9 Ways to Give Yourself a Break During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Are you spending your time at home focused on being the best employee, homeschool tutor and housekeeper, all while trying to get in shape and cook gourmet meals?

No? Just trying to get through the day? That’s OK. Now is not the time for that kind of pressure. In the midst of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and all the related stress and uncertainty, it’s important to be gentle with ourselves and others, say mental health experts.

“It makes sense to feel anxious right now and to be struggling in a variety of life areas, from work to parenting to relationships,” says UNC clinical psychologist Crystal Schiller, PhD. “It’s important not to hold yourself to impossible standards.”

It can be helpful to take one day, or even one hour at a time, rather than to set expectations for the future, says UNC clinical psychologist Christine Peat, PhD.

“Be thinking about, ‘How do we stay here in this present moment, and not be thinking about what’s going to happen a day from now, two weeks from now, four weeks from now?’” Dr. Peat says.

Try these tips to give yourself a break and boost your spirits.

1. Acknowledge and accept your feelings.

Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling, rather than trying to push it away, Dr. Schiller says. Take note of your emotions and be patient with yourself if tasks like working and parenting feel extremely challenging—they are.

2. Be honest about how you’re doing.

“I would encourage people to have honest conversations with family, friends and co-workers, and to be willing to be a little bit vulnerable in this time,” Dr. Peat says. “It’s OK to say, ‘Things are hard.’”

3. Embrace mindfulness.

This is as simple as noticing that you’re on an anxious train of thought and gently bringing your mind back to the present moment. Several mindfulness and meditation apps offer short practices of just a few minutes for when you need help.

4. Don’t stress about what you’re eating.

Social media abounds with memes about the “quarantine 15,” but dieting during an already stressful time can be counterproductive, Dr. Peat says. In fact, food can be an opportunity to connect during a time of physical distancing. “There’s something satisfying about making cookies with your kids, and lots of people are cooking or baking as a way to relieve stress,” she says.

5. Reach out.

Your friend wants to talk on Zoom tonight, but you should really finish that work project, or do the dishes, or organize all that unopened mail … Nope. Take the call. “Research shows that connecting with other people is a core human need that helps us feel better, less anxious and less depressed,” Dr. Schiller says.

6. Find moments of happiness.

This could mean going outside and feeling the sun on your skin, listening to music you love or eating a piece of chocolate. “I’m encouraging people to create a list of little things they can do to experience pleasure and try to do one thing on their list each day,” Dr. Schiller says.

7. Limit news and social media.

You need to be informed about how to protect yourself and your family, so check in with a trusted news source once a day to learn the latest, Dr. Schiller says. But don’t spend hours watching and reading the news. Also, “spending a lot of time on social media where there is this contagion of anxiety can make people feel worse,” she says.

8. Move your body—but don’t overdo it.

“This isn’t the time to start training for a marathon,” Dr. Schiller says. But “there are small things you can do to move your body each day,” such as going for a walk, doing a yoga video on Netflix or YouTube, or walking up your stairs a couple of extra times.

9. If something excites you, do it.

You don’t have to add anything to your list of tasks. But if there’s something that brings you joy, whether it’s painting your bedroom or organizing old family photos, dive in. “I know some people, now that the weather’s getting nicer, are planting gardens. And that’s something you can do as a way to de-stress and rejuvenate,” Dr. Peat says.

For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on TwitterFacebookInstagram and YouTube.