You’re stuck at home. For a lot of us, there are other people there, too, all the time. The news is difficult to watch. There’s some cabin fever going on. There’s stress about our own health and about the health of loved ones. For a lot of us, there’s stress about our jobs and what things will be like after everything is over.
Even worse, a lot of the typical outlets for dealing with stress and anxiety aren’t available. Most of us can’t go out to restaurants, bars or shops. In some areas, the option to just go on a simple walk is unavailable.
There’s endless online entertainment to buy, but with such intense economic uncertainty, that might not be the best idea, either.
To make matters even worse, if there aren’t healthy ways to deal with the stress, it can result in a weakened immune system,
As someone who has worked from home for many years while also dealing with health concerns of loved ones, I’ve figured out quite a few little things that really help in stressful situations within the walls of one’s home. Here are 25 things you can do to help dial down the stress and anxiety a little without any real expense during these trying times.
1. Turn off your cell phone for a while.
Spend a large portion of your day with your cell phone completely turned off and in another room. Sure, check it every once in a while to make sure that there aren’t any urgent messages, but space out those checks. During most of the day, for example, leave it in your bedroom and only allow yourself a check of your texts once an hour or so. Otherwise, don’t touch it at all.
Much of the information we’re getting right now is anxiety-inducing and worrying, but it’s not anything actionable. There’s very little of it that translates into things we can actually do. Just turn it off, starting with social media and news apps. It’s fine to look at them a couple of times a day, particularly when you’re looking for actionable information, but dwelling on it is not doing you any good. Follow the actionable things, minimize the rest.
2. Turn off the news for a while, too.
The same exact thing is true of televised news. Right now, most of it is extremely anxiety-inducing but very little of it is actionable information that you can do anything about. Again, it’s fine to tune in for a little while each day, but once you’ve got the latest and found out what’s actionable, turn it off and do something else.
Dwelling on anxiety-inducing information that’s out of your control is a surefire way to feel stressed, upset, and anxious. Stop letting it be the focus of your attention. Turn it off.
3. Get a full night of sleep each night, but don’t dwell in bed.
A good night of sleep — one that’s not interrupted by alarms, but one in which you rise naturally when your body tells you to do so — is a huge boon to your health, mood and energy level.
Get a good night of sleep tonight. Just go to bed when you feel tired, turn off all the lights, and don’t set an alarm. When you actually wake up in the morning — naturally, with no alarm — get out of bed instead of dwelling there.
You’ll feel pretty good that day, but you’ll start feeling great when you chain days together where you do this.
4. Open the curtains or blinds and sit in the sunshine.
One very simple thing to do that feels really good is to simply open up the curtains and blinds all throughout your home and let the sun shine in. Better yet, intentionally sit or stand or work in places where you’ll feel that sunshine on your skin.
You should, of course, be spending time outside each day, but getting a little extra sun inside is a really helpful mood booster and a great way to feel a little more calm.
Most mornings, you’ll find me in a chair facing the sun as it rises. I’m a morning person — I prefer to work all morning into the early afternoon — and thus I’m usually working directly in the sunshine throughout the morning. I try to spend some time outside each afternoon, too, doing something in our yard.
5. Open the windows if the weather permits and let some fresh air blow through.
Another simple way to feel a little better at home is to simply open the windows and let the air circulate. Getting a bit of fresh air into your home can go a long way toward lifting your mood.
Obviously, this is weather dependent and somewhat location dependent, but in most areas, you can usually open a few windows for at least a while during the day. In warmer areas, you can do this all day long (as long as it’s not raining or anything).
Fresh air really helps lift one’s mood, and cycling stale air out of your home is as easy as opening the windows.
6. Find a skill of some kind to teach yourself.
The purpose of this isn’t the skill itself, but rather the focus needed to learn the skill. I find that whenever I focus on something deep enough that I lose track of time, I feel really good afterward, and focusing on learning a skill is a great way to do this. Not only that, the simple act of focusing on learning something is incredibly valuable in that it makes your ability to focus when you need to much easier later on.
Obviously, if you have a professional skill you can learn, that’s a good choice, but if you don’t, there are lots of skills you can learn.
For example, my oldest son loves solving spatial puzzles like the Rubik’s Cube (and more difficult variants), and I picked up the hobby along with him (to a lesser extent) and learned how to solve one (and some more difficult variants). So, if you have a Rubik’s Cube at home, learn how to solve it. There are a lot of good online tutorials.
Another great thing to learn is how to memorize a deck of shuffled playing cards, calling the cards off in order. It takes a lot of work and focus to get this down, but once you do, it’s an amazing party trick, plus the process of learning it will do wonders for your short term memory. Here’s a good guide for doing that.
