The ultimate list of coping mechanisms when in lockdown — from your friendly neighborhood mad scientist

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It pains me to see so many of my friends feeling dismayed at having to stay locked inside their homes during this unprecedented lockdown. I realized I was perhaps one of the few people who is not outright dreading the prospect of being at home for so long. If anything, in a twisted way, I am strangely happy at having this ‘alone’ time with family.

I fully appreciate how this whole affair can grate on the nerves and strain the mind and body, therefore, from someone who’s done quarantines as part of my social experiments and because of my general need for some quiet time every now and then, I have curated a list of healthy coping mechanisms that you can borrow and use if you’re feeling a little antsy right now.


For the body…

If you are fending off feelings of claustrophobia and this indignant sense that your movements are restricted because you can’t go to the gym or the pool or to your local park for a walk, here’s a list of alternatives to help you quiet the irritation.

  • Dance: Bust those moves in the privacy of your own home, in pajamas, playing whatever music you want to dance to. There are YouTube playlists and dance sequences where you can follow along even if you have two left feet like me. It doesn’t matter if you can’t keep up with the pace of the dance steps, It doesn’t matter how goofy you look, just get off your a$$ and shake it, it will do you a world of good.
  • Yoga: Really. Yoga is the only thing that can make a 12 x 12 space feel like it is longer than infinity. Stretch those arms and legs and breathe your way into stillness. There are teachers on Youtube who curate simple yoga routines to help you ease into the flow quickly and comfortably. I personally recommend YogaWithAdrienne to start off. Yoga integrates your mind and your body, so one of the benefits is that your mental state might perk up ever so slightly after a yoga routine. The best part is you are unlikely to feel tired after a yoga workout; if anything, you are likely to feel light and supple. Do it for a minimum of 2 days to feel the difference
  • Walk at Home: This video can help you walk for 1 mile in 15 mins, and you don’t need a lot of space to make it happen, it is bloody genius. Try it out
  • Household chores: There is an indescribable satisfaction one feels when they organize their closet or arrange their bookshelf or just clear the clutter around the house. Simple and powerful — sometimes being able to feel in control of small aspects of life can help manage anxiety.
  • Mind your posture: Seriously, stop slouching! It helps you more than you realize.

For the mind…

A friend who is studying for an exam remarked to me, “If I could concentrate as deeply on my studies as I did on coronavirus, I’d be crushing all my study targets”. There is nothing like news about fear and danger that holds our attention with a gripping ferocity. There is a way to redirect the spotlight from the news to something else, use these to make that shift:

  • Listen to some uplifting music: Listen to every note, every tune, taking in everything when you do this, and maybe even close your eyes. It is easy to have music running in the background and forget to marvel at the beauty of it. There was a time when music was not all that ubiquitous and listening to a treasured song was a delightful thing to do. It’s time to bring back the sense of novelty to music. Designate a few ‘pick me up’ songs — maybe create a playlist like this one. Try and pick songs that you listened to during a happy time in your life, could be middle school, high school or even college. A ‘decade-defining’ song that corresponds to a happy time in your life will inadvertently bring a smile to your face even if the lyrics aren’t necessarily profound. Resurrect the memories of simpler, happier times through music
  • Resurrect a childhood hobby: Pick up the pen or pencil, grab some paper, draw, doodle, write a poem. Rediscovering long forgotten childhood hobbies is a wonderful way to feel alive again. If you have a musical instrument sitting in the corner, maybe it is time to dust it off and play some notes. Plinking away at that old guitar or that little keyboard may be all the therapy you need to ease your mind.
  • Read: Find a book that has been sitting on the bookshelf and collecting dust. If you don’t like it past the first 5 pages, drop it and pick up something you do like. I also recommend re-reading books in times like these, especially ones on psychology or philosophy because they add a layer of realness to whatever seemed very abstract thus far. Maybe what you read now will give you a flash of insight that was hidden all this while because you had read the book at a different stage of your life. Or perhaps lose yourself in the pages of fantasy and fiction novels, a little bit of escapism never hurt anyone. Special mention to podcasts and audio books. Soak it all up.
  • Cook: I do not advocate making elaborate dishes, but I do wish to highlight the joys of cooking creatively to make the supplies at home last for a while. How minimal can you go and what substitutes can you use are the questions you can ask yourself while you run these culinary experiments.
  • Have deep conversations with new friends: If you weren’t locked in at home you would be out with friends. It is easy to spend hours making small talk and walk away from a conversation without learning much about the other person. With the logistics of ‘where to meet’, ‘what to eat/drink’ completely out of the way, maybe you can use phone calls/messages to really talk to people. Talk about your dreams, what working from home feels like, what you’re looking forward to do once the quarantine period ends and even about your hopes and fears. There is nothing more satisfying than a ‘real’ conversation had with friends who will always be there for you and even the process of slowly deepening your conversations with friends who have thus far just been acquaintances is equally rewarding.
  • Limit news updates/online time: Just one time or maybe twice at the most, the morning update and the evening brief to get a sense of how things are unfolding and what the law says we should be doing. Hearing the same news over and over triggers your nerves a little each time you perceive the ‘threat’. This can take a toll on your mind. Instead of constantly checking for updates and taking in real and fake news as and when it lands on your device, consider batching this activity. Don’t overload your senses even if all you’re doing is binging Netflix all day, don’t overdo it. The goal is to stay informed, not crippled by information. Find that balance, and keep your composure.

