How to Cope with Sheltering in Place

During natural disasters, infectious disease outbreaks, and other major emergencies, you may be required to shelter in place. This means you have to stay where you are—whether you’re at home, at a friend’s house, at school, or at work—until the danger has passed and local authorities give you permission to move around freely.[1] This sounds pretty simple, but no matter how much you love your comfy couch, you might eventually feel a little stir crazy. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid losing your mind! Even basic strategies like sticking to healthy routines and doing stress-relieving activities can help. If you start to feel too overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.


[Edit]Avoiding Loneliness and Boredom

  1. Reach out to friends and family by phone or online. Isolation and loneliness are major problems when you’re sheltering in place. You can relieve this burden on both yourself and others by taking time to get in touch. Call friends, family, and loved ones who aren’t staying with you, chat with them over text, or video call them so you can see each other face-to-face.[2]
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    • You can also connect over social media, such as Facebook and Instagram. Share status updates to let others know you’re doing okay and check in to see how they’re doing.
  2. Make a virtual gathering space. Sheltering in place might mean cancelling parties and family gatherings, but the power of the internet means that you don’t have to give up on hanging out altogether![3] Try creating a Facebook group where you can share fun and positive content with your friends and loved ones. Post funny memes, your favorite YouTube videos, or uplifting news stories. You could even take turns doing fun livestream videos to entertain each other!
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    • You can also have virtual get-togethers using video chat programs with group chat features, such as Skype, Google Duo, Zoom, or Discord.
  3. Take time to do activities you enjoy. Being stuck in lockdown can get boring fast. Think of things you can do to reduce your stress, relieve boredom, and help the time go by faster. This might include working on hobbies and creative projects, watching movies, reading, cooking, or playing games.[4]
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    • Do fun group activities if you’re staying with other people. For example, you might play a family board game or watch a movie together.
    • Avoid spending all your downtime on the internet or binge-watching shows on Netflix. Spending too much time in front of a screen can start to make you feel burnt out and cooped up.[5]
  4. Work on chores and tasks around the home or wherever you’re staying. Taking positive action is a great way to keep busy and relieve your anxieties while you’re cooped up. Use the opportunity to take care of things that need to be done around the home, or look for actions you can take to help yourself and others get through the situation you’re in.[6]
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    • For example, you might do some deep cleaning, take an inventory of your supplies, or look up helpful information that you can share with others in the same situation.
    • Look for ways to combine work with fun. For instance, you might make a shelter-in-place playlist with some of your favorite music and crank it up while everyone cleans up the kitchen.[7]
  5. Go outside occasionally if you’re able to. Being cooped up indoors for a long time can be very stressful. To avoid getting a raging case of cabin fever, go outside for a little while every day if you can, even if you’re just stepping onto your balcony or going into your back yard. Try to go out in the daytime so you can get sunlight, especially early in the day.[8]
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    • Getting sun can help keep your day/night schedule from getting thrown off.
    • Open windows if the weather is nice.
    • If you have kids or pets that go outdoors, take them outside with you so they can play and release pent-up energy. For example, you might go for a walk with your dog or take your kids into the back yard to play catch.
  6. Give yourself and others alone time. It’s important not to feel isolated while you’re sheltering in place, but it’s also crucial for everyone to have a little space sometimes. Even the people you love the most can start to drive you bonkers if you’re stuck at home with them for days on end! Try to schedule a little “me time” for you and anyone else in the home throughout the day.[9]
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    • If possible, create separate “zones” in your home or wherever you’re sheltering where people can go when they need space or are getting on each other’s nerves. For example, you might designate a chair in a corner of the living room as a “chill-out zone” for a family member, or a spot at the dining room table as a “work zone” for yourself.
    • If you have noise-cancelling headphones, now is a great time to break them out! Even if you can’t physically separate yourself from the people you’re living with, you can listen to some peaceful music, an audio book, or nature sounds to help you tune out for a bit.