Again, anything you do that causes you to focus intensely enough that you lose track of time and are absorbed into the task is a pretty good mood lifter. That state of losing track of time because you’re absorbed into a task is called the “flow state,” and it’s a really reliable source of happiness for lots of people.
7. Get some vigorous exercise.
The goal here is just to do something long enough and intense enough that you find yourself out of breath and sweaty. Exactly what you do is up to you; the key is to find something you like doing. You’re seeking that rush of endorphins that comes from exercise and the long term health benefits that come from doing it regularly.
There are many, many things you can do in your living room. You can start a program to do 100 push-ups in a row or 200 squats in a row. You can do a 30-day yoga challenge. You can do this great little bodyweight routine that changes each day. At-home exercise routines are all over the internet; the goal is to find one you like. (Personally, I do taekwondo-related stuff.)
A point of advice: it’s a really good idea to incorporate some stretching into whatever you do. I like this stretching routine, myself.
8. Start a journal.
One powerful way to channel your internal feelings and thoughts is to simply start a journaling practice. All you need is a notebook and a pen. There’s no special format to follow.
My usual journaling practice is to simply sit down with a blank page in front of me, set a timer for 15 minutes or so, and just dump whatever’s on my mind. I do this most mornings and I find that it’s a great way to seemingly empty my brain of whatever is worrying me the most. When I’m done, even if nothing’s resolved, I feel better about it, as though I’ve emptied that concern of a lot of what was making me stressed about it.
Try it. Just pull out a piece of paper and write or draw about whatever comes to mind for 15 minutes (or longer). See if you don’t feel better. If you do, try making it into a daily practice for a while.
9. Learn to meditate (or pray deeply).
Meditation is something I do every morning not too long after waking up, and sometimes in the evening, too. I basically just sit in a chair or on the floor, close my eyes, and focus on my breathing for a while – ten or fifteen minutes, and I usually set a timer. If I notice my focus slides anywhere else, I just bring it back to my breathing without feeling bad about it.
If you’d like, this works really well as a prayer. Find a particular short prayer you like and just repeat it quietly to yourself for ten minutes. If you find yourself trailing off, bring yourself back to that prayer. I’ve definitely done this with the serenity prayer lately.
The key is to just focus on one simple thing — the simpler the better—- for a while in a calm environment. If you lose focus for a bit, it’s okay, just bring it back to whatever you’re focusing on.
I find this practice subtly calming, and I find that it builds on itself really well. If I do it for many days in a row, the effect builds very subtly over time, but I find life, in general, to be much easier to deal with and I feel a lot less anxiety. It also helps me in moments of deep anxiety, too.
10. Get lost in a book or a movie.
This doesn’t have to be anything special. Just find a movie you’ve wanted to watch lately or a movie you’ve always loved and settle in, giving your full attention to it. (Leave the phone elsewhere, as noted above.) Let yourself get swept along by the story.
You can do the exact same thing with a book. Pick out a book you have around your house and dig into it, getting lost in the story. If you don’t have any but do have a library membership, check out the Overdrive app for your phone and see if you can find anything interesting.
The key is to allow yourself to get swept into the story (or the ideas, if you prefer nonfiction). Do it without distraction (meaning without smartphone notifications) and see if you can just lose track of time.
I’m currently reading the Expanse series of sci-fi novels, for those who are curious, and I’m trying to give myself some time to get lost in them every other day at least.
11. Choose a large project that you can do in the next few weeks, break it into pieces, and dig in.
This might be something like an online class, a simple home improvement project you have all of the parts for, or something else entirely.
Just spend some time thinking about whether there are any bigger projects you could start while at home that would take quite a few hours of work, then dive into it.
Maybe you want to write the first draft of a novel. Maybe you want to take a introductory class on computer programming. Maybe you want to finally fix a few things around the house that have needed attention. Whatever it is, break it down, plan it out, and get started.
Not only will getting started with this feel good, but the time you fill doing this — particularly if you give dedicated time to it each day, without distractions — will also make you feel pretty good.
12. Take a long shower.
Whenever I feel down in the dumps, one of my favorite things to do is to take a long shower. Find a temperature you like, get in there, scrub yourself all over, and just enjoy the sensation.
I’ll often sing, too. It goes along with the good feeling.
Yes, you might use a small amount of extra warm water for this, but the cost is pretty tiny for something that can really boost your mood in a trying moment.
