As stay-at-home restrictions rise, here are ways to cope

As the surge of coronavirus cases continues to pass milestone after milestone across the country, some jurisdictions are enacting strict restrictions reminiscent of those instituted in the spring. Staying home as much as possible is a necessary evil to stop the wave of contagion. But there is one faint silver lining: We’ve done it before. That means we know what’s coming, and how better to cope with it. Here are some top tips for an at-home life — covering wellness, parenting, home management and entertainment — with even more advice in the links below them. We hope these pointers, gathered from more than nine months of coronavirus coverage, will prove handy as you navigate shutdowns in your region, or prepare for the possibility of doing so.







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Wellness

Staying physically and emotionally healthy during restrictions is a challenge. It can be difficult to resist the siren call of couch, Cheez-Its and cabernet, faced with worries about money, illness and whether your 3-year-old will ever learn social skills. By looking back at the articles readers especially appreciated over the past 10 months, we’ve come up with the following top tips to help you prioritize wellness under trying circumstances.

Start with realistic expectations. A pandemic lockdown is not a sabbatical to finish your novel, or a monastic retreat to find enlightenment, or a visit to the spa so you can retool your diet and get into shape. And it’s certainly not a guarantee you’ll get anything done around the house; after all, you and the rest of your household will be living there more of the time creating more of a mess. It’s perfectly fine not to be productive in any way (though, if decluttering and home- or self-improvement help you cope, it’s also fine to be productive). “Start with compassion for yourself,” productivity expert Racheal Cook told Post contributor Sunny Fitzgerald, and then extend the same to others. It’s okay to lower the bar right now, Cook added, “not because we don’t have high standards, but because we understand that during this period, we need to give ourselves a little grace.”

Don’t feel like ‘getting things done’? It’s okay not to be productive during a pandemic.

Feeling overwhelmed by lockdown parenting? These small wins may help ease the stress.

Try to cultivate the right attitude. Although a positive mind-set can be a valuable coping skill, experts caution against going overboard. Such an approach — known as “toxic positivity” — can be harmful to yourself or others. Research has shown that accepting negative emotions is more beneficial to mental health than avoiding or dismissing them. So, next time you find yourself wanting to tell someone to “look on the bright side,” try instead to acknowledge their pain and ask what would be helpful. This doesn’t mean you can’t be positive, clinical health psychologist Natalie Dattilo told reporter Allyson Chiu. “It’s okay to have a positive and optimistic outlook and feel sad at the same time,” she said. “Both of those are necessary for a healthy outlook and sense of well-being.”

Time to ditch ‘toxic positivity,’ experts say: ‘It’s okay not to be okay’

Adaptability may be your most essential skill in the covid-19 world

A psychologist’s science-based tips for emotional resilience during the coronavirus crisis

How loving kindness meditation can help you deal with even the most annoying people

Yes, you should smile behind your mask. Here’s why.

Put healthy, anxiety-reducing practices into play. We know anxiety and depression have spiked, and the winter weather in many parts of the country isn’t likely to make anyone feel better. “People often don’t realize that their difficulties with focus, memory, sleep and relationships can all be related to anxiety,” said clinical psychologist Amelia Aldao. Now is the time to try to ease anxiety by maintaining a consistent bedtime; limiting caffeine and alcohol; making sure you get exercise and sunlight daily; paring down your to-do list to the essentials; spending less time on screens, especially before bed; teaching yourself deep breathing; and, if seasonal depression is an issue, consulting a doctor and invest in a sun lamp.

Pandemic anxiety is making us sleepless, forgetful and angry. Here are tips for coping.

The pandemic proves we all should know ‘psychological first aid.’ Here are the basics.

Americans are living in a big ‘anger incubator.’ Experts have tips for regulating our rage.

Knead those knots away: Tips for massaging your own sore trigger points or those of a partner

Pandemic depression is about to collide with seasonal depression. Make a plan, experts say.