[Edit]Doing Fun Activities

  1. Watch a little TV during your downtime. It’s not a great idea to veg out in front of a screen the whole time you’re on lockdown.[10] However, watching movies and TV can be a great way to unwind when you need a break between other activities. Take advantage of your time sheltering in place to catch up on movies and shows you haven’t seen yet, or take comfort in some of your old favorites.
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    • Laughter is a fantastic stress reliever, so fire up a few episodes of Nailed It, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or Saturday Night Live if you’re feeling down.[11]
    • If you have a dark sense of humor and enjoy making light of the situation you’re in, you could even go for some comedies with apocalyptic themes, like Good Omens, The World’s End, or Zombieland.
    • Make some popcorn and have a movie night with any family, friends, or roommates who are with you. You could even have a virtual watch party over instant messenger if you’re sheltering alone!
  2. Check out some new podcasts if you enjoy background listening. Podcasts are fun, often educational, and great for keeping you entertained while you’re doing other, not-so-fun things (like disinfecting your home).[12] Ask your friends to recommend some of their favorite podcasts, or look at an online list of recommendations like this one from Time:
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    • If you’re stressed by listening to too much media coverage of the emergency that has you on lockdown, avoid listening to podcasts that deal with related themes.
    • You can find podcasts on platforms like Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Spotify, and Overcast.[13]
  3. Catch up on your reading. Reading is a relaxing, immersive experience that can help take your mind off of being stuck at home. Grab a book you’ve been meaning to read or pick up an old favorite that you’ve read a million times before. You can even make it a shared activity by reading out loud to anyone who wants to listen!
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    • If you have kids, reading with them is a wonderful way to bond, keep them engaged, and make the shelter in place experience less stressful.[14]
    • Try creating a family book club. You could all read the same book and schedule time to discuss it every evening, or you could read different books and take turns talking about whatever each person is reading.
  4. Have a dance party or jam session. Listening to music, dancing, and making your own music are all great ways to relieve stress while you’re sheltering in place. Listening to upbeat music can energize you and lift your mood, while calming music can help you relax and unwind.[15] Create some playlists for different moods or times of the day that you and your family or friends can jam to. Put on some upbeat tunes and dance when you want to get your body moving. If you’re musically talented, you can sing or play an instrument to entertain yourself and whoever else may be staying with you.
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    • Try hosting a dance party or virtual jam session online with friends and family who are sheltering somewhere else.
    • If you’ve got kids, there are tons of sing- and dance-along videos online. Help them put together a playlist so you don’t end up listening to “Baby Shark” 24/7!
  5. Play some board or card games. Few things can help the time pass while you’re stuck inside like a board game. Get a friendly family competition going with a little Clue, Pictionary, Scrabble, or Carcassonne.[16]
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    • If you’re by yourself, try playing a solo game like solitaire or mahjong. You can also play social games online like Words with Friends or an MMORPG like World of Warcraft.
    • Other kinds of games you can play include jigsaw puzzles, card games, and physical skill games like Jenga.
  6. Go on a nature walk if you can go outside. Getting outdoors, and especially spending time in nature, can help reduce stress and lift your spirits.[17] If you’re allowed to walk around outdoors, try exploring a nearby walking path or going for a stroll around the block. Pay special attention to the animals, plants, and other natural features you see around you.
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    • If you have kids, take them out on a “bug walk.” Look for as many different kinds of insects as you can find. You could even take pictures of the bugs you find or draw them in a sketchbook, then go online and try to identify them all. This is something you can easily do even if you can’t leave your yard!
  7. Do some fun cooking projects. Having good food can make your shelter in place experience a lot more enjoyable. The act of cooking itself can also be fun, especially if you can make it a shared family activity. Break out some cookbooks or look online to find fun recipes you can make with the supplies you have.[18]
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    • Baking is a lot of fun and easy to do with limited supplies. See if you can make some basic cookies, muffins, or bread with stuff you have in the pantry.
  8. Get creative with arts and crafts. Whether you’re a master artist or can’t manage much more than a stick figure, making art can lower stress.[19] It’s also a great way to express your feelings in a safe and healthy manner. Do some doodling, coloring, knitting, or whatever kind of project strikes your fancy.
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    • Doing arts and crafts is a fantastic way to bond with kids and keep them busy while they’re stuck at home. Search for kid-friendly arts and crafts projects online.
    • You can also play simple art games with anyone who’s staying with you. For example, give everyone a piece of paper and have them start drawing. When everyone has drawn a little, have someone in the group shout “Change!” Then, everyone passes their paper to the person to their right. Add onto the drawing you just received until the next person says “Change.”
    • If you’re sheltering alone, try a social drawing app or website like Aggie, Drawesome, or Drawize.

