CAN YOU CREATE A BALANCED LIFE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?
It is difficult to develop a balanced life even in the best of times. For some, it means that something is always being overlooked while other needs are being addressed. All of these endeavors require the ability to recognize and prioritize your goals, to build the routines that speak to your needs, boundaries you develop to preserve your habits and the ability to transition from one activity to another.
During the present pandemic, these areas of one’s life have each been affected. In the first few months of “shutdown” (March and April), most of my clients struggled with creating a “new normal.” It was the same for me; I needed to create a home office where I practiced Telehealth. It took me a number of trips to my office before I realized I needed to bring all of my files home, and find a secure place for them. Our daily routines were disrupted, as well as the ways in which we interact with each other. Parents with small children were faced with childcare issues along with working. Suddenly our reliance on the computer exploded, even when we were already over-reliant on technology. Zoom meetings and other platforms for connecting became essential for working and socializing. Before the pandemic, there were a lot of ways we used to deal with regulating our mood, things that generally make us feel better (for example, traveling, going to the gym, going out to dinner with friends, getting a massage) that were suddenly gone. We lost our usual ways to take care of ourselves.
With these losses, mental health concerns rose. As mental health professionals, we have seen an increase in anxiety and depression, substance abuse, partner violence, and loneliness. One of my clients states she’s introverted and at the beginning of the virus, she said it was great being at home all the time because she didn’t feel so different from her surrounding culture. A few months in however, she said, “Even introverts need to see their friends.” All of these adjustments have been going on in the face of a serious threat to our life, and with the uncertainty of when this will end.
What Can You Do? There is a wide variation in the amount of “free time” some of us have—many have very little, but some have considerably more. Our change in circumstances has changed this as well, as some have lost their jobs, or their work hours have been reduced. So the time available to devote to the various parts of your life varies with each individual and also from week to week.
Start by identifying activities you used to do that you aren’t doing now. Use the list below to identify those areas that do not get much attention and those that you do consistently. (This list is not exhaustive, and some activities address more than one area of life.)
Maintenance of life (Laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, paying bills)
Physical needs (Exercising, playing a sport, healthy eating, getting good sleep, monitoring alcohol and caffeine use, having appointments with doctors)
Social and relationship needs (Seeing friends and family)
Emotional and personal needs; self-care (Taking time to reflect, journaling, reading, meditating, going to psychotherapy)
Recreation (Playing a musical instrument, dancing, playing games, gardening)
Intellectual pursuits (Studying subjects, taking classes, reading, conversing with others)
Spiritual needs (Attending a place of worship, praying, helping others, developing a sense of gratitude)
Coming up with a plan to help create better balance, especially during this time, may not be your most preferred way, but it is important to address it with some level of intentionality. Do not go for perfect; go for “good enough.”
Most people need to spend more time in self-care. Many years ago I attended a workshop designed for therapists on stress management techniques. It was clearly advertised as an intermediate/advanced class. In the first few minutes of the workshop the presenter began by asking how many of us knew this or that technique. Several hands went up with each technique mentioned. After a dozen mentioned he asked, “how many of you use these methods in your own life?” Only a couple of hands went up, followed by an outburst of laughter. Sure, we can teach the techniques but do we practice it? During this pandemic, this is the time to try some new behaviors.
Make sure that some of the activities do not include a screen—not from your television or from a computer or telephone. Seek to develop what I call “the embodied life.” For example, you may own a bread machine and while I have nothing against that appliance, making bread by hand is a different experience that throwing the ingredients in and letting the machine take over. Live in your body.
Finally, if finding time to do various activities is difficult, use the term “sprinkling” to add some new habits into your life: small moments of an experience in a busy day can be very useful. Doing a few yoga moves throughout the day, meditating for five minutes, or stretching at the coffee machine can help with the emotional toll imposed by our present season.
Who knows? When this pandemic is resolved, you may be taking some new habits with you into that world.
Dr. Susan Harper Slate is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Santa Monica, CA. A member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network, she can be reached at (310) 582-0010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2020 by /susan-slate-santa-monica-therapist/Susan Harper Slate, Ph.D.