We're Used To Being Spontaneous. Here's How To Cope Now That We Can't Be.

The COVID-19 pandemic means we can't really do something or go somewhere on a whim. This advice can help.

For many of us, it’s been a couple of months since coronavirus measures went into effect. And with no clear end to the pandemic in sight, it’s normal to feel anxious, down or lonely.

The coping mechanisms we used in the past, like going over to a friend’s apartment or planning a trip, are no longer readily available and may not be for a while. Even when we weren’t feeling low, we had those options available to us: We could grab dinner with co-workers after a long day. We could bar-hop to see where the night took us. We could wander around a street fair or a farmers market.

That spontaneity ― our ability to do what we wanted, with whom we wanted, when we wanted ― is a legitimate loss to mourn, according to therapists. Without it, we can feel stuck, isolated or confined (even though we know the lockdown is keeping people safe and healthy). That makes our mental health worse than it already is.

Here are some small actions you can take to combat those dispiriting feelings and maintain your well-being in the months ahead.

Spending time in “new” spaces can alleviate that common quarantine feeling of being trapped or claustrophobic.
Spending time in “new” spaces can alleviate that common quarantine feeling of being trapped or claustrophobic.

Change your scene.

According to Wendy Lustbader, a licensed mental health counselor and author of “What’s Worth Knowing,” one of the best ways to immediately alleviate feelings of stress or confinement is to change your view.

Small acts like rearranging your furniture or clearing space for a seat by the window can improve your outlook — literally — by providing “a new prospect, something different to look at,” Lustbader explained.

Lustbader said that spending time in “new” spaces can alleviate that common quarantine feeling of being trapped or claustrophobic.

“Don’t discount the power of how a really small change can have an impact on you and change your sensory reality,” she said.

If you have access to an outdoor space, whether it’s a backyard, fire escape, rooftop or stoop, spending time there daily can also change your perspective for the better, Lustbader said. If you’re able, you can also try going for a walk or a drive on a new route to discover places you may not have seen before.

“If you can be outside, get sunshine or a breeze on your face, be in nature, it helps you remember there is a beautiful world out there,” one expert suggested.
“If you can be outside, get sunshine or a breeze on your face, be in nature, it helps you remember there is a beautiful world out there,” one expert suggested.

Move your body.

The gym and the yoga studio may be closed ― and maybe you don’t feel comfortable running with a mask in still-crowded parks ― but get your heart rate going however you can.

Put on an online workout video or a favorite song and dance around your room. If you can get out of your apartment, even if it’s just to walk around the block a few times, that can be enough to change your mood for the better.

“You go back in your apartment and you’re in a different state of mind ― that’s energy that’s going to help you,” Lustbader said.

Being around nature can also improve your mood slightly when you’re down.

“If you can be outside, get sunshine or a breeze on your face, be in nature, it helps you remember there is a beautiful world out there,” said Cassandra Vieten, a licensed clinical psychologist and executive director of the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation.

And if you’re not able to get outside, watching nature videos can remind you. “When you experience awe and wonder if changes your physiology and makes you feel more spacious inside,” Vieten said.

Call a friend

With Zoom fatigue setting in, making a good old-fashioned phone call might be a more satisfying way to connect with someone, according to Lustbader. And hearing about their experience with shutdown can help get you out of your own head. It’s no replacement for spending time in person, of course, but it’s still a worthwhile way to relate, commiserate and laugh with someone.

Similarly, performing an act of kindness or reaching out to someone who might be struggling distracts you from getting hung up on your own problems, according to Veiten.

“When you’re stuck inside yourself, one thing that really helps is to specifically do something for someone else,” Veiten said. “Call them and say you were thinking of them, or make a mask for someone and deliver it.”

With Zoom fatigue setting in, making a good old-fashioned phone call might be a more satisfying way to connect with someone.
With Zoom fatigue setting in, making a good old-fashioned phone call might be a more satisfying way to connect with someone.

Acknowledge your feelings.

Recognize that what we’re experiencing is hard for everyone, and you’re not alone, Veiten said. Take time to acknowledge the negative feelings.

“The more you try to control [the way you feel] or shove it away, the more it’s going to fight you later,” Veiten explained. “Allow those feelings of being scared or irritated to come up, notice them, allow them to move through you.”

Lustbader recommended naming your losses or the things that you miss and letting yourself grieve for them. As a next step, you can then ask yourself, “How can I recreate some of those elements that got me going?”

Finding approximations for our old ways of life ― like calling a friend we can’t see in person or having coffee on our fire escape instead of going to a favorite cafe ― are necessary actions to keep us connected and hopeful. While we’re limited in where we can go physically, we can do things to get ourselves in a different place mentally.


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