13. Call a friend and intentionally avoid talk of troubling current events as much as possible.
Simply have a conversation with a friend about things that aren’t related to the worries of the moment. You can call that friend, text that friend, whatever, but simply don’t talk about that concern. Rather, find other things to talk about.
I play fantasy football and my league has a ongoing texting conversation with several members that is basically free of any non-football discussion. I’m enjoying it a lot right now simply because it’s a nice distraction and camaraderie with a group of people, and that feels good.
Talk to a friend that you share a hobby with about that hobby. Talk to a relative about something fun you did together in the past. Talk to someone about a book recommendation. Find things that don’t involve dwelling on the things that make you feel stressed.
14. Make a “comfort food” meal.
Think of a meal that has always make you feel comforted. For me, it’s tuna noodle casserole, the way my mom used to make it. It’s not particularly healthy and it’s not “gourmet” in the least, but there’s something about it that makes me feel safe and warm and happy. Whatever that food is for you that makes you feel safe, warm, and happy, make it for dinner.
Something we’ve done is have each member of our family identify a food or a meal that makes them feel that way and then made it a goal to make that for dinner one night. We found recipes online for those things and went to the store to make sure we had everything for those dishes.
Sure, it’s not the most frugal thing to do, but a dinner that’s a couple of dollars more than the normal dinner that leaves you feeling a little more safe, warm and happy is well worth it.
15. Make some “comfort food” snacks, too.
This doesn’t mean that you should pig out on junk food. Rather, just think about what snacks make you feel genuinely good about things, usually because they’re delicious and they’re also tied to some great memories.
For me, it’s chips and salsa. We used to have that as an “appetizer” with a lot of meals when I was younger and it makes me think back to some very nice family dinners with my parents. So, having some chips and salsa really makes me just feel good.
Again, we had our family members think of snacks that make them feel that way and we picked up some of them while at the grocery store. It’s a simple expense that makes everyone feel a little better.
Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean gobbling down a bunch of junk food. Keep most of your diet healthy and just identify one or two things that really feel comforting to you.
16. Take care of some household chores that have been nagging you.
Almost everyone has a chore or two in the back of their head that they know they should take care of but keep putting off. Those things add just a tiny bit of background stress into our life, and there’s almost no better time than right now to get rid of that bit of background stress.
Identify a chore that you’ve been putting off (probably because it’ll take a few hours) and simply do it. Clean out that closet. Clean out the garage. Reorganize the cupboards. Fix that leaky faucet. Take care of those bills.
Not only will the task itself take some of your focus for a while, you’ll have a real sense of accomplishment once it’s done, plus you’ll get rid of that tiny thread of background stress that comes from leaving something important undone.
If you have a lot of ideas for this, make a list and aim to take care of one of them each day.
17. Turn on some of your favorite music. Play it loud.
This one’s simple. Just turn on some of your favorite music and let it play throughout your house for a while. Turn it up nice and loud.
You can find tons of music for free on Youtube, though there may be commercials. If you’re a bit older like me, you probably have a bunch of old CDs in a closet somewhere, so drag them out. If you have a music subscription, great! Use it!
I’ve been listening to a lot of Wilco, Pearl Jam, and The Avett Brothers as of late. That stuff makes me feel good when I turn it up loud. Think of what makes you feel good. Turn it up loud.
18. Eat something really healthy (and give it a little while).
This one’s easy: lean into eating really healthy.
One good way to do this is to make a list of fruits and vegetables you like, then pick up some of them either in fresh or frozen form. Make a snack out of the fruits, and try to use as many of the vegetables and fruits as possible in the meals you prepare.
It might not be the most “fun” meal, but lean into it for a meal or two and see how you feel after eating something really healthy. You might be surprised to see how you feel.
In general, if you want to feel good, stick mostly to small amounts of foods you love and larger amounts of foods you know are really good for you. That’s a pretty good recipe for lifting your mood and just feeling healthier, both in the short term and the long term.
19. Contact someone who really helped you in the past and thank them.
You can do this with an email or a social media message or a text or, my personal favorite, a notecard or letter sent through the mail. The point of this is to simply tell someone who really helped you in life how much they really impacted you.
Doing this can feel a bit scary and uncomfortable, but it ends up being a big win in several different ways. For one, it can feel really good to recognize that someone cared enough about you to really help you out. For another, it can feel good to dig into those feelings and express them. For yet another, it feels great to realize that telling that person about it is going to really lift them up, probably at a trying moment.
It feels good to recognize those that helped you, and it will really lift them up, too.
20. Put on nicer clothes that make you feel strong, powerful and good.
When you’re stuck at home all day, it’s easy to fall into a habit of dressing in lazy ways. Sweatpants and ratty t-shirts can quickly become the norm.
