When normal activities are suspended, whether during a pandemic or due to some other change in circumstances, we might find ourselves with more than the usual amount of free time. How can we use that unexpected free time in positive and productive ways?
When times are strange, we can still use our free time in a positive way
Since around March in the United States, life has been very different from normal. Even for those who are not ill, many of us have been staying home–some working from home and some not able to work at all. Many planned activities have been canceled. For many of us, the pace of life has slowed down and time that once was filled with activities we enjoyed is now unfilled.
Slowing down a bit can be a good thing because it gives us the opportunity to evaluate how we are spending our time. However, with no end in sight to this “new normal”, this can be difficult as well.
During the crisis, individuals, depending on circumstances, may experience anger, anxiety, avoidance, boredom, confusion, decreased concentration, depression, detachment, emotional exhaustion, insomnia, isolation, grief, guilt, sadness or other symptoms,” says Michael Morgenstern, MD, who is board-certified in both neurology and sleep medicine by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. “The severity of these feelings, and our ability to cope with them so that they don’t interfere with our daily function, is important.” [from The Lasting Impact of COVID-19: How Will It Affect Our Mental Health?]
Ideas for how to spend your time
Each of us has to find her own way to cope with the uncertainty, the changes, and the resulting anxiety. One way to turn it around is to use this time differently. Give yourself something to look forward to or direct your attention away from the uncertainty. Use this time in a positive way.
Improve a professional skill
- Take some online training covering subjects relevant to your career or another area of interest. If you are required to get a certain amount of continuing education credits each year anyway, this helps to satisfy that requirement and expand your knowledge. Whatever your job or profession may be, is there a skill you rely on that you can work on improving during your downtime?
Revive an old hobby or interest
- What did you used to enjoy that you haven’t had time for? Needlework, gardening, painting, playing an instrument? Working on family scrapbooks or photo albums? Reading books? (Our local library is open during certain hours, but if you can’t go to the library (but have a library card), most libraries make e-books and audiobooks available for checkout via apps like Libby from OverDrive.) Maybe you enjoy writing? How about some poetry, fiction, articles, or a blog? You could start a blog to chronicle this experience and share any knowledge you may have. Or even just journaling. Imagine reading your journal 20 years from now and remembering this experience.
- Find creative ways to reach out to friends. This is a great time to renew friendships that are important to us and reconnect with others. Right now, social media is probably not the best option to do this. There is a lot of negativity and anger on social media sites and it’s easy to misinterpret things that are said. Mental health experts have been encouraging us to limit social media exposure for ourselves and our kids. One way to keep in touch with friends could be scheduling regular check-ins or even an online book club, perhaps using Skype or Zoom. If you are able to get outside, plan some socially distanced get-togethers at a park, let the kids play, and catch up. You could also set aside time each week to write letters or send cards.
Tackle long-delayed household projects
- Decorating or remodeling (you can get supplies delivered via Amazon or use curbside pickup from a home improvement store). Perk up your guestroom or add an accent wall to the living room.
- Declutter, purge, organize. Tackle those closets, kitchen cupboards, and drawers, kids room/playrooms, or garages.
- Gardening or landscaping. Plant a rosebush or add a few bird feeders to your yard.
- Deep cleaning (woodwork/trim/baseboards, door frames, windows–inside and out).
Learn something new
- I’m trying new recipes (both for current “entertainment” but also so I have some new ones in the arsenal when things get busier).
- Take an online class (or just watch free videos on YouTube); check out Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera, or Teachable. Many prestigious universities offer courses online, in many cases for free.
- Learn from someone you know via Zoom or Skype
Take care of yourself
- Schedule in-home spa days. I’m not one for manicures, but a soak in a tub with a rejuvenating face mask sounds nice. I’ve also been enjoying experimenting with essential oils. A few months ago I signed up for a Simply Earth subscription. I get a box each month with 4 oils and some other items, along with recipes for using them. July is self-care month, so I recently received my July box containing oils, accessories, and recipes for nail oil, shampoo, and conditioner, etc. Find out more by visiting SimplyEarth.com. (I have a code that will get you a $50 voucher for $10 off each of your first 5 boxes: LAURAM5012).
- Get some extra sleep. If your schedule is more flexible, take advantage of it to schedule a quick nap. According to WebMD, “A short nap in the mid-afternoon can boost memory, improve job performance, lift your mood, make you more alert, and ease stress.”
- Eat well. If you are like me, you may be a stress eater. You might seek out comfort foods, which have high carbs and lots of sugar. This can affect your health and well-being.
“Good nutrition helps our mood. Stress makes us seek comfort foods, and in turn high carbs and sugars impact our mood. Many population-based studies show that a Mediterranean diet has been linked to better mental health and stress resilience, whereas a junk food western diet is linked to depression and anxiety. Try to fill your home with fresh produce, frozen vegetables, and whole foods when possible.” [from Emotional Well-Being and Coping During COVID-19]
- Move your body. You can find hundreds of free workouts on YouTube, as well as various other websites. Your local gym may be streaming free classes, too. Besides being good for your health and weight, exercise can help with stress. And speaking of renewing friendships, why not combine workouts with socializing? Even if you can’t go for a walk together, you could do a Zoom walk with your friend (using your phone or iPad propped on your treadmill or elliptical; or nearby while you both do a yoga routine together). Schedule a time with your friend to do the same workout and do your routines together.
- Find someone to talk to on the hard days. Find someone with whom you can share mutual support and encouragement via a phone or Zoom call. If you are feeling depressed, especially if you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself, reach out for help. In the U.S. you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255, or go to their website to chat online with someone who cares. If you’re outside the U.S., there’s a website you can go to to find resources in your country.
Although in some ways it’s hard to see an end to this, someday it will end and things will return to some semblance of normalcy. The question to ask yourself is, What can I do with my time now that will make life easier and smoother when things get back to normal?
Keep in mind that these same ideas can help in other kinds of transition times too, not just during a self-isolation period resulting from an epidemic.
What do you think?
Are you using this transition/waiting/isolation time to do any projects or try something different? Share your thoughts in the comments section below or on The Productive Woman Facebook page, or send me an email.
Resources and Links
- The Lasting Impact of COVID-19: How Will It Affect Our Mental Health?
- Emotional Well-Being and Coping During COVID-19 | UCSF Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
- Health Benefits of Napping
- Emotional Well-Being and Coping During COVID-19
- How Will COVID-19 Affect Our Mental Health Over the Long Term? | Everyday Health
- SimplyEarth.com (use code LAURAM5012 for a $50 voucher for $10 off each of your first 5 boxes)
- The Mediterranean diet
- Here are Some of Best Online Learning Platforms Right Now
- How to Get Free e-Books from Your Public Library
- If you are feeling depressed, especially if you’re having thoughts of hurting yourself, reach out for help. In the U.S. you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255, or go to their website to chat online with someone who cares. If you’re outside the U.S., there’s a website you can go to to find resources in your country [https://www.iasp.info/resources/Crisis_Centres/.
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