10 healthy daily habits to retain even while social distancing, according to psychologists

April 26, 2020
Cooking

In a true act of bravery, today I put on a bra, leggings, and a pair of earrings, and even deigned to wear a dress. I’ve been self-isolating for a week now amid the COVID-19 crisis, and along with life feeling surreal, sweatpants have begun to feel like a second skin. But today, I fought that urge because for me, the ritual of getting dressed for work is one of the most important habits I stick stick to for retaining a sense of normalcy during this time when social distancing is the general recommendation to heed.

It’s easy to feel not much beyond fright, worry, and frustration about lack of control for seeing out whatever your personal priorities are—whether exercising as you please, understanding what the future of your work situation looks like, caring for and educating your children while keeping it together yourself, or any number of other totally valid concerns. But in an effort to keep those feelings from taking over, the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) actually encourages you to stick with “normality and routine that mirrors life’s daily patterns and practices.” In other words, you can work to protect your sense of normal during this time, and preserving as much of your regularly scheduled programming as possible can help.

“The worst things for us all would be to just collapse into sick-like behavior, like staying on the couch, wearing our pajamas all day, eating out of cans,” says psychotherapist and astrologer Jennifer Freed, PhD. “Do everything you would do if you’re about to meet the most important romantic date of your life.”

To that point, perhaps I’ll really feel myself and opt for a push-up bra tomorrow. Additionally, I’ll commit to the following most important habits psychologists suggest sticking to for promoting structure and balance.

1. Basic hygiene…besides washing your hands
We’re all already scrubbing our digits until the back of our hands are raw, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect all the other parts of you.

“Stay with your self-care routine as much as possible,” says clinical psychologist Carla Marie Manly, PhD. “Although you might not feel like showering, flossing, and brushing, basic self care is a sure way to boost your mood.”

2. Dress up like you’re going to work
Again, the simple judgment call of choosing leggings over sweatpants (or no pants) can make all the difference when it comes to preserving a sense of self. Sure, nobody on your work conference calls will see you from the neck down, but just because WFH life can be more lax doesn’t mean you should abandon your sense of decorum.

“The most important things in a daily routine to stay humanized is to actively dress like you would be going out, and maintain your rituals of being productive.” —psychotherapist Jennifer Freed, PhD

“I think the most important things in a daily routine to stay humanized is to actively dress like you would be going out, and maintain your rituals of being productive,” says Dr. Freed.

3. Cook real meals
“Cook and prepare meals that take time because now you have the time,” Dr. Freed says. “Cooking is a very grounding and anchoring exercise and makes us feel more sensual. So you want to highlight anything that keeps your senses very alive instead of dulled.”

4. Stick with your regular nutrition plan (as much as possible)
Not only do you want to put in the mindful effort of cooking a good meal, but you also want to stick with a semi-regular meal plan as to what your norm is, assuming your pantry allows for it.

“Steer clear of sugary drinks, sugary foods, and too much caffeine,” Dr. Manly says. “Fluctuations in blood sugar and adrenaline can add to a sense of anxiety.”

5. Communicate with people who care about you
Duh! It’s heart-wrenching to be separated from loved ones and easy to take social distancing a little too seriously by shutting everyone out. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Connect with loved ones via FaceTime and text,” says Dr. Manly. “Even short messages filled with emojis feel comforting during social-distancing times.”

6. Paint your nails, curl your hair, do that ONE beauty ritual that makes you feel whole
“Now is not the time to scrimp on little luxuries that make you feel great,” Dr. Manly says.

Even though that doesn’t mean you can saunter over to the salon, you can still give yourself the perfect DIY mani, put on a boob mask, do that little extra thing that makes you feel beautiful.

7. Exercise
Gyms are closing en masse, but there are still plenty of ways to access those happiness-spiking endorphins.

“If you can go outside, take a short walk to restore your connection to the world; even a 15-minute walk is proven to be a mood-booster,” Dr. Manly says. “If you’re confined inside, take a yoga class via YouTube or watch a guided meditation video.”

Or hey, check out which of your favorite fitness studios are streaming workouts right now.

8. Do your dishes
Or the laundry, or make your bed every day, or anything—anything—that keeps the clutter out. And don’t just do it in a day-to-day way; consider now  an opportunity for massive Kondo-ing.

“Use this time to spring clean, detox from clutter, and refresh your environment.” —psychotherapist Carla Marie Manly, PhD

“Use this time to spring clean, detox from clutter, and refresh your environment,” Dr. Manly says.

9. Freshen you home’s atmosphere (and your mood as well)
You’re not expecting company, but so effing what? Since we’re all about heightening the senses right now and “touch” doesn’t seem to be on the menu, this is the best time to break out your diffuser or burn the Diptyque Baies.

“Soothing essential oils such as lavender are wonderful for calming frayed nerves, and upbeat, citrusy essential oils are wonderful mood boosters,” Dr. Manly says. “If you’re feeling low, add a little glow to your day by burning an aromatic candle. The soft light adds a calming element, and a soothing scent can feel wonderfully healing.”

10. Keep a natural curiosity about other things
Right now, your social media feed is likely inundated with COVID-19 updates, whether they take the form of news articles, memes, or general unsolicited opinions. You’re gormandizing it all consciously and unconsciously. And, listen: It’s crucially important to stay informed, but you need to allow yourself a rejuvenating break from the news cycle, and make space two of the most important habits to retain right now. The first is creating. “We’re often too busy to bake bread or homemade cookies,” says Dr. Manly. “Make the most of this downtime by doing all the creative things you’ve put on hold.”

And the second thing to make room for is learning. “Treat yourself as if you were about to go out on the most important job interview or best date of your life, and be that intellectually alert as well,” Dr. Freed says. “Keep informed, but not just with the news, but great books. This is a time to really get educated; self-education is extremely productive.”

Mary Grace Garis