If you’re like many Americans, you may feel that 2020 pushed you to the breaking point.
It was back in August 2020 that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 2 in 5 U.S. residents reported struggling with mental or behavioral health issues associated with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.1
Lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, quarantines, and other restricting measures may have exhausted you mentally, but there are ways to fight back.
Indeed, with the right approach and attitude, you might be able to turn what seems like an interminable period of suffocating home confinement into an absolute positive.
By engaging with the world — even if that world is your own home — you may be able to outwit and outlast any mental challenge.
Here are 10 coping mechanisms to consider implementing. Oddly, many involve small physical actions, but they could prove just the right tonic for defeating deep-seated feelings of anxiety and depression caused by periods of isolation and loneliness.
It’s human nature during a crisis to want to cling to familiar things like an old blanket or tattered T-shirt that gives you great comfort and satisfaction. But if you’re constantly searching for your keys, glasses, medicines, and other daily necessities of life buried under haphazard piles of junk, then your constant house hunts will only add to your sense of entrapment and futility.
So, organize a place for your stuff, sell it, or donate it. As you confront each item, ask yourself a simple question: “Do I need this, or will it benefit from a better home, including the recycling can?” This simple, qualifying question will allow you to display your decision- and problem-solving skills, putting you firmly back in control of your space. You may even uncover a few old treasures along the way.
By declaring war on your clutter — removing trip hazards and areas that look like accidents waiting to happen — you will also make your home safer!
2. Get help – stop trying to do everything yourself
You may feel shut off from the world physically, but you still have important links to the outside world, so use them. For example, perhaps you got a new smart TV, with an unrecognizable interface or operating mode. Instead of fumbling around and going in circles to figure it out, ratcheting up your anxiety, go on YouTube via your favorite search engine and ask what you need to know (“YouTube + How do I get to Netflix on my Samsung smart TV?”). Like magic, a how-to explainer video will likely pop up to instantly calm your nerves. If you’re still on cable, call your provider and have them walk you through the steps until you’re viewing your favorite program. That’s what you’re paying them for.
3. Seize the gift of time
Instead of regarding your isolation and home confinement as prison, think of it as a Get Out of Jail Free card — a new lease on life.
Remember, when you were busy with the kids, working, commuting long hours on freeways, going a mile a minute, you didn’t have much time for anything. Now you have the time — time to learn a new language, reimagine and rework your garden, perfect a family recipe, or polish a business idea that’s been percolating in your head for eons.
Another option: Write a best-seller. Do you know that some of the world’s greatest classics were penned when the authors were hush-hush in jail? “Letters from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr.; Cervantes’ “Don Quixote,” considered Europe’s first modern novel; and countless short stories by embezzler-turned-author O. Henry were all written behind bars. Now’s your chance to join those literary giants.
Once begun, anything can happen. For example, Philip Van Doren Stern wrote the novella “The Greatest Gift” in 1939, based on a dream he had. He thought enough of the story that he started showing it around to publishers, but no one was interested. So, he printed 200 copies and started handing them out as Christmas gifts. Well, one fell into the hands of a producer who thought it would make a great movie. That movie would eventually become “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
4. Revive an old art form
Emails are rarely opened anymore. But a letter in your own handwriting stuffed inside an envelope, accompanied by a stamp, and delivered to your mailbox? Now that is truly miraculous. People of all stripes still love walking out to the mailbox and seeing what’s inside. Imagine if they found a letter from you. You’ll be sure to get a response.
5. Get moving
As you age, you may develop a greater fear of falling. But the best way to counteract that fear isn’t plunking yourself in front of the TV. It’s getting up and moving. Movement creates positive, depression-lifting momentum.
So, find activities to get you back on your feet. Start slowly at first. Maybe tackle a couple of cleaning projects, like light sweeping or vacuuming. When daylight is shorter, as it is in winter, make it a point to feel the sunshine on your face. Start a garden. Try to do some resistance training (working with light weights) to keep your bones strong and flexible.
Here’s some additional food for thought. Although being home makes it easier to make multiple trips to the refrigerator during the day, put a bold “Stop” or at least a “Proceed with Caution” on the ice box.
6. Think of others
These others don’t necessarily have to be other people like yourself. They can be of the four-footed feline or canine variety.
Interestingly, about 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats.2 So, you almost always have your pick of the litter.
By providing your pet(s) daily attention, affection, loyalty, and care, you will have a torrid new love affair to occupy your time. The daily walks alone will be good for your health and that of your new furry friend. If you can’t keep a pet at home, think about volunteering at a nearby shelter. You will be needed, and there few feelings better than that!
7. Keep up your routines
If you know you’re not going to have any visitors, it’s easy to let the house or yourself go. After all, if you don’t have a pressing engagement, you can put off shaving, showering, and shampooing for another day (week?). Who will ever know?
The answer is you will! Appearances can be everything, so take pride in yours. Get dressed as if you’re heading to the office, even if you’re not. Feeling clean and fresh will invigorate you for the day — to write that letter, to get your affairs in order, to advance a new business.
8. Get to work on your legacy
No one yet has managed to live forever, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create legacy items and memories that last forever.
Think of how many times you’ve caught yourself saying, “Man, I wish had my mom’s recipe for her famous spaghetti sauce, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, or lemon meringue pie.” The reason you don’t have it is nobody ever bothered to write it down.
Don’t let that happen to you. Put your favorite recipes in a favorite book ready to be passed down. Something so simple, yet so powerful and personal.
9. Get your essential papers in order
We all create paper trails, but the trail shouldn’t be so crazy that it’s impossible to follow in your absence.
So, use this time to do a little estate planning. You may have postponed this chore for obvious reasons — thinking about your own mortality and how you want your affairs settled after your passing may not be your idea of a good time — but it will be a gift to your family and others you care about most.
Between making out a will, selecting an executor for your estate, laying out your funeral arrangements, creating an advance directive, updating beneficiary forms and such, you will keep your hands and your mind full.
10. Consider a reverse mortgage line of credit
Opening a reverse mortgage line of credit could serve as a safeguard against future crises. It shows very much that you are clearly thinking about your future — and that’s a positive.
A reverse mortgage line of credit is a way for you to convert some of your home’s equity and have cash waiting for you in case you need it, perhaps to make your home safer and more comfortable for your current and future needs. Now that you’re spending so much more time at home, maybe you’re looking to renovate your garden or build a workshop for the special projects on your bucket list.
Once your reverse mortgage line is open, you don’t have to pay monthly charges or fees to keep it open. And if you use only part of your line, you are charged interest only on that portion — not the entire line for which you have been approved.
Moreover, once you’re approved for a limit, that amount cannot be frozen, reduced, or withdrawn as long as you haven’t reached your approved borrowing limit and you continue to honor all your loan terms, which include maintaining your home and paying your property taxes and homeowners insurance.
Finally, your line of credit is built for the long haul. Whatever portion of the line you don’t tap continues to grow year after year. A decade could pass, and your borrowing power could be far greater than it is today — financial power to pay for in-home care or other age-in-place adjustments and accommodations in step with your changing needs. To find out if a reverse mortgage loan is right for you, click here.
With the right attitude, approach, and planning, you’re more than a match for any pandemic, condition, or event that keeps you at home for a period of days, months, or even years.
Your home can provide a giving and creative space as big as you want it to be. It can be that special space for both your head and heart, which is a pretty good place to be.