Struggling? Same. Here Are 6 Tiny Ways I've Started to Manage Covid Life a Little Better
In the beginning of September, I awoke from what I’ve been calling a two-month fugue state—yes, I learned the term from Breaking Bad. I was conscious and doing things, but I swear to God the only thing I could talk or think about was how tired I was. I was unmotivated, bored and dying of everything, well, at least according to my WebMD research. When I ventured into Manhattan, riding the subway for the first time in six months, to see my doctor, I prepared for a thyroid diagnosis at best and something worse at, well, worse.
Yet, as I rattled off my symptoms, the look in my doctor’s eyes was less “get this lady to the hospital!” and more “can my patients please stop Googling symptoms?” Everything I was concerned about, she proved me wrong. “You’re extremely healthy,” she said. Welp, I was just going to have to be one of those desperate case studies on Mystery Diagnosis. Maybe they’d name my extremely rare disease after me!
Bleak, I know. With some perspective, I see how I scared I was to admit to myself that I was probably depressed—so scared that I magically thunk myself into a diagnostic tailspin that had me wishing I could cure this “other medical issue” with the accompanying prescription. Easy. But leaving my doctor’s office, something clicked. I had been so anxious to head into the city that I had trouble sleeping the night before. Before Covid, I was almost never home. I would jump from work to a coffee meeting to dinner to a show, subway hopping and easily amassing those 10,000 daily steps. Up until now, I hadn’t let myself quantify—in dinners, subway cars, steps—just how drastically my life had changed in six months such that one appointment could send me into a panic.
I am one of the lucky ones in this pandemic, but it has also changed me, and I’ve had to learn to care for this new, frightened version of myself I barely recognize. So, in addition to seeking mental health treatment, these are some ways that have been helping me take on Covid life, one day at a time.
1. Tracking My Steps
I hate exercising. I hate the lead up. I hate it while I’m doing it. And hate how sweaty I get after the fact. But walking I can do. Walking I actually enjoy. And while before Covid, I’d hit 7,000 steps minimum just doing my commute to work, these days if I want to get close to that 7,000, I have to put in the effort. So lately, I’ve been depending on the step tracker on my iPhone to make sure I hit a number every day—maybe it’s not 10K, but if I hit about 5K, I know I got some movement in. If I’m around 3K or lower, I force myself to go on another walk.
2. Making more phone calls
When I’m down, I don’t communicate as much with my loved ones, even though I know these are the people I need to stay in contact with to feel better. I used to make all my calls during my commute—walking long New York City avenues and chatting on my Bluetooth headphones was a major part of my day. Today, I don’t feel motivated to call people when I’m stationary. So, upping my walking game has helped me stay in contact with friends and family with longer, more meaningful conversations instead of quick hellos from the couch or, worse, dreaded Zoom calls where I hyper-focus on the shape of my nose. On one recent walk, I spent an entire hour talking with one dear friend, catching up on life, sharing my experience in quarantine, and—boom—I'd taken a two-mile walk and felt energized and happy by the time I circled back to my apartment.
Wireless Bluetooth headphones: JLab Audio Go Air True Wireless In-Ear Headphones ($30); Apple Airpods ($130); Beats by Dr. Dre Powerbeats Pro Totally Wireless Earphones ($250)
3. Learning some guitar chords
I’ve always had a guitar in my home, but I’ve never really taken the time to learn how to play it. Now, I’ll take a 15-minute break from work every day and watch a 12-year-old YouTuber from Australia teach me how to play a barre chord. It is a slow process, but it’s therapeutic. Fifteen minutes of painful practice today means thicker calluses tomorrow. And the more I learn, the more I can sing, which has proven to be a calming force…even if I’m still struggling with the B minor chord.
Guitars & Ukeleles: Soprano Ukulele Beginner Pack ($49); Yamaha F325D Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Set ($200); Fender CD-60S Solid Top Dreadnought Acoustic Guitar Bundle ($280)
4. I got a puzzle
Yes, in May I published a scathing take-down on puzzles, but a couple weeks ago, the need for a puzzle felt as real as the need for water. I ordered a 1,000-piece Son of Man puzzle and when it showed up, it felt like Christmas. I think the animalistic desire for a puzzle came from a need do something while I’m not doing anything. It’s been a salve—giving me a thousand little tasks to accomplish during those times I’m just sitting watching the millionth episode of Survivor. My puzzle—I can’t believe I’m saying this—has given me permission to do nothing and not hate myself for it.
5. I gamified my water consumption
One of my “ailments” was that I was constantly dehydrated. Now that I know my unending thirst is not a mysterious issue, I can take back control of my hydration. I got a straw attachment for my 32 oz. Hydro Flask, which makes it so much easier to drink, and I literally count how many canisters I go through in the day. I fill it up before bed, so the first thing I do when I wake up parched is drink a ton of water. It’s kinda like counting my steps—an easy way to feel accomplished while doing something good for my body. I highly recommend hydrating.
Water bottles: w&p Design Porter Bottle ($35); Hydro Flask 32oz Wide Mouth Water Bottle ($45) & straw lid for Hydro Flask ($10); Venture Pal Large 1 Gallon Motivational Water Bottle ($19)
6. Allowing everything to be piecemeal
I wouldn’t say I’m a perfectionist, but pre-Covid, I was definitely a “completist.” If I started something, I would finish it. Now, completing a project feels like moving mountains. So, for a while, I just stopped doing most things. My creativity withered on the vine, which made me feel even more depressed. More recently though, I’ve been kinder to myself, telling myself it’s OK to treat my goals like a 1,000-piece puzzle, one piece at a time. So, for dealing with my election stress, I’ve volunteered to write 20 letters encouraging voter registration with Vote Forward—it’s not moving a mountain, but it’s still progress toward something bigger.