How can you keep the regularity of daily routines when nothing about your life feels regular? Has your mood altered since being in lockdown?
The COVID-19 pandemic poses a serious health threat to the world. In response, governments have implemented a variety of new policies including mass closures of businesses, self-quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing. While necessary to limit the spread of the virus, these measures can disrupt many of the stabilizing factors in our lives which support mental health. In close collaboration, the International Society of Bipolar Disorders (ISBD https://www.isbd.org/) Task Force on Chronobiology and Chronotherapy and the Society for Light Treatment and Biologic Rhythms (SLTBR, https://sltbr.org/) developed a list of recommendations to help your body clock to stay on track to help you feel better.
When faced with major upheavals in our lives—such as those caused by the COVID 19 pandemic–our body clocks have much more difficulty re-establishing regular biologic rhythms. Absent the normal social routines of work, childcare, and socializing, the biological clock system may be confused or challenged. As a result, we may experience negative physical symptoms similar to jet lag such as disturbed sleep, appetite, energy and mood. Paying attention to routines may be especially important during times of stress to keep your body clock regular and your mood stable.
Self-management Strategies for Increasing Regularity of Daily Routines
- Set up a routine for yourself while you are in quarantine or working from home. Routines help stabilize body clocks
- Get up at the same time every day. A regular wake time is the most important input for stabilizing your body clock
- Make sure you spend some time outdoors every day, especially in the early morning. Your body clock needs to “see” light in the morning to know “when” it is.
- If you can’t go outside try to spend at least 2 hours next to a window, looking into the daylight, and focusing on being calm.
- Set times for a few regular activities each day such as home tutoring, telephone calls with a friend, or cooking. Do these activities at the same time each day.
- Exercise every day, ideally at the same time each day.
- Eat meals at the same time every day. If you’re not hungry, at least eat a small snack at the prescribed time.
- Social interactions are important, even during social distancing. Seek out “back and forth” social interactions where you share thoughts and feelings with another person in real time. Videoconferencing, telephone or even real-time text-messaging is preferred to scrolling through messages. Schedule these interactions at the same time every day.
- Avoid naps during daylight hours, especially later in the day. If you must nap, restrict them to 30 minutes. Napping makes it hard to fall asleep at night.
- Avoid bright light (especially blue light) in the evening. This includes computer screens and smartphones. Blue spectrum light suppresses the hormone that helps us sleep.
- Stick to a consistent sleep and wake time that fits your natural rhythms. If you are a night owl, it’s okay to stay up a little bit later and get up a little bit later than others in the household. Just make sure you go to sleep and get up at the same time every day.