Many people are finding they have more time on their hands during the coronavirus pandemic. Here are 7 tips for how to make the best use of your time and take care of your wellbeing while life feels so different and uncertain.
We are all aware of the vast impact coronavirus has had on everyone’s lives as the pandemic has spread in recent weeks.
For some people, it has meant either fighting the disease personally or helping others to do so, such as the amazing work done by medical staff and other key workers
However, for the majority, it has led to us feeling like we have more time available to us, especially for the millions of people who are now working from home and who may have less work to do. Others are now having to fit in home-schooling their children while they try to do their own work.
This brings challenges as our normal daily routines have been turned upside down. People generally operate best when they have routine. Therefore, this level of disruption can have a massive impact on your mental health, with increased levels of anxiety and depression. Feelings of isolation and a lack of meaning are also becoming more prevalent.
Pleasure and Purpose
Our happiness and overall mental wellbeing is a product of time spent doing things that produce pleasure and purpose, as described by Professor Paul Dolan in his excellent book Happiness by Design. Pleasure comes from time spent doing things we enjoy, which varies between people and could include walking your dog in the park, watching an old film or eating your favourite meal. Purpose comes when we do things that we feel matter, regardless of whether or not we find them especially enjoyable. This may include some of the work you do, taking care of a sick child or doing the housework. For us to feel happy, our days need to be filled with activities that provide us with either pleasure or purpose.
Sometimes, the things we do will feel both pleasurable and purposeful; as a general rule, we should try to increase the time we invest doing these. The opposite, doing things that feel pointless and painful will contribute to unhappiness.
So – what does this mean for us during the coronavirus pandemic? As life feels very different right now, it’s really important to be more conscious of how you are using your time to take care of your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, during a period of great uncertainty and worry for ourselves and people we care about.
The flip side to all of this is that the extra time we have means there are opportunities to expand the range of things we do. This has the potential to enrich our lives in both the short and longer terms.
To help you manage this period and improve your wellbeing, here are my 7 tips for how to make best use of your time during coronavirus.
1. Establish a new routine
We typically work best and feel happiest when we have a routine. This is because we make sense of the world by predicting what will happen next, based on our past experiences. If you’re not used to working from home, at first it will feel very strange because you don’t have the usual markers in your day. These include the time you wake up to get to work, scheduled breaks, meetings and other activities, before finishing at a regular time.
The way to combat this is to set yourself a schedule and stick to it each day, maintaining the things from your working day at the office which make you feel grounded. For example, getting up at a regular time and keeping a pattern throughout the day, including taking time out for breaks. You have more freedom in how you structure your day, which presents a great opportunity to get more out of it. With a new, enhanced routine, your life working from home will feel much easier and more comfortable to navigate.
2. Create a specific space for working
People who work from home most of the time normally create a workspace for themselves that for them feels like ‘going to the office.’ This helps to separate your working life from the other things you do.
If you have a spare room, try converting this into a temporary office and make it a space you enjoy spending time in, but with as few distractions as you can engineer. If this isn’t an option for you, pick a regular space in your home that you set up for work each morning, and then clear everything away when you’ve finished work. This will give you the same benefits of demarcating your work and home life.
3. Explore new opportunities
Many people are finding themselves with more time on their hands than normal. It’s easy to fill this with the sort of things you may do when you have a reduced amount of downtime, like watching TV and using the internet or social media. However, the best thing to do is to treat this time as an opportunity to do things you wouldn’t normally find time for.
This could include things like cooking more nice, healthy meals, gardening, DIY projects, reading books that have been on your shelves for ages or doing an online course.
We may never get this amount of ‘extra’ time available to us during our working lives, so make the most of it.
4. Make time for things that bring you pleasure
It’s very easy to get sucked into all the negative aspects of what is going on right now. Especially through watching the news on TV or by reading what’s on social media. We are experiencing unprecedented world events and it’s good to maintain awareness of what’s happening, but without being drawn into it to such an extent that this makes us feel bad.
Put simply, if you spend time focusing on all the bad things, you will feel unhappy. This something to be mindful of, particularly at a time when your routine has been so disrupted by social distancing.
The antidote to this is to invest time doing things that give you a sense of joy, whatever that means for you. For me, this might be listening to music or snuggling up with my dogs and watching one of my favourite films. Whatever brings you pleasure, set aside some time for it.
5. Make time for things that feel purposeful
The complement to feeling pleasure is feeling purposeful. This is something we often overlook. Remember the sense of satisfaction you got when you re-decorated your bedroom, passed a course at college or ran 10k on a cold and rainy day? These things might not have felt pleasurable all the time whilst you were doing them, but they made you feel good afterwards through what you’d accomplished.
Creating new purpose is especially important if some of the things that normally make you feel like this are not in your life right now. This might include work – for those of you who can’t work from home – and some social activities. The solution is to create new purpose, whether this is volunteering to help people in your community, undertaking a new fitness programme at home or doing a spring clean.
Make a list of things that will give you that sense of satisfaction and incorporate them into your days.
6. Connect with other people
This is especially important if you are self isolating at home by yourself. We can take for granted all the social interactions with people that happen as part of everyday life. We may only miss these when they are no longer there. Humans are social animals and we need contact with other people to feel happy and safe.
Although all types of connection can be good, face to face is especially valuable. Robin Dunbar, a psychologist at Oxford University, compared communication face to face, by telephone and through text messages. The research found that face to face contact has the greatest positive impact on our wellbeing, because we talk longer, laugh more and feel happier afterwards. Especially striking was that you don’t need to be in the same room, this was even true remotely, through video calls. The next best was telephone followed by text.
Fortunately, the events surrounding us have happened at a time when communication remotely is easy and can take many forms. It also utilises a range of technology and most of us have a number of choices available. If coronavirus had hit 30 years ago, life would have felt a lot different.
Make time for whatever communication with other people you are able to have. If it’s new to you, try video calling with one person for the first time or have ‘party’ calls using apps on your smart phone, such as FaceTime, Messenger or House Party. You may find this is a great opportunity to reconnect with people you don’t speak to very often and who are feeling the same way as you.
7. Exercise for your body and mind
Doing all of the above will help you manage your mental and emotional wellbeing. Each of the previous steps contributes to feeling better. Other things that are good for your mind at times of stress include meditation (which is really accessible nowadays through apps such as Headspace) and writing you thoughts, goals and reflections in a journal. Also great is going out for a walk in the park where you are surrounded by nature.
The latter is also great for your physical wellbeing, which can be more of a challenge to maintain when we are spending more time at home. Walking, running or cycling may be the only forms of exercise we can do outside right now. There are ways you can adapt these activities to suit your own fitness levels and personal goals. For example, if you enjoy cycling, you can transform a normal bike into an electric bike, through an e-bike kit. This allows you to enjoy an effortless, exhilarating ride without having to pedal constantly. All of these activities are great for your mental and physical health, especially if you’re fed up with being indoors for a prolonged time.
Set some time aside each day to focus on physical activity, which could be doing a yoga session or exercise class online. You will find many available for free on YouTube. You could also create your own workout by adapting exercises you might normally do at the gym, especially those based on resisting your own body weight, such as push ups or lunges. Gardening and housework also help – in addition to making your home look great while you’re spending more time in it!
Remember, life as it is right now is temporary. Once Coronavirus is under control, life will return to normality – and will hopefully be better due to what we have learnt during this time. There is an end to this situation in the not too distant future. In the meantime, keep yourself, your friends, your family and community safe.
Are you looking for support to make changes in your life? Speak to Chris to find out more about how coaching can help you.