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How I'm Focusing on My Mental Health While Social Distancing

I Have All the Time in the World, and I'm Not Doing Anything Except Taking Care of Myself

Cropped shot of a young woman lying on her bed with her eyes closed

I've never had more free time than I do right now. For almost two months, I've stayed at home in my New York City apartment with just my two cats, avoiding any kind of exposure to COVID-19. I'm barely working, and I've hardly gone outside. But instead of focusing my energy on a new hobby or even keeping my apartment superclean, I'm listening to what my brain and my body are telling me and simply practicing self-care.

Ever since the world started going into lockdown, social media has been flooded with people eager to share all the ways they're staying busy. I've lost count of how many loaves of bread I've seen on Instagram, and dozens of my friends are suddenly Martha Stewart with all the crafting they're doing. For me, it started to feel like the thing to do while staying inside: picking up a new hobby and mastering it by the time this crisis has passed.

I dabbled in some baking, but I've always had baking as a hobby — and trying to get ingredients when shelves are bare and I'm already making fewer trips to the grocery store took a lot of the fun out of it. I tried using my embroidery machine to make some new t-shirts, but every time the thread hit a snag, it just made me want to cry out of frustration. I tried to think of another hobby I could pick up, but just the thought of adding a task to my day — even with so much free time — made me shudder.

It took a few days for me to realize that the stress of this situation was making it hard for me to enjoy even my normal activities at home. Suddenly I was napping every day, and it wasn't something cute to post about on Instagram. My body's natural reaction to stress is to hibernate, so every day as I feel myself yet again overwhelmed with life, I'm overcome with exhaustion and have to sleep.

I keep seeing people joke about not wanting to gain the "quarantine 15" and their plans to emerge from their homes having mastered a new language or instrument. And you know what? If that's what keeps you moving through your day, then great. But none of that is helping my mental health. I've recognized that the uncertainty of tomorrow and next week and next month has put me incredibly on edge and revealed an anxiety that I never really knew was there. I'm a planner who relies on very specific activities (traveling and concerts) with very specific people (my closest friends and family) for my happiness. Practicing yoga or painting by number is no substitute for what I've lost.

It's OK if all you're doing is getting by. It's OK if you take naps during the day because you're overwhelmed. And it's OK if all you're doing is taking care of yourself.
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What has helped me is napping. It's not about the nap, though, it's about understanding when my body just needs a break. It's not that I'm lazy, and it's not that I'm bored. This is just how my body copes with some of the biggest stressors I can imagine coming at me at once. I lost my full-time job right before the pandemic hit and felt like I was just getting going as a full-time freelance writer. Enter a worldwide pandemic and suddenly budgets are cut, people are laid off, and I'm struggling to make ends meet. Add to that the fact that I don't know when I'll be able to see my family again, or if anything else I had planned for the year will actually happen, and I just can't be bothered with picking up a new hobby or spending an hour a day on a new workout.

I'm not mad at people who are. Like I said, if that's what gets you through your day, then I'm glad you have it. I'll be first in line to cheer you on. Because it's not really about the hobbies, it's about your own version of self-care and what will help your mental health. And if you're like me and you haven't become fluent in a second language and you haven't carved out six-pack abs and you haven't baked 17 loaves of banana bread, guess what? It's OK.

It's OK if all you're doing is getting by. It's OK if you take naps during the day because you're overwhelmed. And it's OK if all you're doing is taking care of yourself. Don't let anyone make you feel bad for putting yourself and your needs first and just making it through a freakin' global crisis. What's important is that you come out the other side healthy and alive. Who cares if you accomplished nothing tangible along the way. What's important is that we made it.

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