Just move. Exercise eases anxiety and supports your immune system. So, look for a home workout that appeals to you, order some exercise bands, or simply invest in warm gear so you can exercise outdoors. Having trouble getting motivated? One suggestion is to set a fitness goal that is focused on what will make you feel better. That could be taking a daily walk outdoors to improve your mood or doing a certain number of yoga sessions a week to ease your sore back. “The most important thing is continuing to move,” triathlon coach Jennifer Harrison said, even if it’s only a 20-minute walk.

The exercise everyone should be doing at home during the pandemic: Squats

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Running more than ever before? Here are tips for doing it safer and better.

Why you should stretch more often than before and after exercise — especially nowadays

Losing your motivation to exercise as the pandemic drags on? Here’s how to get it back.

Watch what you eat. To stop emotional eating, do a gut-check before you reach for a snack. Ask yourself: “Am I about to eat because I’m physically hungry, or because I feel stressed or sad?” If it’s the latter, try another activity that makes you feel good: deep breathing, exercise, social interaction, hobbies or time in nature. But don’t beat yourself up if you grab those Oreos, anyway; people who have problems with emotional eating often feel shame, which then can cause them to overeat again. Instead, try self-compassion, which can validate the feelings that lead to emotional eating, soothe the body and mind, and dismantle the shame, all of which make it less likely to recur.

Stress-eating for comfort in a time of anxiety? Here’s how experts say you should deal.

Overeating during the shutdown? Research says don’t beat yourself up — try being kind

Dietitian sees one positive pandemic outcome: A shift in how we think about food

Pandemic eating: You can make nutritious, affordable meals with canned or frozen foods

Be open to reaching out. Signs that you aren’t coping on your own include feeling anxious, tense or angry all the time; being unable to relax or take your mind off your worries; experiencing panic attacks; or having difficulty sleeping, concentrating, interacting with others or getting things done, according to psychologist Jelena Kecmanovic. Consider teletherapy, which is working for many Americans at this time (if you’re in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273- 8255). And don’t be afraid to ask friends or loved ones for aid: Helping you will make them feel better, as well.

Could therapy ease your coronavirus stress? How to decide, what to expect and where to find it.

More of us need help. Why is it so hard to ask for, and how can we make it easier?

Teletherapy is helping Americans get through the pandemic.

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Home and social life

When the pandemic arrived earlier this year and states began shutting down, we were suddenly at home all the time. With nowhere to go, we turned to our surroundings with a critical eye, and many of us didn’t like what we saw. Old photos stuffed in drawers. Toys our kids had long outgrown. Dust and grime on baseboards. And every surface was suddenly a place where germs could accumulate. So we set about restoring order: We decluttered, organized, cleaned and made a few judicious purchases to make our life at home more comfortable. If you’re stuck at home again, here is some of our top advice for organizing, cleaning and creating beautiful, calming surroundings, while still maintaining neighborly connections.

Let go of perfection. Bear in mind that when everyone is stuck at home, it naturally leads to more stuff lying around and more mess. That’s okay, says our organizing columnist, Nicole Anzia. Don’t get hung up on the perfectly curated spaces you see on social media. Remember those images are heavily edited photos of places that have been tidied up before the photo is taken; they aren’t real life. Cut yourself some slack. As long as you can find what you need when you need it, and you aren’t breaking out with a chaos-induced rash, it’s all good.

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Get tough on germs. Whether it’s the air itself, or just household surfaces, keeping things clean is critical, particularly as the pandemic uptick coincides with cold and flu season. While studies have shown that it’s more important to focus on clean hands than disinfecting your counters and doorknobs to avoid covid-19, you still need to be conscientious about cleaning. And it’s not a bad idea to stock up on some supplies or learn how to make your own cleaning solutions, in case retailers face another shortage like in the spring.