[Edit]Maintaining Regular Routines

  1. Stock up on supplies if you have time to prepare ahead. It’s not always possible to plan ahead for a shelter in place situation. If you have the opportunity to do so, however, getting supplies in advance can help the experience go more smoothly. Stock up on enough supplies to last you through the time you expect to be sheltering.[20]
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    • It’s hard to know for sure how long a shelter in place situation will last, but as a rule it’s a good idea to have about 2 weeks’ worth of food, water, hygiene and cleaning supplies, medications, batteries, pet food, and any other supplies you regularly use.
    • Don’t buy up more supplies than you think you and your family will need. Doing so will only make it harder for other people to deal with the situation.
  2. Create a daily schedule for yourself and your family. You might be tempted to lie around in your pajamas and watch TV all day while you’re stuck at home, but having a sense of stability and routine is important. If you live with family, and especially children, it can be helpful to have a set schedule that everyone can follow. Write out the schedule and post it up someplace where everyone can see it.[21]
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    • Work together with your family to create a schedule that works for everyone. Discuss everyone’s needs, strengths, concerns, and expectations.[22]
    • Your schedule might include things like having breakfast and other meals together, doing schoolwork, taking time for family activities, exercising, and doing household chores. Don’t forget to schedule in a little “me time” for everyone so you don’t drive each other nuts!
    • Even if you’re alone, writing a schedule for yourself can help you stick to a healthy routine.
  3. Get up at and go to bed at your usual times. When you’re not able to follow your normal routines of going to work or school, it can be easy for your regular sleeping patterns to get thrown off.[23] Don’t give in to the allure of sleeping until noon and staying up until the wee hours of the morning. Even though you don’t have to be anywhere, make a point of setting your alarm and getting up when you normally would. Establish a regular bedtime routine and try to be in bed by your usual bedtime.[24]
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    • Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep if you’re an adult, and 8-10 if you’re a teen.
    • Getting plenty of sunlight can help you maintain a normal sleep cycle, so try to step outside for a few minutes or open your curtains first thing in the morning. Start dimming your lights 2-3 hours before you go to bed, and turn off any bright screens within an hour or so of bedtime.[25]
    • Maintaining a regular sleep routine will improve your mood and energy levels and make it easier to manage the stress of being in lockdown for a long time.
  4. Set a regular time to check the news so you can stay informed. When you’re sheltering in place, it’s crucial to keep yourself informed of the situation so that you can be aware of any major changes or actions you need to take to stay safe. However, looking at the news too much can be stressful and scary. Give yourself a specific amount of time each day to look at updates from a reliable source.[26]
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    • For example, if you’re sheltering in place due to the coronavirus outbreak, you might stick to looking at updates from the CDC, the World Health Organization, or your local Public Health Department.
    • If you watch or read the news, you might limit yourself to just 15 minutes a day or only 2-3 stories at a time. You know best how much you can handle before it starts to really stress you out!
    • Be conscious of how others in the home are affected, too. For example, avoid exposing children to lots of frightening media coverage. Summarize what’s going on for them in a straightforward way, but don’t leave the TV on 24/7 so that they hear all the scariest stories about what’s happening.[27]
  5. Take breaks to eat, exercise, and care for your hygiene. Self-care during a shelter in place situation is vital for both your physical and emotional health. When you don’t have to go anywhere, it’s easy to forget to do simple things like getting dressed, brushing your hair, and even eating! Make a conscious effort to do all the things you would normally do throughout a regular day, such as:[28]
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    • Eating nutritious meals and snacks at regular times
    • Showering, brushing your hair, and cleaning your teeth
    • Getting dressed for the day and putting on your pajamas at night
    • Getting up and moving around
  6. Talk to your boss or teachers about doing work from home. While the idea of having time off from school or work might seem fun under other circumstances, it can be a major source of stress when you don’t have a choice in the matter. Keep in touch with your employer, teachers, or school administrators about what you can do to keep up with your regular work or study routines while you’re sheltering in place.[29]
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    • For example, you may be able to do work online or by video conference.
    • If you have a job that can’t accommodate working from home, talk to your boss about what kinds of leave options are available to you.
    • If you have kids, their teachers will probably develop e-learning resources and online lessons for them. Reach out to the school if you have any questions about how to help your kids learn at home.
  7. Maintain any spiritual or religious practices you normally do. If the shelter in place situation is disruptive to your regular spiritual or religious practices, look for ways to keep them up at home. This can be a source of comfort during a scary and stressful situation. You may not be able to go to your church, temple, mosque, or other place of worship, but you can still find ways to practice your faith wherever you happen to be![30]
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    • For example, even if you can’t go to services at your place of worship, you can still pray, study religious texts, meditate, or make offerings as you normally would.
    • Some places of worship may offer videos or live streams of their regular religious services.
  8. Reach out to your doctor about remote checkups if you have health issues. If you have any conditions that require regular checkups or medical treatment, call your doctor to discuss what to do. They may be able to continue your checkups over the phone or by video chat. They can also advise you on what to do if it’s necessary to seek medical attention in person.[31]
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    • If you’re sheltering in place due to an infectious disease outbreak, such as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, call your doctor right away if you start to experience symptoms. Don’t show up at your doctor’s office or the emergency room without calling ahead first, since they may need to take special precautions to protect other patients, themselves, and you.[32]
    • If you take medications, call your pharmacy to ask about home delivery options.

