Have Your Habits Changed in Quarantine?
As we continue in this historic, record breaking moment in time, I notice that I have created new habits and deepened others. At the onset, nine weeks ago, I was focusing on the novelty of what lay before me, not having a clue that more than two months later the world would still be in quarantine.
I am maintaining a regular schedule working as a therapist offering telehealth sessions with established and new clients. I am writing articles; some on the emotional and social impact of the pandemic. Both of these endeavors help me maintain my own stability. Knowing that my clients are counting on me, helps me get out of bed in the morning.
I meditate, pray, read, watch comedy shows, exercise in my living room (which now doubles as my gym), take walks in the neighborhood, watch inspiring videos, and listen to uplifting music. My go-to station is WXPN out of the University of Pennsylvania. Every other week grocery shopping, regular cleaning, and laundry help to keep me balanced. Catch as catch can conversations with neighbors help to create a sense of camaraderie and reminders that we will get through this together.
To counter feeling isolated, I participate in Zoom calls, speak with friends, FaceTime with my son, daughter-in-law and now nearly 4-month-old grandson and each morning, I record a video for him in which I sing or recite a nursery rhyme. I would be doing that if I were with him. I want him to know that I am there in the only way I can be now.
Every few weeks, we do a distance visit. This Mother’s Day, the family gathered on their lawn, spread the requisite space apart as we attempted to make it seem as normal as possible. Hard to do when the primary topic of conversation was the virus and how it had changed our lives and habits. Blessedly, the baby slept most of the time as my daughter-in-law held him. Had things actually been ‘normal,’ each of us (grandparents, aunt and uncle) would have cuddled with him. I can only imagine the day when we can with all of the stored-up love that as of now can’t be expressed that way. Some days, tears are part of my routine, coming without warning at times.
I was listening to an interview with Kenneth Duckworth, the Chief Medical Officer of NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) who spoke of the impact of what we both refer to as physical distancing rather than “social distancing”. Since we are social beings who need contact with each other, the spatial separation adds to the stress levels we are feeling in the face of fear of how our lives will be forever altered. He referred to this as an act of collective service which helps slow the spread of the virus and assists medical caregivers in keeping pace with the need for treatment.
In another conversation on NPR, he mentioned the ways in which the experience that many are having will help to de-stigmatize mental health issues. Even those who are not predisposed to anxiety and depression are feeling it. I raise my hand and freely admit that I am in that group. It gives me a clearer view of what some of my clients experience on a daily basis.
I awaken most mornings with a gut twisting sense of panic and wonder with trepidation what the new day might bring. In the blissful ignorance of pre-pandemic reality, I would, with eager anticipation, greet the morning and think about the activities I would engage in that could include getting together with friends and family, helping take care of my newborn grandson, teaching workshops, officiating weddings, organizing Free Hugs events, going to the movies or out to eat.
As Duckworth shared, “It’s okay to not be okay.”
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
In preparation for this article, I asked people these questions:
Are you eating differently? Eating more or less? Is alcohol consumption up or down? Exercising more or less? Sleeping more or less? Talking to people regularly that you didn’t before? Worrying more or less? What activities have sustained you? What beliefs help you to remain balanced? Do you watch or read news reports? How do you deal with the emotional roller coaster that many, me included, are on?
I received these responses:
“My biggest change was the AHA! moment I had last week. I’m retired I can stay home! So, canceled all of my teaching classes. And all of my weddings were delayed until next year! My garden is in and I’m looking forward to seeing how that goes!”
“Was eating more but it made me feel more depressed so now I’m back on Weight Watchers, which is something I actually really love and feel empowered doing. I’m sleeping less. Anxiety. I’m enjoying the outdoors more. I’m sleeping later and so are the kids so that’s nice, too. I skip the news. I have PTSD triggered panic attacks from the masks so going out is mildly stressful. I talk to different people more often than I ever used to. I value the extra time with my children so so much.”
“I actually eat only two times a day and wake up at 5:30am. lol how’d that happen?”
“Actually eating less. I’ve lost weight — which has been Ok.”
“Hmmm I’m def eating differently than before, not as healthful as usual but no shame there. Sleeping more. Walking daily but no more HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Talking to people less. Less phone time when not at work. Lots and lots of art and meditation. I check the news every few days. And I take more frequent social breaks than before — logging off IG and FB and email for days at a time.”
“Eating more and more comfort food, drinking more, watching less news, finding online social substitutes for in person events, added online college classes and reading, reconnecting with people more often, in deeper way (chatting on Zoom vs a Facebook like).”
“Eating a little more, sleeping about the same, but I go to bed later and get up later. Exercising more. Doing a lot of jigsaw puzzles for peace and sanity. Finally started painting again. Talk to my mom almost every day. Doing daily meditation again. We are retired, so it’s interesting how little our life has changed other than not going out into the big world. Zero travel, which is lovely actually. I find I am recovering from some old PTSD issues because everything is so slow. We spend a rather large amount of time looking out at the sea where the tide comes in and out. We have about a 14-foot tidal shift so it’s fun to watch. We stopped drinking right before COVID became a thing. We don’t miss it.”
“I think I’m eating the same, just no take-outs or dine-ins. We’ve both lost over 10 pounds now. I’m trying to walk an average of 3-6 miles a day. Meditating to fix my emotional state. Took a (prescribed) Xanax for the first time in over 6 months at one point. Back to some drinking three nights a week I think. Waking up around 3-4am many nights. Got a 36 sq. ft victory-garden in the basement I’ll be planting in the yard in the next few days. It brings me calm, and something to care for. It seems I’ve got a greener thumb than most people. No News please.”
“I feel like EVERYTHING, all of the above, is MORE. I’m doing all of those, MORE. Life is good, though. I’m glad work/my job, got out of my way, so that I could be so much more at home for a little while. On EVERY level.”
“Eating more healthy food that I prepare deliciously, exercising more, cleaning the house constantly. Attending many webinars, thinking about how to pivot the business, making calls, and asking for info and help. Cannot get a clear vision of what I want — I know all the things I don’t want and living in midtown NYC is at the top of the list. Do I really have to reinvent myself again? I miss the kiddos in NJ, miss going outside without having to wear a mask and bringing wipes and hand sanitizer. Cannot write and having eerie dreams. I miss human interaction face to face, and big bear hugs. I drink tea now. Listen to binaural beats with high MHz music to fall asleep. Practice deep breathing twice a day. Giving myself permission to feel sad and go through it, to get through it.”
Weinstein, E. (2020). Have Your Habits Changed in Quarantine?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 29, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/have-your-habits-changed-in-quarantine/