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Maintain social connections. Just because you can’t host large dinner parties or hit your favorite bar or restaurant doesn’t mean you can’t get together with friends and neighbors. Being able to see and hear one another is important, so try to think beyond social media and text messages to keep in touch. Happy hours on Zoom or another video conferencing platform are a great way to feel like you’re socializing while still keeping a safe distance. And when you’re interacting with people, whether online or just passing in the grocery store or the doctor’s office, remember that we’re all stressed out and struggling to some extent. Be kind.

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Add a bit of greenery. During the first round of lockdowns in the spring, many people turned to gardening to fill time and cope with anxiety over shortages at local grocery stores. Victory gardens sprouted across the country, and seed companies struggled to keep up with demand. This time around, we’re on the cusp of winter and the dormant season in the garden. Yes, you can think ahead to what you would like to plant next year, but in the meantime, tending to a houseplant (or 10) is a good way to get your gardening fix.

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Pare down. Stuff takes up space in your mind, as well as your home. As we prepared to send kids back to school in August, Nicole Anzia wrote about how being organized can increase your productivity and reduce your stress. And knowing what you have and where to find it can also save you time and money. Now that we’re a few months into the school year (and work-from-home arrangements are being extended as case numbers continue to rise), it’s a good opportunity to reassess your workspaces and sort through any clutter that has accumulated.

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Be realistic about how life has changed. Let’s face it: The pandemic has upended our existence as we knew it. We’ve abandoned business attire for comfortable lounge wear. Rather than working in spaces designed for that purpose, we’re trying to get things done from scrabbled-together at-home setups that we never thought would have to carry us through nearly a year and counting. And our old strategies for organizing our homes don’t seem to suffice now that every household member needs a dedicated space for work or school. Take a look around and make sure your home is set up to meet your current needs, whether it’s your shared office space or your closet.

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Be a savvy consumer. Even though lockdowns in the spring generally made exceptions for trips to the grocery store or pharmacy, many people shifted their shopping online to limit their potential exposure to the coronavirus. As we head into another round of stay-at-home orders, it’s good to familiarize yourself with your options for online grocery shopping. And if you’re planning to make large home purchases, such as furniture, online, we had a piece this fall with advice on what to look for when shopping to prevent buyer’s remorse.

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Food

So much of our lives has changed since the coronavirus pandemic took hold earlier this year: School, social outings, travel and more. But at least one thing has remained consistent: Everyone needs to eat. That doesn’t meant we haven’t had to adapt, changing our shopping habits, our recipes, our dishwashing frequency, our meals out and frankly, our expectations. As covid cases surge again, and we contemplate the possibility of additional lockdowns, much of what we’ve learned about cooking and eating during this challenging time still applies. Here’s some of our most practical advice.

Make a grocery shopping plan, and stick to it. If the goal of a lockdown is to limit people’s exposure to one another, we can’t all make a trip to the grocery store every few days. Shopping less frequently requires advance work, but that early investment will ultimately save you time and even money. Aim for a two-week plan. Think about what you’re going to make and when, and buy the necessary ingredients. You can keep some shelf-stable and nutritious items on hand, such as dried beans and grains, but don’t go overboard. Use more perishable ingredients, such as certain types of produce, first and save the hardier ones for later. Avoid impulse purchasing unhealthy snacks or items you won’t realistically use. When possible, work with what you have first before buying carts of new food. Cooking from your pantry can be smart, economical and a fun challenge.

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Be prepared to make substitutions in cooking. Less frequent shopping, ingredient shortages and the vagaries of grocery delivery mean that at some point you probably won’t have the ingredient called for in a particular recipe. And that’s okay! You can still make smart substitutions. The result may not be the same, but you might like it better. Try not to get too emotionally invested in a recipe; survey your supplies first so you can pick the dish that fits them.

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It’s okay to give yourself a break and order takeout. As the months at home wear on, it’s easy to feel the grind of cooking for everyone at every meal. The burnout is real. But there’s an easy, safe way to cut yourself some slack and support your favorite restaurants, many of which are struggling: Order takeout. Keep in mind that delivery platforms tend to take a cut of the revenue; ordering directly from restaurants and picking up allows them to keep more money in their pockets. By this point, eateries have established procedures for no-contact or minimal-contact takeout. If you’re concerned, just inquire. When you do opt for delivery, tip well.

