Much of the advice therapists usually offer to people suffering from anxiety doesn’t work anymore. In normal times, I would tell you to go to the beach and watch the waves. Or catch up with your best friend over a glass of wine. Or hit up a yoga class. But these aren’t normal times. Because of the coronavirus, we must stay home to stay safe and help our communities’ hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. What’s good for us physically, and for our society as a whole, though, is harmful to our mental health. We need to come up with new ideas to deal with stress while COVID-19 is in our lives. Here are four fun and easily doable ways to combat anxiety during a pandemic.
1. Do social-distancing versions of traditional anxiety-busting activities.
You can’t go to a yoga class, but you can take a class online or use a meditation app. And you won’t get any two-for-one happy hour deals, but you can still get together with your friends on Friday nights via video chat. There are many chat apps out there, so you’re bound to find one that works for you.
To make it feel as non-pandemic as possible, plan it as if you’re getting together at one of your favorite local haunts and prepare in advance. Are you meeting at a cute café? Make yourself a latté and a cupcake. Beer garden? Add some bratwurst and beer to your next Instacart order.
2. Watch live performances from your couch.
Have you ever wanted to see Pink Floyd in concert or to go to the Metropolitan Opera? Many musicians and theater companies are offering free or low-cost video streaming of past performances. Some are available to watch whenever you want, while others are available only for a limited time, but the number of options is seemingly endless. Whether you prefer classical or pop music, Shakespeare plays or hit musicals, if you’ve got a television or a laptop, you can turn your home into a temporary Royal Albert Hall.
3. Tour the world from home.
Many museums offer free virtual tours on their websites, so fill your Saturday afternoon quarantined with art. You can visit the Uffizi in Florence, Italy, or walk around a Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibit complete with an audio guide at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, all from the safety of your home. You may not be able to smell the oil paint, but you can see the individual brushstrokes of Claude Monet’s water lilies without getting yelled at by a security guard for standing too close to the painting.
4. Get some fresh air (or fake it).
Beaches and parks may be closed, but you can still take a walk around your neighborhood, and you should. As long as you aren’t sick or a potential carrier of the coronavirus (meaning, you haven’t had contact with anyone who might be COVID-19-positive in at least two weeks), a walk outside is a great idea.
Fresh air and sunlight can be therapeutic even in small doses. If you live in a neighborhood with busy sidewalks, practice social distancing outdoors by wearing a mask and crossing to the other side of the street to avoid other walkers. If you live in a sparsely populated area or have a backyard, take advantage of it! Think of all those apartment-dwellers who haven’t seen a tree in a month.
If you have no access to nature, there’s always YouTube, where you can watch trees swaying in a summer breeze for ten hours. You can also watch a live cam from a zoo or aquarium, view a nature documentary, or enjoy some Slow TV. I’m partial to this lovely boat ride along an English canal.
The point of all these concerts and boat rides and museum tours is to take your mind off of what is making you anxious. When we’re stressed out, we tend to focus on the thing that’s making us feel bad, which of course makes us feel worse. So, turn off the news and log off of Twitter.
The more time you spend thinking about how many weeks of social distancing might remain or how long it’s been since you’ve left your house or been in the same room as another human being, the worse you will feel.
It might not cure your anxiety, but taking your mind off of it for a few hours by distracting your brain with some beautiful art or swaying trees can do wonders. Think of it like this, if you have sore muscles, you take a bath. You can’t spend all day in the tub, but that hour you do spend soaking feels amazing, and the relief it gives your aches and pains lasts even when you’re out of the water.