Why Maintaining a Schedule During COVID-19 is Important for Your Mental Health

In a time of considerable anxiety and personal disruption, there’s not a lot individuals can do to change elements out of their control. Government mandates to remain in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, are not something to flout, as they’re for public safety and efforts to control the spread of the virus. Yet, stuck at home, unable to go to regular workplace, school, and other places as normal doesn’t mean you should vegetate on the couch. Indeed, maintaining a schedule is important for your mental health. Here’s why.

This is one area of your life over which you have some control.

An element of cognitive therapy known as cognitive restructuring helps change negative thoughts about impending doom, hopelessness and helplessness into something more beneficial to living during a pandemic, even when adhering to shelter-in-place guidelines. While it isn’t possible to control situations in the neighborhood, state, and country, it is possible to exercise control over individual thoughts and actions. For example, instead of freaking out, which only fuels anxiety and contributes to depression, a person can tell themselves, “I am in charge of what I do now.” As such, they can go for a walk, chat with friends or loved ones, engage in meditation, adjust a sleeping, exercise or eating schedule to accommodate more free time.

Maintaining a healthy diet during COVID-19 involves paying attention to what and when you eat. If certain groceries are in short supply, such as meat, get protein by regularly eating beans, nuts, eggs and tofu. Skip the high-sodium-content frozen meals or only consume them once a week, and balance it out with fresh, frozen or canned vegetables and fruit. These provide much-needed antioxidants and nutrients to support the body’s immune system and help stave off feelings of anxiety and depression.

If you maintain a regular schedule, you’ll likely be quicker to resume work after being idled at home.

Eventually the COVID-19 pandemic will run its course and life will gradually return to normal – or some type of new normal, which may include social distancing for some time to come. By now, many employees are itching to get back to work, albeit concerned about how safely they’ll be able to do so and what health precautions employers will institute to help reassure them that their concerns are addressed. Still, falling into habits where staying up late, eating junk foods too often or not eating healthy meals, failing to get sufficient exercise are likely to wreak havoc once people receive the OK to go back to work.

For one, they’re not used to getting up and getting ready for work in the office (or going to school, or other regular routines). For another, they’re sluggish mentally, lacking the discipline to push through on tasks and complete projects on time.

Creating and sticking with a regular schedule during the downtime at home, however, means a greater likelihood of picking back up where things were left off prior to the homebound requirement. In fact, staying in shape with regular exercise not only provides physical benefits, it also keeps minds sharp, elevates mood, reinforces the discipline of healthy habits, and serves as a readiness regimen for work resumption. The same holds true for schedules for other daily activities, such as working crosswords, playing board games with family members, writing in a journal, working on and completing projects at home. Staying busy, keeping your mind occupied during scheduled activities and communicating with loved ones, family members and friends, as well as networking with co-workers, helps re-energize employees in their quest to get back to work.

Exercise regimen schedules help boost mood.

Some form of regularly scheduled exercise, besides helping to maintain good physical health, also works as an effective regimen to boost mood during times of stress, being stuck at home and unable to adhere to previous work-school-household schedules. Exercise is a depression treatment that’s proved to be effective, according to a 2016 study published in Journal of Affective Disorders.

Use apps on the smartphone to help in maintaining physically active schedules. Recreate favorite gym workouts at home with objects and materials at hand. Engage in virtual exercise workouts with others, as many gyms and trainers are offering such services. Get creative by setting up your own virtual workouts with family members using online video meeting technology.

Being active while homebound helps regulate sleep, a key component in good mental health.

According to a 2008 study in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, insomnia is a major risk factor of depression. Getting quality sleep can be a problem during normal times, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic. Still, there are proactive steps to take to help regulate sleep, including being active during the day with scheduled activities that include moving about. Cleaning the house, reorganizing the pantry, weeding the garden or planting seeds outdoors, working on home projects can help.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends daily activity in the form of exercise to help alleviate stress and help promote good sleep. 

Schedules provide reassurance and stability to those with anxiety or depression.

Studies, such as the 2019 study published in Aging & Mental Health, have found that older adults deprived of their social networks through objective social isolation may begin to experience depression, fatigue, and sleep disturbances. Since social isolation among those with anxiety or depression often leads to feelings of being helpless and hopeless, it’s even more important to exert discipline into daily living in the form of specific scheduled activities.   

Cooking every day for self and family members is an activity that calls out for a regular schedule. Everyone’s got to eat, so why not make mealtime something to chip in and help out with. This provides communication, an opportunity to be of assistance, and carves out a chunk of time not wasted in rumination or negative thoughts.

A technique called behavioral activation is used by psychiatrists to treat depression in their patients. This type of treatment helps those with depression to monitor their mood  and what they do each day so that they can tailor their daily schedules to include more pleasant activities and increase the frequency of positive interactions with their environment. Again, specific times set aside for activities provide the most benefit for those suffering depression. Activities such as video calls and visits with friends and family, going for a walk in the neighborhood and being outside are some examples.

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