Every day, news about Coronavirus-19 is dominating the television networks. Even as I turn to social media, I notice the sheer panic, fear, anxiety, depression, and despair that so many people are dealing with as they stress about the outcome of this virus – what is to come and how bad will it get before it is all over.

The feelings that people are facing are real and as I watch the public panic over this pandemic, I continue to grow concerned about the continued decline of those who are already struggling with mental health issues and the many who are now dealing with mental health issues due to the uncertainty that COVID-19 brings.

There has been such a sudden personal and cultural shift in how we must adjust to this pandemic to keep the public and our loved ones who are at risk safe.  The condition that the world is currently in has left many in a panic and has increased stress levels which can ultimately compromise the immune system.

Below are a few ideas that I wanted to share to help individuals and the community to stay proactive and productive during this time.  Staying proactive and productive are ways of maintaining mental and physical health during a stressful time such as this while still decreasing your risk of encountering the Virus.

Being neighborly doesn't mean putting yourself at risk

Many jobs have told employees not to come in due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and because of it, many are feeling the financial strain. 

Please remember to check in with your local unemployment offices to see if you qualify for temporary unemployment to get some sort of funding until you are able to go back to work.  It doesn’t matter if you were working full time or part time.

However, now is a good time for people in the same community to band together, as they did years ago, when someone was in need. 

This is a good time for us to remember what it means to be a neighbor and that is being helpful and friendly to someone that lives in your neighborhood or the same building. Remember to stay safe but try to help those who are in need. If you have more than another person and the other person is in dire need, remember to share some of what you have.   

Giving is something that many times, we feel like we cannot afford to do in a time of lack or want. However, when you give out of sacrifice, many times, you get back more than what you have given.  It is the law of, or as some call it, the gift of reciprocity. Plus helping others is a good way to increase mental health because knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life always gives us a sense of purpose. Try it!

Social distancing or social isolation

This is hard for so many people. Generally, people are made to live in community, to socialize, to be around others and to have a sense of belonging. To suddenly have to shut off your social life where you can no longer visit with family and friends as you once did, jobs and schools have told you to stay home, social events are canceled, restaurants have either closed or will no longer allow for dining in and many places are now under curfew – that would cause anyone to feel bewildered and somewhat isolated from their norm! What a huge sudden change and shift in our roles, routines and habits!  This can cause a great upset, depression, anxiety, and decreased purpose in our daily lives (American Occupational Therapy Association [AOTA], 2014).

Studies show that face-to-face socialization is the most beneficial for mental health and welfare, but there are still many ways that we can communicate in this day and age virtually. Here is a list of ways that you can continue to socialize (the list is in order of most to least effective).

  1. Video chat so that you are face-to-face.
  2. Pick up the telephone and call your loved one instead of text.
  3. Socialize through social media.
    1. Group chats are more effective than individual, many times, due to the varying interactions that takes place.
    2. One-on-one chatting.

If you need to be in the presence of another person, you can always decide to meet to talk but just keep a social distance of no less than 6 feet. Ways you could do this are:

  1. Have each person drive to a specific location and stay in their vehicle to talk.
  2. Meet at a park (if the weather is nice) and sit at an appropriate social distance to talk or go for a walk or a nice jog.
  3. Walk around in a supermarket together at the same time, making sure that you stay a safe distance from each other.

Remember the important thing is social distancing – not social isolation (if at all possible)!

Parents with adolescents

This is a good time to teach your children a new life skill that maybe you were too busy to teach before this time because of the family’s busy schedule.

Adolescents and young adults are being referred to occupational therapy services for the developing of life skills in young adults.  When life skills are not developed prior to leaving home, many times, it results  in young adults not being prepared to successfully live on their own long term.  Because of this, the young adult either keeps returning to home or never make it out of the parents’ home in the first place.  It is truly a failure to launch scenario.  Below are a few ideas parents can do with their teens to develop and prepare them for adult independence during this time (not to mention, in doing this, it gives the parent an opportunity to bond with their child and keep them busy while teaching life skills) (Abaoğlu, Çelik, Cesim & Kars, 2017; AOTA, 2014). 

Some of these life skills include:

  • Cooking a meal
  • Mowing a lawn
  • Taking out trash
  • Cleaning the bathroom
  • Changing a tire
  • Budgeting and money management
  • Opening up a bank account
  • Performing laundry tasks
  • Housekeeping
  • Ironing or pressing clothing to be presentable at work or for an interview
  • Completing a resume
  • Developing interviewing skills

All of the above skills can be transferred to college life and successful independent living in the near future.

Start a new project

Like, try something you’ve always been wanting to do.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Clean an area of your home that you could just never find the time to do.
  2. Learn to play an instrument (can be done online)
  3. Learn how to dance (can be done online)
  4. Start a new craft
  5. Start a family or individual project.
  6. Start an online business
  7. Start a blog, vlog or podcast
  8. Start a journaling club
  9. Enroll in an online class at a local college
  10. Read a book 

Start a home exercise program

Exercise is a wonderful way to relieve stress when life becomes more difficult to manage.  Exercise naturally enhances and improves our mood and not to mention increases our physical health as well.  However, with the Coronavirus outbreak, most gyms are closed.  Below are suggestions to help you stay active at little to no cost.

