Here in Denmark we have now been self isolating for two weeks, since our PM went on television and told the nation about our new reality. During this time I have only been with my wife and daughter. Here is my personal account of how I stay sane, and some considerations that might be useful in your own attempts to have an ok life despite these unusual circumstances.
Top 5 strategies, here they come.
(1) Keep working
Maybe the crisis only made you more busy than before, and in that case staying active is not the topic for you, but rather to make sure you also find moments to relax and recharge. But for many of us coronavirus reduces the amount of time we have to spend on our ‘normal’ work.
For me it happened in the way that we were four co-founders just about to start a new company, and we had lots of ideas and excitement. However, now with COVID-19 everything has changed, and we too have had to reassess our plans.
In theory, I could then just sit down and wait - but I know that will not be a good choice for my well-being. Also it would not help others, and I would in essence leave it to other people to work really hard to fix our world while I was just a spectator. There would be way too much time to read sad news, and to think worried thoughts. I don’t believe in being idle as the way to happiness, so we came up with a new range of initiatives that we can work on.
The first initiative: www.corona-funding.org is about helping to keep dialogues going between startups, SMEs and investors. It is non-profit, everyone works for free, and we are so far a group of 15 volunteers in 3 countries (Denmark, UK and Germany). The reception has been amazing, and it feels wonderful to be doing something to help.
Whatever your unique skills are, I would definitely encourage you to explore ways that you can contribute and engage. For the sake of our world, and for your own well-being too. There are so many options, they just require some thinking, creativity and maybe a bit of research.
(2) Find meaning in what is happening
It is a psychological mechanism in us humans that when we give a positive meaning to something (whatever it is), we feel much better than when we see what happens as only terrible and unfair. If you are curious for a proper explanation of this phenomenon, as well as an inspiring true story, then consider reading Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. Viktor was an Austrian jewish psychiatrist who survived 3 years in Nazi concentration camps. According to his reflections, he survived because he found a way to give meaning to the horrendous experience. He went on to invent logotherapy, and helped thousands of people get out of depression, anxiety and existential crises, through giving new meaning to their lives.
I am not suggesting that what we are experiencing is comparable to being in a Nazi concentration camp, but still there is something we can learn from Viktor Frankl’s realisations.
Personally, I can see many good things that can come out of this wild situation, and there are many perspectives that are far from depressing.
Each of us can explore what good this disruption can bring to our own lives. More time with the family? An opportunity to rethink and reset our lives? A unique chance to experience how strong we really are?
(3) Exercise the body every day
The first 8 days after the gym had closed I did not do any exercise. My hip needs some surgery (which will likely be postponed) so I cannot run, and I can only walk very short distances. Most yoga asanas are also too straining for my hips. I felt how this physical inactivity was not good for me at all. I tried to order hand weights online, but they were sold out. The email coming back from the online shop told that their employees were seen crying because they were so behind with the orders, and could not source more products. So I gave up on that idea.
Instead, I filled two canvas bags with glass bottles filled with water, and started using them as hand weights. I change the amount of bottles according to what exercise I am doing. It works quite well actually.
I now have a little program that takes 45 minutes that I do every day. Some floor exercises that are good for the back, strengthening the core, and then lifting the homemade ‘hand weights’ in different ways. I have done the routine 4 days now, and it starts to really flow - and I am feeling a lot better for it.
(4) Read something that is not about the current crisis
I have started reading Einstein - His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson. It is more than 600 pages long, but that’s a good thing because I am really enjoying it. These days we can easily fall in the trap of being on our phone and laptop for too many hours, and to read too much about the terrible things that happen in our world right now. It is healthy to step away from the laptop, and put down the phone, for at least a couple of hours a day, and to put our minds on something that brings wider perspective.
Einstein was a great thinker, and right now I need great thoughts. There are so many books (you probably have some of them on your bookshelf) that have the potential to uplift us, inspire us, broaden our understanding and perspective. Now is the time to pick them up.
(5) Find a small treat you can give to yourself daily
This can really be anything, as long as it is something you can look forward to with joy. Simple things like a daily walk, a good cup of coffee, a phone call with a dear friend. I have found it to be amazing how such simple pleasures can feel just as rewarding and enjoyable as anything bigger, more expensive, and unattainable. Really we don’t need much. We can be grateful for the small daily gifts that life still has to offer. And it is delightful to rediscover this truth about ourselves. Liberating too. Ironic as it may seem, this imprisonment in our own homes might end up setting us more free than we have ever been!
These are 5 ways that I stay sane in these insane times. I hope one or two of them might be useful to you, and feel free to share your best COVID-19 strategies below.