While those clothes might be comfortable to relax in, they can also contribute to a downward spiral of negative feelings.
Instead, try another approach. Intentionally choose some clothes that make you feel strong, powerful and good. What do you wear on days when you’re going to get things done? Dress like that. What do you wear on days when you feel like a champ? Dress like that.
It might seem weird to be dressed nicely around the house, but it can really add to a sense of purpose for that day, and that can help you lean into a lot of the other things on this list. They all build together.
21. Do random favors for people.
Reducing social media time is always a good thing, but if you find yourself browsing anyway, use that as a chance to do good things for people that you can within your current situation.
Someone asking an urgent question? Do some homework for them and give them a good answer.
Someone struggling? Give them a call and just listen.
Someone trying to contact a particular service? See if you can find a way to get their foot in the door.
Someone need something urgently? Maybe you can drop it on their doorstep for them (while still maintaining social distancing).
Spend some time doing those kinds of little favors for people and you’ll find yourself feeling good, simply because you know you lifted a few boats. Plus, those little tasks can often provide a useful point of focus for you for a while.
22. Start planning something in the long term.
Many people are feeling distraught right now as their spring and summer plans are lost. I know that I had several different things planned that went away in a puff of smoke, and that doesn’t feel particularly good.
One way I’ve found to get around that is to start doing some long term planning for a few things more than a year down the road. I’m thinking about our family vacation for next summer. I’m thinking of a big event with several friends in the fall.
Thinking about events this far out allows you to plan some really cool things, plus it gives you something positive to focus your mind on rather than lamenting things you’re missing in the short term.
Will those things come to fruition? Maybe. Maybe not. However, the process of thinking about them and doing some planning for them, even in a vague form, can be a real help right now.
23. Leave a positive message to the public.
This is a fun little thing you can do that can really help out your neighbors and friends. Just plan out some way to share a positive message with the people in your neighborhood.
Maybe you can make a big sign in your front yard that says “WE CAN DO THIS!” Maybe you can decorate your yard with some Christmas or Halloween decorations or something else like that. If you live in an apartment, put something out on your balcony, like a bedsheet sign that says “UNDEFEATED 2020” or something like that.
The point is to simply lift the mood of people who stroll by your house or look out their windows, and simply knowing that your little creation managed to do that can be a big help. Plus, again, it’s another small project that can pull your focus to something positive.
24. Consider your greatest worry, then come up with five things you can do right now to help minimize it.
If you find yourself dwelling on your worries about the future, sit down and address them head-on.
What is the single thing that has you most worried about your own personal future? Whatever that is, write it down. Then, ask yourself what five things you can do right now that will minimize the impact of that worry or simply make it less intense. That will probably take some research into whatever is specifically worrying you.
For example, if you’re worried about finding work in the future, make a list of five things you can do right now to improve your resume or job application in the near future. What can you do to build skills? What can you do to learn something useful?
Simply facing that worry head-on instead of just dwelling on it can cut that worry down to size.
25. If you have one, snuggle with your pet.
For me, one of the best little things to do is to simply sit down on the couch with our family dog on my lap. We have our ins and outs — his barking can get really tiring at times — but he’s just wonderful to have on my lap for a little while in the evenings.
It’s a really simple pleasure, but it provides a pretty nice mood boost.
Give your pet some love. Their schedule is being really disrupted, too, and you can reassure each other with a little bit of time together and a little bit of play.
Tell people you appreciate them.
Just a little while ago, our daughter had a bit of an emotional meltdown over her struggles with social distancing. She is missing her friends, even though they’re chatting a lot over text and calls and so on.
My wife sat down with her and did a splendid job of reassuring her and, pretty shortly, my daughter was calm and (relatively) happy again.
I took my wife aside and told her that I saw what she had done with our daughter and that she handled it so beautifully and I really appreciated it, and I gave her a hug.
Not only did it make her feel good, but it also made me feel good. Simply taking a moment to appreciate someone makes a big difference to them and it can lift you up, too.
Whenever you see someone doing a good deed for someone else, tell them you appreciate it. Tell people working at the grocery store that you appreciate their efforts. Tell any local officials that you see. Tell people in your own home that you appreciate how they’re holding up and how they’re keeping things together. It lifts them, and it lifts you, too.
You can do this.
This is a challenging time for everyone and there’s a real temptation to find ourselves dwelling on negative emotions and making choices that will just make things worse. Instead, try to look for things you can do that will help you stay sane at home, particularly without spending money online.
Good luck, and stay safe and sane.