Coping Under Quarantine-Issue #2-Keeping a Schedule When It's Hard to Make Plans
My wife and I often have this experience where after a long weekend or holiday break and one of us needs to know the date, that person will ask the other what date it is, then the other will respond with "I don't know, what month is it? what year is it?" A break in routine makes it harder to keep track of dates, especially for those of us who like to have a plan.
Many people thrive and find a sense of purpose when they can break down big picture plans and goals into smaller daily goals and action steps. For example, If you know that you have a big project due in a few weeks, you can create a rough outline of how you are going to finish all of the parts of that project over the next few weeks. Often when we are busy this way, and have a good balance of other meaningful activities, our days and weeks practically plan themselves. Being thus engaged is good for mental health and can be a potent antidote for anxiety and depression.
The problem is, for most of us right now, planning out the next several weeks/months has become nearly impossible. Recently some of my clients, friends and family have been dealing with some of the following uncertainty and unknowns in their lives:
"Work was going to be moving me and my family back east this summer, now I don't know when or if that will happen."
"I had just moved to Europe for work, but I had to rush back to the US, I don't know if I should be planning to move back this year or not."
"Our church mission in Canada abruptly ended and we were sent home to the US. We might get reassigned to another location later this year, but we have no idea where or when."
"I just finished this semester of college, but I don't know whether to plan on my next semester being online or in person."
"I had planned on working out with the team this spring/summer in order to prepare for tryouts in the fall. Now I have no idea if the season will even be happening. I have limited access to my team and my coaches so it's harder for me to gauge what I need to work on to make the team-if the season even happens."
These types of circumstances have given people a sense of "floating through life."- When you don't know what to plan for for the big things coming up, its hard to plan your Tuesday afternoon. Without clear direction your anxiety, anger, or frustration may have increased. Perhaps part of you wants to take control of the situation and make a plan, even when life won't let you plan.
Some points from my previous newsletter may be of help as you try to find things you can do. For the things that remain to be figured out, embracing the discomfort this brings may be the best alternative. To do so, sit quietly and then locate in your body the parts where you feel the most discomfort associated with not being able to make a plan. Wherever that is, it is likely that there is energy being directed to those parts of the body to take action, as it would if planning and action were simple and straightforward. Somewhere in the process however, that energy potential is being stopped and frustrated by reality's circumstances, leaving you with physical and psychological suffering. So, wherever that tension and suffering is in your body, take a deep breath, give those muscles one last squeeze, and then let go with a big sigh. When that tension tries to grab your attention again later on, simply repeat.
In the meantime as life works its way out for all of us, finding a way to keep a schedule can still be a very healthy and helpful thing to do. Unlike other circumstances where life practically plans your days for you, it'll take much more effort, diligence and creativity. Doing so, however will give you more purpose and a number of things to look forward to, even if you are not quite sure what you are working towards.
Set aside time for yourself or with whomever you live with to conduct a daily planning session. Use a paper planner or your Google Calendar to create several time slots of 30, 60, 90 or 120 minutes. While being under quarantine may severely limit the types of things you would normally put in these slots, be creative and try to find at least something to fill your time and check off your list. Even if you schedule in 30 minutes of staring at the ceiling, this is better than staring at the ceiling anyways while telling yourself you should be doing something, but being unsure what you can do. This would just leave you lost, anxious, and again, floating through life. My guess is you will be surprised with the number of things you find to fill your day, such as reading books you've been putting off, decluttering, baking, sewing masks, getting exercise, learning an instrument, learning a language, etc. These things may or may not contribute to the bigger things you hope to accomplish later in the year, but hopefully they are positive things. After a full day of any number of those things, you might enjoy those 30 minutes of staring at the ceiling.
Best of luck,
Tyler Andrus, LCSW