Stress Relief for COVID-19: Relaxing Activities to Do at Home

“We all have to remember not just self-care, but self-soothing.”

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Finding ways to relax during the COVID-19 pandemic may not come naturally to you. Some of your favorite ways to unwind—dining at your favorite taqueria, reading a book at a coffee shop, playing with your nephews or grandkids, or meeting friends for happy hour—are suddenly off limits.

But just because you’ve had to give up some of your favorite ways to relax, doesn’t mean there aren’t any ways to relax. “Doing some relaxing activities during this time is kind of like the break in the clouds, and these are a few things that can really sort of ground you through the day that might otherwise feel very, very unfamiliar,” says Susan Samuels, MD, psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.

1. Take breaks from work

“If [work] is becoming overwhelming, stop and take a few deep breaths,” says Dr. Samuels. 

You might feel extra pressure to keep up with your usual levels of production at work, but these are not normal days. Stress levels are already high, so if work is adding to your stress, give yourself permission to take a break. That may include meditation, following an online workout, or reading a chapter of a book.

2. Self-care and self-soothe

“We all have to remember not just self-care, but self-soothing,” says Dr. Samuels. Self-care means making sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals, and connecting with supportive people. Self-soothing refers to a skill to cope with negative emotions. 

Self-soothing strategies include mindful breathing, visualizing positive outcomes, using positive self-talk, forgiving yourself for having negative thoughts, and pampering yourself with comfy blankets, dim lighting, comfortable noise levels, pleasant scents, warm baths, and furry pets. 

3. Escape into a book

“Some people find it very soothing to sit with a coloring book or a book of any kind, to just escape into,” says Dr. Samuels. Books can be a healthy distraction from the current situation. Learn more about the health benefits of reading here

4. Allow yourself to indulge

“You're allowed to indulge a little bit, and that can really make a difference in your mindset for the next day,” says Dr. Samuels. It’s okay to buy a pint of your favorite ice cream. It’s okay to stay five extra minutes in the shower. It’s okay to get delivery from your favorite restaurant instead of having reheated pasta for the third day in a row. 

However, consider limiting alcohol or other substances as your indulgences, as these substances can lead to dependency, substance use disorders, or health problems. Plus, excess alcohol intake can actually increase feelings of depression or anxiety, even if it soothes them in the moment. 

Need more ideas? Here are tips to meditate at home, and here are alternative ways to meditate (if you can’t just sit there)