Balancing Mental Health, Productivity, and Self Care

Over the past several weeks, learning to balance productivity and keeping busy against mental health and practicing self-care has been more vital than ever.  While productivity and staying busy are sometimes a necessary part of this, it is also important to recognize that there will be times when we just need the time and space to not be okay. 

This is where an important distinction is needed.  You do not need to be in ‘extreme circumstances’ to be struggling.  Acknowledging that others may have a harder time than you does not mean that you cannot acknowledge your own difficulties.  You do not need to be in the worst possible situation for your feelings to be valid.  You just need to feel pushed beyond the boundaries of what you are capable of handling.

Mental Health

There is a common analogy given in stress management. I will link a version of down below but the essence of which is this; 

An individual is given a glass of water and asked how heavy it is.  Eight ounces, twelve, the real answer does not really matter.  The glass is light enough for you to carry with ease for a short while but, after an hour, the strain begins to build.  After a few hours, your arm will begin to hurt.  After a day your arm will feel numb and paralyzed and unable to help you do the things you need to in order to get through the day. 

Our brains work the same way.  We can handle almost anything for a set amount of time but, as the days turned to weeks and those weeks keep adding up, pretending that we are not holding onto a weight will only leave us paralyzed and cripple our ability to move forward.

We need to give ourselves permission to set the glass down which, admittedly, is difficult when you cannot just walk away from the situation… or even leave your house.  But if you can set aside the strain of it, just for a little while, and give yourself space to not be okay.

Previously we have talked over the science behind cabin fever and ways to combat its effects HERE.  These methods, while excellent for shaking yourself out of a funk, are not long-term solutions.  It is important to identify ways to protect your mental health, keep yourself occupied, and embrace self-care.


Protecting Your Mental Health

Limiting Screen Time

Sometimes we all just need a little help fighting our own bad habits.  Most of us are racking up impressive but terrifying average daily usage on our phones, not even counting the contOver the last few weeks I have racked up an impressive daily average of 7+ hours of screen time on my phone alone.  This does not even begin to count the hours spent binging on YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and Prime.  I had constant headaches, had difficulty sleeping and just generally could not concentrate.  Eventually, I just had to cut myself off.

  • Restricting access to certain apps or setting time limits is a great way to keep you aware of just how much time you are spending on your devices. 
  • Lock yourself out of your device entirely for one hour to stop the temptation entirely when you are trying to be productive. 
  • There are also programs you can install on your PC to accomplish the same goals
  • Turn off the ‘AutoPlay’ feature on your streaming services.
  • Try and limit total screen time to 8 hours a day and take breaks every 2-3 hours.  I know that may seem like a lot under normal circumstances, but we are not under normal circumstances.

Stay Active

Not moving is one of the biggest contributors to physical effects of cabin fever.  Muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, even digestive problems can all arise from being sedentary for too long. 

Going for long walks and listening to your favorite podcast or music playlist is a great way to give yourself a break from the screen.  Bike riding around the neighborhood with the kids is a good way to help them burn energy.  Move along to your favorite workout or stretching video, even if you do not go full force just getting up and moving is enough.  Or dance like no one is watching… and then post it to ticktock anyways because why not.

Accountabil-a-buddy

Some people have a strong internal locus of control, setting their own deadlines and sticking to them.  For others we need an external force, be it a boss, a teacher or even a friend, to be accountable too.  If you, like me, need a little bit of responsibility to help keep you focused, reach out to your friends, family, or online community to set up an accountability system.  Check-in with them and have them check in with you.  Set specific goals and try to motivate each other to keep to them.  Often times just knowing that there is someone else keeping track is enough to keep me focused, or at least more so than if left to my own devices. 


‘Productivity’

“You are not working from home, you are home during a crisis trying to get some work done.” – the internet

Let’s share a moment of honesty here.  Being ‘productive’ should not be the end all be all goal right now.  A nice perk, yes.  But not the finishing line.  Mostly I have found keeping busy to be an excellent tool in the toolbox for keeping my head on straight. So long as I focus on what’s in front of me I can forget, if just for a moment, about everything outside my window.

School / Work

For many of us, quarantine still means responsibilities.  And while school and work are not necessarily the first things you might want to jump up and do in the morning, they are a valuable avenue to focus your energy. 

