So unless you’re like a certain actor who somehow managed to miss the two-month opening salvo of the pandemic before emerging from a desert retreat, we’re in the midst of Pandemic 2020: COVID-19; or, The Novel Coronavirus; or, This Is So Not the Flu. And this means that as I write this, according to The New York Times, at least 316 million individuals in 42 states, three counties, and nine cities—as well as DC and Puerto Rico—have been asked, encouraged, or ordered to stay at home or shelter in place. It’s a truly weird and frightening time, but I hope that all of you, wherever you may be, are keeping healthy and sound in mind and body.

Before I go on, if you are one of those incredible people who is working on the frontlines—including but not limited to those who work in healthcare, first response, grocery stores, restaurants, transportation, utilities, law enforcement, or other essential professions—thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for your service in this chaotic and dire time. If you are an artist in any genre who has been working to provide entertainment to those of us going a bit stir-crazy at home, thank you. And if you are one of those many millions of people who have been infected, been laid off or furloughed, or lost someone to or because of the pandemic, you are in our hearts as well.

Since late February, we’ve seen the nation transition from “make sure you exercise social distancing” to “why is everyone hoarding paper products and water?” to “stay home; stay safe” orders. Here in the Austin area, local mayors issued a “Stay at Home or Place of Residence” mandate that went into effect at 11:59 p.m. on March 24, 2020. Exhibiting concern for their employees and the wider community, many organizations had wisely permitted, urged, or ordered remote work as long as three weeks before that decree. So while some people have been quarantined for only a couple weeks (“only,” she says, as if blithely), many have been isolating at home for more than a month now. 

We know that in the absence of the preferred epidemiological approach to the outbreak of a pandemic (i.e., clearly communicating about, quickly diagnosing, tracing contacts of those infected with, controlling and preventing transmission of, and surveilling the disease), social distancing and sheltering in place have been our best stopgap measures of containing COVID-19. But the public-health benefits don’t make the sacrifice easy. Not getting to hang out with friends, go to the gym or movies, visit favorite haunts, or just live life normally is difficult, and while some are handling the situation as well as they can, I know just as many have been curled up in fetal position playing nonstop Animal Crossing or staring dazedly as the “Are You Still Watching?” prompt pops up multiple times on the Tiger King streaming platform throughout the day and night. 

So considering that and the uncertainty of how long shelter-at-home mandates will last, here are some humble suggestions on how to weather the pandemic. I hope that if you need them, you’ll find at least one that is helpful.

“All work and no play …” —Jack Torrance, The Shining

Try to maintain some semblance of a schedule; this is a strategy that many contract and gig workers have relied on for decades. I taught online and worked remotely on and off for 12 years, so I can attest that allowing work and leisure time to bleed together too often can leave you a few bats shy of a full deck.

If you are fortunate enough to be working remotely, try working when you would normally be in the office in the BC19 (before COVID-19) era. If you’re a student, try establishing a routine that’s modeled after your school schedule, or if your teachers or professors aren’t using synchronous (i.e., real-time) learning, in which you have to be online at specific times, consider scheduling several hours that are devoted to coursework and then a few hours devoted to doing homework, researching and writing essays, or studying for quizzes and exams. Then, make sure you carve out several hours a day dedicated to not working or studying. Having a structured schedule that includes both productivity and downtime is crucial for one’s well-being.

Oh, and take it from this zombified hypocrite: keep to a regular sleep schedule, and try to sleep at least seven hours a night (or early to late morning if you’re a fellow nocturnal creature). It helps. A lot. Attending to your usual self-care rituals, such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, showering, and shaving, are important, too, for emulating a sense of normalcy—and your housemates will thank you.

“This is my dance space; this is your dance space.” —Johnny Castle, Dirty Dancing

Some families and room- or housemates are faring well at home together because they get along fine spending 24/7 in each other’s company. However, others function better when they have some time apart lest the fangs and claws come out.

If the latter is the case, try designating physical and temporal boundaries: during agreed-on hours of the day, evening, or night, household members will keep to their separate rooms or spaces within the home, or else you can just agree that anyone can call time-outs whenever they’re needed. If you live in a studio apartment, you can even use available furniture, curtains, boxes, bedsheets, scarves, etc. to create the semblance of walls (pillow forts aren’t just for the little ones anymore!). This can help prevent mild annoyances from blowing up into outright Lord of the Flies scenarios. And using headphones to block out sound from those other spaces is also a relationship saver.

virtual chat

“I’ll be right here.” —E.T., E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

That said, “social distancing” does not mean “not socializing.” Except those who genuinely thrive on hermetic lifestyles, maintaining a mutual-support network with friends and family members is crucial during tough times. So in addition to enjoying leisure time or binge-watching shows with housemates (no, seriously, that lady with the big cats killed her husband, right? RIGHT?), try connecting through phone, text, or video messaging with loved ones who are farther afield. And through live audio–video platforms, you can host book, film, or crafting clubs; meet with your regular student, social, or professional organizations; or just organize playdates and hangouts with friends. Gamers can cooperate or battle it out through online video games or get their Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, or D&D on using tabletop simulators. And some streaming platforms are pushing out party features so that groups can watch shows or movies together. We are fortunate enough to live in the age of the Internet, so keeping your physical distance from others doesn’t have to mean isolating yourself from those you care about.

