Routines provide comfort, and with so much chaos right now, we all can use some comfort and safety wherever we can find it.
With work, schools, governments, churches, sports and special events taking steps to slow the coronavirus’ spread, increased social isolation is an unfortunate reality for millions of people across the world. Fortunately whether you’re working from the kitchen table or caring for a loved one, there are healthy ways to cope with social isolation and sticking to a routine is one of them.
Routines provide a sense of structure and familiarity, and accomplishing tasks can improve mood – so now could be a great time to do an in-home project or start that new hobby you’ve been wanting to try! While of course, continuing to wash your hands.
Sticking as close to your regular schedule is recommended, but, honestly, that’s easier said than done. Fortunately, there are ways to structure the days in ways that make the most sense for you.
Going to bed and waking up at regular times can help with following a schedule during the day. Early birds get things done most effectively before lunchtime, while night owls tend to get their creative burst of energy in the evenings. Think about when you work best and group your tasks into the time of day that makes the most sense for when you will best complete them.
Mornings: Group all your early tasks here, like feeding and walking pets, unloading the first load of dishes for the day, and putting dinner in the slow cooker. Once the morning rush is over, reserve the mornings for the tasks that require the most critical thinking and troubleshooting.
Midday: This is a tricky time of day because your energy levels—and perhaps the caffeine from your morning coffee—have likely dissipated. However, this means you might be primed to do the boring, routine stuff that doesn’t take a lot of brainpower. Use this time for tasks like answering emails, setting appointments, and running errands. If not working, use this time for routine cleaning, like emptying the dishwasher and scrubbing the bathrooms.
Evening: Evenings work best when used for preparation for the next day. Layout your clothes, pack lunches and declutter the rooms where items tend to pile up, like the kitchen. And then, relax.
Get Specific (If You Want)
Within these loose outlines of each part of your day, you can get as specific as you want. For example, you might want to write out a routine for your morning that looks something like this:
- 7 a.m.: Wake up, brush teeth
- 7:15 a.m.: Mediate
- 7:30 a.m.: Breakfast
- 8 a.m.: Shower
- 8:30 a.m.: Set up working remotely space
Make Sure to Schedule in Time for Flexibility
Research has shown that being social and having social support can buffer against the impacts of stress and low mood. Remaining connected to others even if physically separated can be helpful. Catching up with friends and family through messages, phone calls and video chats can be helpful for enhancing your mood. If working remotely, connecting with colleagues via videoconference so you can “see” each other, rather than only by phone or email, can increase feelings of connectedness.
Continuing to eat healthfully and engaging in physical activity, such as going for walks and trying to stay active with some indoor workouts, can help with staying well and sticking to a routine. Additionally, relaxing activities, like listening to music, watching movies and meditation can be helpful for maintaining a positive mood.
For children, maintaining a schedule can help with keeping them mentally engaged and happy and reduce anxiety.
Just like morning and afternoon recess at school, parents should factor in two periods of outdoor time so kids of all ages can let out their energy and keep their spirits up. Consider a walk around the block, bike ride or a stoopside chat – keeping in mind social-distance parameters – first thing in the morning. Schedule the second outdoor block after the 3 p.m. slump.
Just like adults who crave their post-lunch coffee as a pick-me-up, teens and kids should recharge outside midafternoon. Getting fresh air is great for teens, too, says Amber Robbins, a grad student in teen counseling, who made her own teen-focused coronavirus schedule. “It gives them the chance to mentally prepare for the day and practice mindfulness.”
Helping around the house earlier in the day can help remind teens and kids that they’re an important part of their family units. “For young children, doing chores gives them a sense of control over their own safety,” says Jessica McHale, a Massachusetts mom that started keeping her kids home from school last Friday (and who crafted the colorful “COVID-19 Daily Schedule” that includes blocks of time for ‘morning walks’ creative time’ and ‘academic time’).
And while keeping up with academic assignments from school is important, Robbins says parents should also use this time to teach everyday lessons that are often overlooked like laundry, cooking and financial tips. “How often will we be blessed with this time together? This is a great time for parents to focus on teaching those adult-role lessons.” Younger kids can learn similarly useful skills by doing things like setting the table, arranging snacks for the family or feeding the family pet
McHale recommends putting any allotted screen time at the end of the day as a reward while Robbins recommends enforcing teens to only use screens for educational apps and documentaries during the daytime, and saving social screen time for after dinner.
Flexibility is also important for young kids and teens. Allow moments for random dance parties and crafts. If you’re home-schooling your children, introduce some fun topics that aren’t always discussed in the formal education system and that may be of interest to your children. Allow moments of nothingness, where there’s no plans and you all just relax together on the couch and watch Netflix or Disney+.
While it’s easy to draft a schedule, sticking to it is the hard part. Fortunately, we have quite a few days to get it down.
Be gentle with yourself and others during this time.
Stay connected, stay well and stay positive,
- Puhak, Janine. Coronavirus quarantine: How to cope with social isolation during pandemic. Fox News. 2020.
- Licea, Melkorka. How to keep your kid on schedule during coronavirus school closings. New York Post. 2020.
- Larkin, Elizabeth. 5 steps to create a personalized daily routine. The Spruce. 2019.