Our lives have changed significantly in the past few weeks as COVID-19 has spread around the globe and into our communities. In the space of a month we shifted from life-as-usual to- if our jobs and lifestyles allowed it- nearly complete isolation. For all of us, this is a challenge. For individuals struggling with mental health issues, this abrupt lifestyle shift may be even harder.
While researchers actually don’t know a lot about how isolation and quarantine might affect our mental health, we can draw from existing research that demonstrates:
1. Small accomplishments can help release serotonin in our brain, boosting mood. (Source: Journal of Neuroscience)
2. Mindfulness, like a spiritual practice or turning intentional awareness to sensory experience, can lower stress hormones. (source: Journal of Behavioral Medicine 2007)
3. Movement, even gentle, in-home movement, improves general well-being and immune system function, (Source: Brain Science Journal, 2013), and
4. Connecting with other humans, even over the phone or via video, can release the hormone oxytocin which has many mental health benefits. (For maximum benefit, put your screen at eye level, minimize distractions, and be intentional about letting your face show what you are feeling as you chat.) (source: Journal of Social Neuroscience, 2012).
Why A Purpose- and Mindfulness-Based Check-In?
In the early days of isolation, I found myself creating a daily to-do list that was focused on elements of well-being and tasks I need to accomplish to care for myself: like care for my body, my living space, and the living things in my care.
Also, research shows that goal-setting improves mental health and general well-being. Interestingly, the same researchers found that it wasn’t just goal-achieving that improved health and well being – simply the processing of setting a goal and being mindful of why you set that goal seems to have a powerful effect – especially if our goals are personally meaningful and related to growth and connection.
Why To-Do Lists Work for Me
Personally, creating a to-do list for each day is a ritual to help me get motivated and move into my day with a sense of purpose. At the end of the day, reviewing my to do list helps me feel accomplished and proud of myself – my list helps me see meaningful achievements even though I may not have had any external affirmations.
It’s OK If An “Isolation Wellbeing Daily To-Do List” Isn’t for You
Everyone is processing this season of grief and transition differently, and I do want to name and make abundantly clear that there’s really no wrong way to move through COVID-19 quarantine and isolation as long as the choices you are making are choices made with kindness for yourself and your community.
If rest and reset- or even rage or grief- are what you need to care for yourself well in this season then, by all means, put a to-do list on hold. For many of us, however, giving ourselves structure and goals can help us move through this season with more care and a bit more grounding.
How to Use
I hope this resource inspires creative adaptations that are attuned to your own needs and goals during this time.
For those who would like an easy print-and-fill-out PDF of this worksheet, you can download yours below for a small fee.
The version of this PDF licensed for professional therapists to use in session can be provided to clients to fill out daily as a connection point between sessions or used as a check-in with clients at the beginning of video sessions.
Postscript: Is it better to use a to-do list in the morning or at the end of a day?
I recommend experimenting with filling out your to do list in the evening for the next day or filling out your to do list first thing in the morning. Making a to do list at night can affect sleep quality. For some people, making a list for the next day helps them go to sleep resting in the fact that they have a plan, for others a nighttime-created to do list will continue to run through their minds as they try and fall asleep.
If you don’t have a sense of which category you fall into, trial and error is the best way to find out: experiment with how it feels to wake up and create your daily to do list over your morning cup of coffee, and compare that with how it feels to end the day by creating goals for the next day. In either case, it can be helpful at the end of the day to review that day’s to do list. Checking boxes and filling out the worksheet – whether it’s in printable or journaled form – can help create a mood-boosting sense of accomplishment.