[Edit]Coping with Negative Emotions

  1. Remind yourself that it’s normal to feel complicated emotions. Being stuck in lockdown is stressful. While everyone reacts to these kinds of situations differently, it’s not unusual to feel a wide variety of different emotions. Try not to judge your own reactions or those of others, and remember that it’s completely natural to feel things such as:[33]
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    • Anxiety or fear for yourself or others
    • Confusion or uncertainty
    • Frustration
    • Boredom
    • Irritability or anger
    • Loneliness
    • Sadness
    • Guilt, particularly if sheltering in place makes it hard for you to take care of your regular responsibilities or obligations
  2. Take frequent breaks between stressful activities. If you start to feel overwhelmed while you’re cleaning, gathering supplies, doing remote work, or caring for family members, stop and take a brief break. Pace yourself so that you don’t get too stressed and start to burn out.[34]
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    • Get up and walk around for a bit, have a healthy snack, or do a few minutes of meditating or deep breathing.
    • After completing a difficult task, like sanitizing your bathroom, take a break and do something fun. For example, you might read for half an hour or watch a little TV.
  3. Meditate or do other stress-relieving activities. If you feel stressed or anxious, look for things you can do to relax. This will help you feel calmer and more focused. A few options include:[35]
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    • Meditating
    • Doing deep breathing exercises
    • Listening to peaceful music
    • Stretching or doing yoga
    • Taking a warm shower or bath
    • Drawing, coloring, or playing music
  4. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day. Getting exercise can boost your mood, raise your energy levels, and lower your risk of developing health problems.[36] Try to work out for at least 30 minutes a day, even if you’re just doing jumping jacks in your living room or running laps around your back yard.[37]
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    • You can also get exercise by doing household chores, like vacuuming your home or mowing the lawn.
    • If you’re staying with your family or other people, you can make physical activity more fun by doing it together. For example, you could have a dance party with your kids or follow a workout routine on YouTube with your roommate.
  5. Write about your feelings in a journal. Writing down how you feel can help your emotions feel more manageable. Jot down your thoughts and fears in a diary, notebook, or computer document. You can also write down things that you feel grateful for to help you feel more positive about the situation.[38]
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    • If you want, you can even write a blog chronicling your feelings and experiences as you shelter in place. This is a good way to create a sense of connection with others while also working through your feelings in a therapeutic way.
  6. Talk to your friends or loved ones about how you’re feeling. If you’re feeling scared, upset, or lonely, reach out to someone close to you. Let them know how you’re feeling and commiserate with them about their own feelings. Sometimes just talking about how you feel can improve your mood.[39]
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    • For example, you might call up a friend or family member and say, “Hey, I’m feeling kind of down and just wanted to chat. Is now a good time?”
  7. Reach out to a counselor or crisis line if you feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, the stress of coping with a major disaster can be too much to handle on your own, and being stuck in isolation doesn’t help. If you can’t shake your feelings of anxiety or sadness, or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, call your doctor, a counselor, a crisis hotline, or your local emergency number right away.[40]
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    • If you live in the U.S., you can get help by calling the SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990.
    • You can also text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 if you live in the U.S., 686868 if you live in Canada, or 85258 if you live in the U.K.


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