Life is full of ups and downs. We make plans, we dream big and sometimes you get knocked on your ass. I love working, at my core, I am accomplishment driven. And right now I am unemployed.
I would say that I am intoxicated by the feeling of getting things done. I am always planning, juggling projects- both personal and professional- and making things happen.
One month ago, I planned a leave of absence from my job to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. All 2200 miles! Thanks to global events I am now at home sitting on my couch. I have now quit my thru-hike based on requests from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Like many businesses, the volume at my work is down 90%. My job no longer needs me. For the first time in my life, I have no plans, no purpose.
Frankly, I feel bored. While I am an introvert, it doesn’t mean that I like being alone ALL the time. And I am certainly not enjoying this lack of control.
Right now, many of us are stuck at home. Isolated from the activities and connections that bring us joy. We are at an unprecedented time in world history. Unemployment, social distancing, and fear are at an all-time high. And these are just a few of the challenges we are facing.
So, what are we supposed to do?
I don't know about you but first, I had a 24-hour pity party. Then I did some research about how to cope with my unemployment, living in limbo (while I wait to see if I can resume my thru-hike this year) and the signs of depression. I wanted to make sure I was taking care of myself while figuring out next steps.
My research put me on the path of doing five simple things each day. I am feeling more productive, hopeful and happy each day. These are tough times we face but you and I will get through it.
In the face of unemployment, lack of purpose or simply feeling cooped up, here five things you can do each day to feel more productive and stave off mental boredom.
- Make Your Bed
- Move Your Body
- Connect with Others
- Make Little Dents in Your To-Do List
- Engage in Self Care
Make Your Bed
What You Need to Do: Make your bed each morning as soon as you get up. And while you are at it, straighten the couch cushions and fold up the throw blankets.
Why it Works: Less than 1/3 of Americans make their beds every day. And you can argue no one will see it so there is no point. But hear me out. This isn’t about making your bed, it is about setting an intention for the day. An intention not to waste the day we have been given. An intention to be mindful of how we spend our time.
Naval Admiral William McRaven, the commander of U.S. Special Operations. In a 2014 commencement speech at University of Texas at Austin, he said “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.”
Why add the couch in? Simply to prevent you from cuddling up with your coffee and watching Netflix all morning. Binge-watching TV has been linked to increasing cases of loneliness and depression.
When the couch is neat and straight we are less likely to lay around rather than working on projects or looking for a job.
Be Active and Move Your Body
What You Need to Do: Be active at least 30 minutes a day. Find someone or some way to be held accountable as this one can be hard if you aren’t a regular gym rat. You don’t need a home gym, fancy membership or any experience.
If you work up a sweat, great. But this is really about being active.
Here are some exercise ideas you can do at home or just outside your front door:
- Go for a walk or run.
- At home dance party.
- Free yoga videos, I really like Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube.
- Find a 30 day challenge: squats, sit ups, planks, or join me on Instagram for my one mile a day run challenge!
- Body weight workouts, Fitness Blender on YouTube has 500+ free workouts.
- Need more help? I have curated a list of easy at-home workouts on my At Home Workouts board on Pinterest.
Why it Works: Exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood. ... If you exercise regularly, it can reduce your stress and symptoms of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and help with recovery from mental health issues.
Connect with Others
What You Need to Do: Reach out to someone, a friend, family member or former co-worker to see how they are doing. A phone call, a letter or email, virtual hangouts or even a text. What doesn't count? Liking a photo on Instagram. Sorry, not good enough.
Try these tips for meaningful engagements:
- Ask questions to show you are engaged, asking why instead of what
- Actively listen
- Try to genuinely relate
- Dare to be honest and vulnerable, things aren't always pretty
You can take it a step further by putting rules around social media. Take a break from social media entirely or change the way you interact with it. No mindless scrolling and liking photos. Engage the poster with a question or thoughtful comment instead.
I often look at social media before reaching out to someone directly and ask questions about their post like "I saw little Johnny got green belt in karate. Tell me more about that".
Why it Works: Social connection strengthens our immune system and helps us recover from disease faster.
People who feel more connected to others have lower rates of anxiety and depression. Studies show they also have higher self-esteem and are more empathic to others.
Social connection can be a positive or negative feedback loop.
Low social connection has been generally associated with declines in physical and psychological health as well as a higher propensity to antisocial behavior that leads to further isolation. So connect with someone, today!
Make a Dent in Your To- Do List
What You Need to Do: Every day do at least one small thing that contributes to a larger goal on your to-do list.
For example, I need to deep clean my kitchen top to bottom. Today I am going to empty one cabinet, clean and organize it.
Also, no multitasking. Set a time block to do this one thing. So hang that painting, wash your make up brushes, organize your books. It doesn't matter just make a list and do one small thing each day.
Why it Works: Large goals or projects are overwhelming. When you set a goal that is too large or too far into the future, you will lose confidence, momentum, and fail to focus on it because of your circumstances and environment
When I was hiking the Appalachian Trail I didn't wake up every morning thinking today I am going to walk to Maine. Doing that every day for 6 months would be discouraging and I would have given up. Instead, I would set a goal. I need to walk 10 miles to the next campsite.
Little goals are attainable and mentally manageable. Each day when I hit my goal I gained more confidence.
Engage in Self Care
What You Need to Do: To be able to effectively care about the people you love, you must first take care of yourself. Do something everyday day focused on your own well being.
It can be anything that gives you positive vibes. Self-care is a broad term that encompasses just about anything you to do be good to yourself. In a nutshell, it’s about being as kind to yourself as you would be to others.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Take a bath.
- Make a meal from scratch that you feel good about eating.
- Give yourself a foot massage.
- Give yourself an at-home spa treatment.
- Do something creative like writing or drawing.
- Play a musical instrument.
- Turn your phone on airplane mode and take photos around your neighborhood.
- Read a book.
- Listen to an album- the whole thing, start to finish, without interruption.
- Watch a motivational TedTALK.
- Look in the mirror and do positive self-talk.
Why it Works: Self care reduces the negative effects of stress. And reducing stress is key to good mental health and overall happiness, especially during tough times.
While pampering one's self doesn't always lead to major improvements in physical health the way a healthy diet and exercise do, the relaxation you get from it can trigger the relaxation response, which can prevent chronic stress from damaging your long term health.
However, it’s important to note that not everything that feels good is self-care. We can all be tempted to use unhealthy coping mechanisms like comfort food or a glass of wine. These can also be self-destructive activities providing a relief that is temporary.
Other Simple Ways to Be More Productive at Home
- Limit news- both TV and online- to two times per day and no more than 30 minutes.
- Use an app to monitor your social media usage, set strict time limits.
- Journal daily. Not sure what to write about? Try a mindfulness journaling guide or simply write one thing you are grateful for every day.
- Meditating daily.
- Sign up for online therapy, like BetterHelp.
- Walk your dog instead of letting them out in the backyard.
- Volunteer, look for remote opportunities if needed.
- Identify time thieves, try to whittle down their control on your life.