going to be a rough ride for us all. Here’s how to get through it without losing your sanity.
In times like this, being either overly optimistic or overly pessimistic can wreak havoc. We should aim to be realistic. Based on current information, in early April as I record this, things will likely get worse before they get better. Friends and family will get sick, countless will lose their jobs or their business, and many will face mental health issues.
But being overly concerned about the long term economic, political, and cultural ramifications isn’t where you should be focusing. You should place your attention on what you can do now to be responsible, safe, and get through this in the best way possible. I’ve been practicing strict social distancing for over a month now, and in the first couple of weeks, I had some swings with my mood, ability to focus, and productivity. For the last couple of weeks, however, I’ve been experimenting with various interventions and I’ve found some surprisingly helpful. I hope they also serve you well.
1 | Embrace Routine & Structure
At the beginning of social distancing, I found myself feeling like time was being wasted. I wasn’t very productive, but I also wasn’t having much fun. I was just existing and wasn’t really loving life. It became apparent that small non-events from before the self-quarantine, such as going to the gym or even to a restaurant, were enough to add some structure and routine. Because I knew I wanted to go to the gym at a certain time, or get lunch before a restaurant closed, or avoid traffic, I followed a loose structure with my days. But when staying at home, how I spent my time became an amorphous mess, where one hour blended with another, and it made me feel rudderless. In mid-March, I created a more structured routine, stuck with it, and I’ve been reaping the rewards ever since, now on week three.
At minimum, you need to have a few things dialed in, including wake up and sleep times. This does wonders for your sleep quality and mental health. You should also have set hours to be productive and do work, set hours to be physically active, and set hours for relaxation or virtual social time.
My schedule looks like this: Wake up – 6AM Focused work – 7:30AM to 11AM Breakfast/Lunch – 11AM to 12PM Admin work – 12PM to 2PM Exercise – 2PM to 4PM Admin work – 4PM to 5PM Dinner – 5PM to 7PM Free Time – 7PM to 9PM Wind down – 9PM to 10PM
Your daily schedule will certainly look different than mine, but I’ve given this schedule a great deal of thought. Here’s why it’s structured in this particular way which has been working well for me.
First, an early wake-up time. I notice my mood is best when I wake up early, around 6AM plus or minus 30 minutes, rather than waking up at 8 or 9. Since my mind is sharpest during this time, I do focused work in the morning until 11AM. I do time-restricted feeding, meaning I eat for 8 hours every day, between 11AM and 7PM. I take an hour for breakfast so I can cook, eat, clean up, and not feel rushed. After eating, the food coma is real, so I do some less intense work, usually related to emails, finances, or other tasks that are less demanding. At this point, I’m likely not feeling too inspired with my work and pushing through is not fruitful, so I’ll do a home workout. I alternate strength training days using bodyweight and bands with cardio days on my Wahoo Kickr smart trainer with Zwift. Set up, warm-up, workout, take down, and showering takes me usually 90 minutes or so. Now that my mind is fresh after exercising, I’ll do a bit more work. By 5 PM, I’ll begin preparing dinner, which is exclusively home-cooked these days. Afterward, I have free time, which can be spent doing anything I want, most commonly video chatting friends or working on new projects, like my sim racing rig in my bedroom that you may have seen on my Instagram. Lastly, it’s incredibly important for me to stick to a wind-down routine before bed. If I don’t, I find myself tossing and turning with too much energy. In short, I shower, set my bedroom lights to a dim red, read my Kindle, and set my bedroom thermostat to a cooler temperature.
During these times, your routine should be your north star. This is what will keep your sanity more than anything else. It may be painful at times, but sticking to it will keep you happier and saner longer than going at it based on what you feel like doing moment to moment.
Don’t forget to optimize your systems that will facilitate your routine. For me, that means not working in my bed, but rather at my standing desk or the dining table. It also means scheduling my Philips Hue smart lights to simulate sunrise every day at 6AM so I’m less likely to sleep in. It means leaving my bike and smart trainer set up to reduce friction, rather than setting it up and taking it down every other day. Think about how you can make your routine and desired behaviors easier or more automatic.
2 | Focus on Self-Care
When things aren’t going well, it’s natural to slip up on your good habits. Maybe you binge with a pint of ice cream and Netflix, or decide to skip exercise for the third day in a row. But in times like this, ignoring self-care can be disastrous for more than one reason. Poor exercise and dietary habits have detrimental effects on your immune system, plus the long term effects on your mood don’t work in your favor.