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Share what you have, when you can. Experts have long been telling us that transmission of the coronavirus is extremely unlikely by food. You probably know someone who is struggling, sick or in need of a boost, so consider dropping off some food. If you’re planning any type of get-together for people beyond your immediate household, outdoors is safest — with sufficient space for social distancing and using masks whenever you’re not eating or drinking. If you plan to share food, set up individual portions, no shared utensils. The least-risky options, though, are to mail a stable treat or do a doorstep delivery. And, remember, if you’re sick, don’t prepare food for anyone else.

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Use the time at home to try something new. The ennui of endless days, week and months at home is understandable. If you’re the kind of person who finds solace in mastering a different skill, it might be time to hit the kitchen. Whether you’re a beginning cook or baker, this could be your opportunity to commit to becoming more proficient. If you’re already proficient, consider a next-level skill — sourdough, perhaps? — or a deep dive into a different cuisine or cookbook. A sense of purpose can make a huge difference in how you deal with the loss of many of your regular social activities.

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Parenting

Parents, you have been through the wringer this year. You’ve adapted to remote learning while simultaneously adapting to remote work. You survived a summer without camp. You taught kids to wear masks, keep six feet of distance and wash their hands properly. You coached them through the disappointment of missed proms and graduations, Zoom birthday parties and canceled sports seasons. The good news is that you (and your kids) are now pandemic veterans. The bad news is that you’re facing a winter in lockdown. It’s worth revisiting some of the expert tips that have gotten us this far.

Help kids build coping skills. School closures can be excruciatingly isolating, especially for children who had a taste of in-person school before being sent home again. They need to know that all emotions are okay. “These uncertain times are guaranteed to raise everyone’s stress levels — including our kids,” Michele Borba, author of “Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World,” told writer Katie Hurley. “A simple, no-cost way to manage unhealthy emotions is to breathe deeply. Say: ‘Pretend you are smelling a flower, and then slowly blowing out a birthday candle.’ ”

Other helpful coping strategies include visualization, where the child gets into a relaxed position and the parent tells a slow, calming story rich with details while reminding the child to breathe, Hurley wrote. Or try having children reframe thoughts (state their worry, catch the negative thought and flip it into a realistic, more-positive thought).

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Model healthy habits. Experts are worried about the pandemic’s potential effect on children’s health, especially their activity levels and weight. “It’s unprecedented that we’re inside, we’re out of normal routines. So it stands to reason that levels of inactivity are only going to worsen,” Cedric Bryant, president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, told writer Debra Kamin. “And obesity makes it harder to deal with covid.”

Some basic advice from health experts: Clear the junk food out of your pantry, and make cooking meals together part of your family’s routine. Set a bedtime and stick to it. Incorporate physical activity directly into children’s learning: shooting baskets while spelling out words, squats at their desk, stretching while reading a book. And get creative about indoor activities as the weather cools, with scavenger hunts, obstacle courses and homemade fitness videos. (Find more ideas here.)

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Find the best distance-learning setup for your child: If your child is suffering from a fall semester with less-than-ideal ergonomics, think about making some tweaks. Make sure your child’s screen is at eye level, with the laptop (or tablet) at arm’s length, about 18 to 24 inches from where your child is sitting, advised Aaron Miller, clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Adjust the screen’s brightness and contrast for comfort, and find a chair with arm rests that allows your child to sit with knees at a 90-degree bend and feet flat on the floor. A neutral wrist will prevent muscle fatigue and pain.

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Protect your mental energy: Now that the boundaries between work, school and home life have completely blurred, we need to create new rules to guide how we live and how we work, write Jennifer Wallace and Vanessa Patrick. If you’ve gone this long without creating a “personal policy” for living and working through lockdown, consider some new guidelines and habits.