  1. Go for a brisk walk or jog outdoors (keeping socially acceptable distances, of course!) 
  2. Video stream free videos from the internet or from an exercise channel from your cable provider.
  3. Purchase online home video workouts that do not require a contract. This way when the gym reopens, you can discontinue your home workout and resume your normal routine.
  4. Play various ball games in the park with you and maybe one other person (maintaining social distance).
  5. Play physically active games with your children such as scavenger hunt or play frisbee.
  6. Play hula hoop or jump rope for a few minutes at a time (it’s tougher than it looks).
  7. Walk up and down the steps a few times every hour.
  8. Put on your favorite music and dance.
  9. Purchase minimal equipment such as a few dumbbells, sliders, an exercise mat, and jump rope.  You can do a full body workout with these few items.
  10. Try something new like Pilates, calisthenics, yoga or HIIT.  These workouts need little to no equipment.

Catch up on rest

Before the Corona outbreak, most people were leading very busy lives – burning the candle at both ends trying to balance in family, work/school and a social life.  Rest was rare or in many cases unheard of.  We just couldn’t find enough time in the day to fit it in!

But rest is essential for improving the immune system, mood, energy, and mental and physical rejuvenation while also decreasing stress and headaches.  Rest is done by engaging in easy and quiet activities that interrupt everyday activities resulting in a relaxed and calmer state of mind.  These restful activities should restore energy while renewing interest to eventually reengage in life’s routines, roles and activities (AOTA, 2014, Spence, 2019b). 

Tips for increasing rest:

  • Lying down and doing nothing
  • Stretching
  • Arts and crafts
  • Leisurely walk
  • Aromatherapy
  • Listening to calm music
  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Listening to calming music

Proper handwashing

Tips for decreasing risk of the Coronavirus-19 (CDC, 2019; Harvard Health Publishing, 2019)

Please keep in mind to wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day and especially before or after the following (CDC, 2019):

  1. After being out in public
  2. Before meal preparation
  3. Before eating
  4. Before you put your hands in your face to rub your eyes, scratch your nose or touch your mouth.
  5. After you have sneezed or blown your nose
  6. After shaking hands (Yes! Some people still shake hands even in a health crisis)
  7. Before and after caring for someone who is sick

Proper way to wash hands:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands with soap by rubbing them together.  Remember to also lather up the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. A good way to know you have scrubbed your hands long enough is counting for 20-25 seconds or sing/hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  4. Rinse your hands under clean running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
  6. Turn off the water from the faucet with a towel, do not touch the faucet with your hands to turn off the water.

Video from John’s Hopkins University (2019) using the World’s Health Organization (WHO) technique on proper handwashing.

Hand sanitizer (CDC, 2019; Harvard Health Publishing, 2019)

When choosing to use hand sanitizer, it should contain at least 60% alcohol to kill germs.  When rubbing the hand sanitizer into your hands, make sure you are rubbing not only the palms but also each finger, including the tips.  Rubbing the sanitizer into your hands should take at least 20 seconds and should occur until your hands are dry.

Keep in mind that hand sanitizer does not kill all germs that may be on your hands and soap and water should be used to wash your hands every 4 to 5 uses of the hand sanitizer

Sanitize personal items

Items that are frequently used to set items on or are frequently touched or handled should be frequently sanitized such as countertops, keyboards, tablets, doorknobs, light fixtures, phones, keys, pocketbooks, bags and wallets. These items should be wiped down frequently with soap and water and then disinfected with either wipes and/or sprayed with a disinfectant spray such as Lysol to decrease risk of contamination (Harvard Health Publishing, 2019).

Remember worrying brings on more stress, depression and anxiety that can decrease the immune system (Spence, 2019a).  Healthy concern about a real issue and being proactive in decreasing the risk of contracting COVID19 is key.  However, if you do come in contact with someone who has the Virus, do not panic, most citizens will easily bounce back from it, but contact your doctor immediately!  Those who must really be concerned are those who have weak or compromised immune systems such as the very young, the elderly and those who have certain conditions that weaken the immune system such as diabetes, kidney disease, respiratory conditions, HIV, AIDS, and cancer.  So as a population, we must take care not to spread it to our loved ones and others in public spaces, but DO NOT PANIC!


As a reminder, Occupational Therapy provides education and training to improve quality of life by staying active, proactive and productive so that mental, physical and emotional health and wellness are maintained or improved.  For more information or if you are in need of coaching, accountability, mentoring or counseling during this difficult time, please do not hesitate to reach out to Life Wellness Occupational Therapy at Christa@OTWellness.com.

Take Care!

Christa Spence, MS, OTR


Abaoğlu, H., Cesim, Ö, Kars, H. and Çelik, Z. (2017). Life skills in occupational therapy. InTech.

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, S1–S48. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Handwashing: Clean hands save lives.

Spence, C. (2019a). Healthy concern vs. unhealthy worry. Life Wellness Occupational Therapy.

Spence, C. (2019b). Rest and sleep. Life Wellness Occupational Therapy.

Harvard Health Publishing. (2019). Coronavirus resource center.

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