So what do you do when you inevitably slip up? The answer isn’t to be a hard ass on yourself, but rather to have compassion, get back up, and develop consistency.
I recommend focusing on three main pillars of self-care, which will help everything else fall in place.
First, sleeping well. That means consistent sleep and wake times, cool temperature, pitch-black room, and other good sleep hygiene. For additional details, check out some of the videos on my sleep playlist.
Second, physical exercise. Even if we don’t have access to a gym, there are great ways to stay active at home, whether bodyweight exercises, bands, going for a walk, cycling, dancing, or something else. Get creative and check out Athlean X, Jeff Nippard, and Jeremy Ethier on YouTube for home workout ideas.
Third, eating healthy. Regardless of what philosophy of nutrition you subscribe to, you should reduce processed foods with refined carbohydrates. Put down the Doritos and try cooking. I have been almost exclusively cooking for the last 5 weeks and I’m even beginning to enjoy it, which is something I thought I’d never say. And that brings us to the next point, finding the opportunity in this crisis.
3 | Find the Opportunity
As I mentioned in my weekly newsletter, I spoke about the importance of mindset during these challenging times. It’s too easy and automatic to be annoyed with the current situation of the world, or take on a victim mentality. “Why is this happening to me? This is so unfair!”
Instead, ask yourself what can you learn from this situation? How can you benefit? How can you be stronger, smarter, or better tomorrow or next month compared to today?
It’s important to realize that any time a significant change or challenge or obstacle occurs in your life, you are being granted a rare opportunity to have the incentive and push to do things differently. When life is good, it’s very difficult to have the impetus to actually enact change.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to program or improve your investing knowledge. Maybe you’ve been pushing off doing a digital declutter and organizing your computer files and photos. Maybe you’ve always wanted to try meditating but never seemed to have the time.
I’ve wanted to improve my cooking skills for several years, but never made that much deliberate effort. With social distancing, now is the perfect opportunity. By consistently cooking and experimenting for the past 5 weeks, I’ve seen huge improvements in my cooking chops.
The way I see it, this is a great opportunity to reflect and be introspective! I’ve been spending even more time journaling every day and reflecting on my emotions or lessons learned or random thoughts. I’ve learned that I tend to focus on what needs to still be done, but by slowing down and celebrating the small wins, I instantly transport myself to a better mental state.
I’m also appreciating people that are close to me, or that I’ve lost touch with. I’m now given a fresh opportunity to reconnect with those I haven’t spoken to in some time, and I’m regularly speaking with family and friends through phone-call or video chat.
4 | Relationships
Which brings us to the next point: social support. Remember, social distancing does not mean social isolation. Making a conscious effort to socialize virtually, even if you’re an introvert, is going to keep you far happier for far longer than if you just hermit up without contact.
If there’s someone in your life that you lost contact with, the virus is the best excuse to reconnect. Is it the same as face to face interaction? Obviously not, but it’s better than nothing.
How you choose to do this is up to you. You can schedule a recurring call with your family, or maybe a group hangout with your friends every Wednesday evening through Zoom. Maybe have a virtual group dinner and wine night. Get creative and stay connected. If you met someone on Bumble, try scheduling a virtual date rather than an in-person date, even if it sounds weird.
5 | Keep it in Perspective
In the midst of this chaos, understand that everyone is in the same boat. We’re all going through this together. Whatever you are struggling with, countless others are probably experiencing the exact same thing.
Don’t simply internalize and deny what you’re feeling. Talk to someone, whether a friend or professional therapist. This isn’t supposed to be easy, but we can choose to find strength in it.
If anything, my journaling habit has put a great deal in perspective for me. Life isn’t easy right now, but looking back, it reminds me how good we have it. The flu pandemic of 1918 killed 500,000 in the United States alone. I’ve never been drafted into the military or had to deal with anything remotely close to as scary as World War II. I’m actually grateful to be living in this day and age, where dealing with the pandemic is so much easier. I can just order groceries and have them delivered a couple of hours later. I can connect with anyone in the world and see their face and hear them in real-time. This is a bump in the road, but in the grand scheme of things, we’re quite lucky, and we must not forget that.
Best of luck, stay safe, and much love.