For example, if you’re fighting with your spouse about the messy kitchen, agree not to comment on housework during work hours no matter how untidy your home gets. If you’re having trouble finding time to do the kind of deep thinking your job requires, try waking up an hour before everyone else for uninterrupted time. If you’re finding it difficult to fall asleep, consider writing in a gratitude journal before bedtime, to focus your attention on the things to be thankful for.

Find more examples, and the philosophy behind them, here.

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Lower your bar: This pandemic has been hard for everyone, and this winter may be even harder. If you’ve been drowning, it’s time to lower your standards — “in food, homework, housekeeping, tech time, you name it,” writes parenting coach and columnist Meghan Leahy. “It is a gracious act to know that you are up against something pretty big and to allow yourself to slow with it, rather than pretend it isn’t happening.”

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Know when to apologize: Our coping abilities are being tested to the max right now, and sometimes all the breathing exercises, meditation sessions and fresh air in the world won’t keep tempers under control. If you lose it, “it is absolutely appropriate and a good move to apologize to your children,” said Carla Naumburg, author of “How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids.” When you’re calm, “apologize for your behavior, not your feelings,” says Naumburg. “And if there needs to be a conversation about your child’s behavior you can work on that afterward.”

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Be proactive about sibling squabbles. They’re around one another more than ever, with lower stores of “emotional fuel,” said clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel, so you may need to be more proactive than usual. A few tips for keeping the peace, from Mogel and clinical psychologist Laura Markham, include making sure each sibling has alone time every day, as well as one-on-one time with a parent; practicing reflective listening (listen to your child’s complaint, then repeat it back to them); and refusing to argue about who is right or wrong, while explaining why certain behavior is off-limits.

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Entertainment

Stay-at-home guidelines might provide a guilt-free opportunity to binge-watch a TV show, catch a new movie or curl up with a book. Or they might generate a more urgent need to distract oneself from the ongoing crisis (or occupy kids long enough to get something done). The Post’s TV and movie critics and pop culture writers have been on the job since March — sitting through the new offerings, so you don’t have to, and curating the old. And our colleagues in Book World just came out with their much-awaited lists of the best books of 2020.

Turn to top television. Those of us lucky enough to have free time during quarantine likely spent a chunk of it trying to catch up on the overwhelming amount of entertainment available from streaming services. Our pop culture team trimmed down those must-watch lists because there are so many TV options that choosing among them can take more time than actually watching an episode. And, let’s face it, sometimes knowing the highlights of a show is enough. People still bugging you to watch “Schitt’s Creek”? We summed it up for you. Wondering why the main character in “Emily in Paris” seems woefully unqualified for her job? We read the think pieces (and wrote ‘em). Trying to figure out why every show takes place in space? Us, too. Here is a sampling of some of our curated suggestions so you can make an educated decision about which series to tackle next.

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Mix things up with marvelous movies. The movie theater experience is classic: munching on buttery popcorn, peeling your shoes off the sticky floor, passive-aggressively turning to stare at the person behind you who won’t stop whispering to their seatmate. Though we’ve lost a bit of that magic in quarantine, there is no shortage of films to watch, including an old but newly popular movie about a deadly pandemic. Sure, we still have to wait for the new James Bond and “Black Widow,” but you can watch the new “Borat” from the comfort of your couch and finally understand all those Rudolph W. Giuliani memes on Twitter. If politics and a pandemic aren’t scary enough for you, we’ve got a plethora of horror movie recommendations. With the following lists, which run the gamut from the best worst dance movies to the best movies about marginalized communities, we’ve got you covered no matter what you’re in the mood to watch.

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Bury your head in a best book. In a year that made history in myriad, often tragic ways, our reading habits reflected our coping methods, as we reached for apocalyptic fiction, primers on race, political books that reflected highly partisan worldviews, plus thrillers, romance and science fiction — anything to help us escape. 2020 may not have been bursting with bright spots, but at least there was this: Tremendous books kept coming. In honor of that remarkable abundance, we’ve put together these recommendations of books that excel at helping readers through trying times.

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