For the soul…

If you find yourself thinking about the meaning of life more often than usual, you’re not alone. You might feel the pain of doctors, police, public services workers and the poor and generally worry about the state of the world at times like these. In fact you might even think of all the things you didn’t get to do thus far in your life and how so many of your plans had to be rearranged because of this crisis.

You might suddenly be overcome with the inherent fragility of life and feel more lost and vulnerable than usual. Suddenly, the weight of your thoughts might lead you to question what the point of anything is. Fears, old and new, may resurface and demand to be dealt with. The discomfort may manifest differently for you, but on some level, there is a sense of alienation or despair which isn’t easily articulated, a pain you can’t see but can still feel very deeply. It comes and goes and you aren’t sure what to do with it. Here are a few ideas to make the most of it.

  • Make time to feel: There is no way around this. Denying these fears isn’t going to make them go away, let it in, feel what you are feeling, write poetry, long winded philosophical pieces or rants, but feel it and let it all out. You don’t need to know the answers to these existential questions but do not stop asking them. Feel what you are feeling, look at how others have it worse than you, and count your blessings. Engage with the emotions rather than avoiding them.
  • Evaluate what you can control about the situation: Perhaps with the resources you have, you can only stay home, look after your family and get through work every day. And that is okay. Do what you can with what you have, and take comfort in knowing that you did everything you could do in a crisis like this. Worrying about something you can’t control simply wastes your life force — repeat this to yourself till it sinks in and you are focused only on what you can control in this situation.
  • Flip the ‘glass’: I am tired of people telling me to ‘see the glass as half full’. I would rather flip the glass and see the unique benefits only this situation can provide me. Instead of saying, “at least I have groceries and water and a roof over my head”, go one step further. Talk about something that emerged only because this situation happened. Something like “the quarantine means I don’t have to travel 2 hours to work, I spend more time with family and I can actually exercise instead of sitting at my desk all day”.
  • Be reverently mindful: Every bite you eat is precious. So many people have had to hedge their rations and plan meticulously to avoid starvation. Show respect and feel the abundance in every morsel. Gratitude can help you look past how bleak things are. Hydrate, drink lots of fluids, savor the tasteless comfort of water. And mostly, relish each breath you take. Remember that the COVID 19 attacks the lungs, impeding your ability to breathe comfortably, how fortunate are those of us in lockdown since we are able to breathe in fully and exhale as if it were child’s play. Take nothing for granted.
  • Lead with love: Every interaction, whether it’s with your immediate housemates or with work buddies on the phone, or even phone calls with people trying to sell you a credit card, could use an extra touch of care and affection. For once, despite the petty differences and cynicism, there is finally one thing that unites us all, even if that one thing is a lockdown because of an invisible virus. Look over the little disagreements and revel in the humanness of it all.
  • Cultivate fortitude: For most people of our generation, this lockdown may well be the only ‘war story’ we can reflect upon and pass on to the next generation. The person who you will become once this crisis is over is a direct reflection of how you have used it. Will you emerge cynical, cold and apathetic? Or will you become more gracious, grateful and fortified with courage? Do not relinquish your power to step up in a crisis, hold yourself to a higher standard. Let this crisis be the fire in which the sword of your courage is forged.
  • Feed your altruistic side: In times like these I find myself wishing I had access to more power, more resources and had more of an impact on the world. I can’t pour millions of rupees to immediately put a dent in the universe and save lives, all I can do at present is donate whatever little I can spare while also saving enough to take care of my family. However, once all this is over and once I reach a better station in life, I would really like to use my impact to make good changes. This intention to do good for the world is something that isn’t always easy to nurture, but if there is a spark of altruism, guard it. See what you can do where you are — help your family members or housemates, help your maid by giving her paid leave, help an animal by feeding it if you can. Putting the focus on someone else takes away your own anxiety and however small the gesture, you do end up making a difference. Write up the big plans, for ‘the world as it should be’ in your vision, versus the ‘world as it is now’ and take steps to make this happen in a coronavirus-free world. If anything, the crisis has showed us that the world needs more grace, more acts of unselfish kindness, more generosity and more love. If this crisis can kindle that flame in you, do everything in your power to keep it burning.

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.

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