We are fortunate enough to live in the age of the Internet, so keeping your physical distance from others doesn’t have to mean isolating yourself from those you care about.

“It belongs in a museum!” —Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The Internet is also your gateway to cultural experiences and bucket-list sites that are currently unavailable, closed, or on the other side of the world. Whether you’re normally a frequent flyer or a homebody, try virtually visiting museums, galleries, and iconic landmarks; many institutions are offering tours of their collections (from fine art and cultural history to science and natural history) or of geographical sites, which can be great learning experiences for the young and the superannuated. Universities, online learning platforms, and media publishers are making entire courses, audiobooks, lectures, and tutorials available online, many for free or at a discount, so that you can use your time at home for enrichment. And be sure to check with local, national, and international cultural centers, such as theaters and dance studios, many of which are offering free streaming and on-demand video of performances of symphonies, operas, and theatrical productions (if you’re able, donating to these nonprofit institutions is also widely encouraged).

And if you’re one of those parents or older siblings at home who has become much more appreciative of educators lately because you’ve been suddenly thrown into the rewarding but exhausting world of teaching, these can be welcome resources for interactive learning.

“Defeat does not exist in this dojo, does it?” —John Kreese, The Karate Kid

No matter how much many of us want to spend the entire shelter-at-home period curled up on our couches or in bed watching The Tudors for the third time, it’s important for physical, mental, and emotional well-being to focus on physical activity. If you can, try to get in at least 30 minutes a day of movement—whatever that looks like for you. You can look online for live and recorded online classes for people of all abilities and ages, including cardio, strength training, yoga, or chair fitness. Or you can take multiple shorter breaks during your day to do chores, garden, run, jog, walk, dance, frolic with pets, or wheel around. We might not come out of the pandemic looking like The Rock, and some of us are much more likely to be wearing elastic waistbands from all the emotional eating we’re doing, but we can at least burn some of those calories off and reduce stress by getting the blood and oxygen flowing through our bodies and brains.

“Wait a minute, Doc. Ahh … are you telling me that you built a time machine … out of a DeLorean?” —Marty McFly, Back to the Future

For your own sanity, stop constantly refreshing your social media and step away from the news. Consult only valid sources that provide accurate, trustworthy (i.e., evidence-based scientific) information about the pandemic, and limit how much time you spend reading think pieces or watching videos about the ongoing crisis. Instead, consider doing what us 270-year-olds did back in the prelapsarian days before 24-hour news, endless screen time, and the Internet: distract yourself and prevent boredom by reading (maybe avoid masochistically reading literature about the plague, which is what I’ve been doing), journaling, writing (e.g., what a great time to start or dust off that story, novel, or play you’ve been thinking wistfully about!), painting, drawing, piecing together jigsaw puzzles, sewing, knitting, crocheting, woodworking, baking, cooking, or quilling (look it up; I told you I’m 270 years old). And don’t think you’re supposed to be Boccaccio, Shakespeare, Newton, or Munch; this is about creative catharsis and mindful engagement, not making masterpieces.

Of course, if you’re not feeling creative, you can also distract yourself by finally taking on projects around your home that you’ve been putting off, such as organizing digital or paper files, an office, a closet, or a pantry. In a world where we are often left feeling helpless or unable to control chaotic events, putting documents or spices in order and Marie Kondoing your wardrobe can be productive and relieve stress. 

In a world where we are often left feeling helpless or unable to control chaotic events, putting documents or spices in order and Marie Kondoing your wardrobe can be productive and relieve stress. 

In the end, there are many strategies for coping during the current pandemic. But above all, remember: we don’t know when quarantining at home will end, but it is a temporary situation, and there is no right or wrong way to get through these trying and anxiety-provoking times. (N.B. If you need to consult a professional and are fortunate enough to have health insurance that covers mental health, more and more therapists are becoming available through telemedicine!). In the end, staying at home while caring for yourself and for your family is the most important plan of action. We may be physically apart, but we’re all in this together for the good of the community. Best of luck!