COVID-19: making the most of hunkering down right now


Published: March 18, 2020

By Sally Crocker

Covid 19So you’ve heeded the warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic that has much of the world in lockdown right now.

You have the food and essentials you need.

You are set to work remotely, if that’s an option.

You’re avoiding large gatherings and listening to officials who advise that social distancing is best for the time being, which may be weeks or even months.

Now what?

“There are risks to healthy living that come with isolation, uncertainty and changes to our typical, everyday lives,” said Scott Walters, PhD, Regents Professor of Health Behavior and Health Systems at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC) School of Public Health.

“We are all in uncharted territory. Our world hasn’t experienced something like this since the deadly H1N1 Spanish flu epidemic more than 100 years ago,” Dr. Walters said. “Nothing feels normal, and the way we’re being asked to go about our lives is unlike anything our connected, global society has been through before.”

The situation isn’t like those rare Texas snow days where roads are unsafe for travel and families stay home to catch up on movies, lounge in pajamas and enjoy a few days off.

“There can be a tendency to eat more, smoke and drink more, disengage from physical activities, glue yourself to the television, phone, computer or game device,” Dr. Walters said, “as well as drastically change your sleep patterns, maybe skip the daily shower and interrupt other normal ways you go about your life. All of this can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration and depression.”

In this time of uncertainty, there are coping mechanisms you can use as you protect yourself and help stop the spread of coronavirus.

First, stick to your normal routine as much as you can.

“Get up, get dressed and start your day as usual. Create a schedule of the things you want to accomplish for the day and the week, and write down some longer-term goals,” Dr. Walters advises. “Maybe you’re interested in painting or want to start a new hobby. Is there a book you’ve been waiting to start? How about that award-winning documentary buried at the bottom of your Netflix watchlist? This could be the right time to dive in,” he said.

Carving out structured office time is important too, especially if you’re transitioning to a remote work arrangement.

“People feel better when they have regular challenges and structure. When you engage in meaningful, focused work, you gain satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment,” Dr. Walters said. “The psychology around getting into your ‘flow,’ when you are immersed in an activity you’re skilled at or especially enjoy doing, allows everything else to fall away for a time, relieving stress and lifting your mood.”

Kids, too, can benefit from daily structure while off school.

“My family created a block schedule, so the kids have a variety of structured activities and less screen time. We have pre-determined times for being creative, and doing schoolwork and chores. Taking safe, social-distanced walks or bike rides together can make the day more fun and productive,” Dr. Walters said. “It does take work to keep up this level of structure, but the kids are happier at the end of the day.”

What about those who are missing social interactions with friends, coworkers and family members not living in the same household?

Try Skype, FaceTime and apps like Zoom and others for chats and online get-togethers, Dr. Walters suggests.

Try reconnecting with friends you haven’t spoken to in a while.

“People want and need to socialize,” he said.

On a long break, Dr. Walters once used the extra time to reconnect with old friends on social media. After scanning in boxes of old photographs, a task he’d been putting off, he posted several of them on Facebook, tagging friends he hadn’t seen in years, just to say “I’m thinking of you.”

“It was amazing,” he said. “People were so surprised and delighted to see those old pictures, and it led some of us to emails and longer online chats.”

Probably the best way to cope in this time of uncertainty is to think about the things you can do from home that make you happy and then do them.

“It’s important to remember that we will get through this,” Dr. Walters said. “Think about it this way, if you were to look back 60 days from now, what would you want to have accomplished during this time? Whatever that is, that’s what you should do now.”