Stay Calm and Create a Daily Routine During the COVID-19 Crisis

Veteran war and disaster correspondent Judith Matloff shares her tips for surviving the new normal—social distancing and self-quarantine—during the virus outbreak.

Judith Matloff
March 19, 2020

These are distressing times. We can’t go out to dinner, or to the movies or to see friends. We’re terrified of getting sick. We can’t visit the grandparents. How long is this going to last?

Along with the physical risks, we need to be vigilant of the virus’ psychological toll, what comes with social distancing and the potential fear of being ostracized for those infected. It’s important that we remind ourselves, and everyone around us, not to panic. We can’t control what’s around us, but we can control our responses.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from covering wars, disasters and all manner of emergencies, we are part of a wider society and we each must do our part to maintain the calm. The best place to start is at home, keeping ourselves resilient and helping others around us—the  elderly trapped at home, the neighbors who can’t take care of their children.

The first thing is to accept that this is the new normal, for as long as it lasts. We don’t know what a couple months will bring so don’t speculate about it. If you’re going to dwell on the worst-case scenario, come up with a contingency plan and focus on creating a routine to get through the days, one at a time. When worry strikes, take a deep breath and walk around the block.

Set a schedule for rising, meals and bedtime. Resilience thrives with proper nutrition, and rest. This is not the time to self-medicate with drink or drugs. Get dressed as though you’re meeting people outside. Fill the day with projects and end it with pleasant rituals such as reading and catching up with friends over video. Build in time to exercise, from YouTube in the living room or outdoors. Consider what anchors and relaxes you—meditating, music, yoga or gardening. Watch funny movies. Steer clear of social media that makes you anxious and restrict news consumption, especially one hour before going to sleep. Start a journal.

Psychologists say the one thing most associated with emotional resilience is social connection and support. So set up a circle of friends and contact them daily. Check on your neighbors. Nothing beats doing something nice for others. And these days, we need something nice.


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Judith Matloff is an adjunct professor at the Columbia Journalism School. She has taught safety training for journalists and news media worldwide. She is the author, most recently, of How to Drag a Body and Other Safety Tips You Hope to Never Need: Survival Tricks for Hacking, Hurricanes and Hazards Life Might Throw at You.  This column is editorially independent of Columbia News.