By Joanne Steen, MS, NCC, author of We Regret to Inform You: A Survival Guide for Gold Star Parents and Those Who Support Them

COVID-19 has caused many of us to feel helpless, a feeling we’re not accustomed to. With more than half of our country’s population ordered to stay home right now, life as we knew it has been put on hold. It feels surreal on a good day and scary on the bad ones. Many of us have seen those frightening virus movies, but to live through a pandemic is another story.

We like having control over our day-to-day lives. And when we’re not permitted to come and go as we please, we can easily get stressed and grow anxious, even when it’s in our best interests to stay put. When we lose that sense of personal control, we sometimes end up feeling helpless. While we can’t personally control a pandemic, we can restore some control over how we spend our time at home.

Let’s start with any of these five ways to return a little predictability to our lives, and in the process, reduce some of the anxiety and fear we’re contending with:

1. Establish a new routine for staying at home. We are creatures of habit, and we like the predictability that goes along with it. You probably have many small routines in an average day, and most of them you do without a second thought.

That’s the beauty of routines—no decision-making involved! We speed through our routines on autopilot. They’re that natural and comfortable. For example, have you ever been away from home and after several days thought “I just want to get home and back into my normal routine? That’s how comfortable daily routines are to us.

2. Set your alarm. It’s a good idea to get up and go to bed on a regular schedule, even though you’ll be home the next day. Why you may ask? Because our bodies like routines, too. While it’s easy to binge-watch into the early morning hours then sleep late, an irregular sleep schedule will upend your body’s internal alarm clock and you’ll likely end up feeling tired and sluggish. Plus, enough regular sleep benefits your immune system. If you have trouble falling asleep, check out 20 Things You Shouldn’t Do Before Bed. P.S. Try not to wait until you can’t fall asleep to read it!

3. Make your bed each morning. In his commencement speech to the graduating Class of 2014 at the University of Texas, Austin, Admiral William H. McRaven, USN (Ret) told the audience that the first lesson he learned at basic SEAL training was to make your bed each morning. By doing so, McRaven explained, “you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and encourage you to do another task and another and another.” I was a little skeptical but decided I didn’t have anything to lose. I tried it and became a true believer, says the woman who now makes the bed before her first cup of coffee.

4. Create a realistic to-do list every day. A list is a great organizer, particularly when you’re looking to establish a new daily routine. Creating a daily to-do list serves two important purposes, particularly during this COVID-19 crisis:

A list will help you add some structure to your day, and it can also help you focus your attention away from the pandemic news. So besides structuring your day and diverting your attention away from COVID-19 news, a to-do list can

  • Get the stuff you’ve been wanting to do out of your head and onto paper
  • Give you a sense of accomplishment when you cross items off the list
  • Help you feel less stressed and anxious because you’re focusing on other things

Try not to make your list full of tasks; every good pandemic list needs a healthy dose of fun. So be sure to include things you enjoy. This way you’re more likely to do them.

5. Limit your time spent on COVID-19 news. Fear. Uncertainty. Anxiety. Stress. And no professional sports! While it’s important to stay informed about COVID-19, constantly checking the news feeds can easily overwhelm you with its continuous stream of sensationalized coverage. The same goes for social media feeds. Who needs more anxiety now? Keep in mind there’s a lot of misinformation about coronavirus floating around, so be smart and use reliable, fact-based resources for your COVID-19 info. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, better known as the CDC, is the go-to resource for the latest updates and news. The CDC also has what you need to know for yourself and your family, resources for your community, and information for healthcare professionals. You also want to check your state’s website for coronavirus updates as well as your local community’s site.

Stay safe. Stay inside.

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