If your job has more leeway it might be a good time to try putting together a new proposal or experimenting with new ideas that you would not otherwise have time for.  I’ve been experimenting with marketing options for the bakery I work at and branching into virtual tutoring for my nanny gig.

My Organic Chemistry class meets online twice a week and, without any other fixed points in my schedule, having that constant has been a tether that keeps me grounded.  I may lose track of time over the weekend but I know, come Monday and Wednesday, I have somewhere to be (even if it is only at my computer).  Additionally, the level of concentration required to even pretend to understand my course materials gives me a reason to, at the very least, keep a clear head for that three day stretch.  While few people are masochistic enough to sign up for organic chemistry unless they absolutely had to, it, if you have ever wanted to try an online class and have

Having a Creative Outlet

I am so lucky to have a creative endeavor already built into my life.  Writing has always been an amazing outlet for me, now more than ever.   That does not mean I don’t still struggle with getting motivated.  What has helped keep me inspired and focused has actually been YouTube tutorials and live streams.  Being around other people, even digitally, who are all trying to accomplish the same goals is a great feeling.

Exploring new creative outlets and opportunities can be fun, though they sometimes require special tools or supplies that you may not have readily available or could come with an unwanted delivery bill, which we talked about HERE

Try revisiting hobbies that you already love but have set aside because you were too busy. Or look at what materials you have available to you and explore from there.  Have paint?  Turn on a Bob Ross marathon.  Randomly stocked kitchen?  Check out SortedFood, Tasty 101, Binging with Babish, or even Mythical Kitchen and get cooking.  Only pencils and paper?  Try drawing your favorite TV characters from Tommy Pickles and Danny Phantom to Sesshomaru and Angewomon.  Or join our nerdy writerly collective and finally put that story idea you have had in your head to paper.  Have a phone? Photography, video, graphic design… the choices are limitless. Find a passion that interests you and that you have the resources to explore and dive in. 

Mental Outlet 

If you are actually serious about learning another language, I cannot recommend Rosetta stone enough. For those who are just curious, free apps like duo lingo are a great place to start.

We have already mentioned online classes as a great option, especially if you want to pursue a degree or certification. For those interested in learning for the sake of learning, Khan Academy and YouTube tutorials are a great place to start. However, SkillShare is still offering one month of free classes (as of the writing of this article) which are generally more comprehensive, better produced and more reliable.

Self Care

Spa Day

I am not normally a ‘spa’ kind of girl.  But even I want to be taken care of every once in a while. 

If you are feeling in a funk, try some of the methods to shake yourself loose HERE first, but then follow them up with a little self-pampering. Have a nice bath or shower, bust out the good body scrubs, clean up your nails, go for a face mask or all of the above!

Eat Right & Drink Water

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the human body was not meant to survive on coffee, potato chips, and French onion dip.  At least, I know my body seriously did not appreciate it when I attempted to do just that.  Ruling out all snacks and junk food is just not an option for most of us right now.  But taking the time to make yourself a delicious, healthy meal can help your body offset all of the sugary salty goodness we’ve been ingesting in the meantime.  A nice clean stir fry or a creamy vegetable pasta are both great places to start. Fill yourself up on fresh fruits and veggies or lean proteins. Eat as much as you want, but make it the good stuff.

Find a cup that you really like, especially one with a straw, and it will help you remember to drink more water.

ProTip from R.W. –

Drinking 16 ounces of water (the size of a large travel mug) is also an excellent way to give your body a fighting chance at normal.  You can temper your water with flavorings, extracts, or even juice if plain water is not your thing.  Water with citrus is one of the best choices, healthwise, though cucumber and mint are also popular.  A 4/1 water with cranberry juice and a little mint or lemon is a great mocktail option to keep you hydrated.

Give Yourself Time to Wallow

Pretending that everything okay is a strategy as old as time and one that, for a limited, is an effective coping mechanism.  We passed the point where that was effective in week two.  Keeping calm and carrying on may be the British thing to do, but it is not necessarily the healthiest. 

Give yourself time to not be okay.  Allow yourself to deal with the stress of this situation in whatever way helps you.  Take up kickboxing, binge watch every single James Bond movie, play Animal crossing for the entire morning.  Give yourself permission, give yourself that time and then, when you have sufficiently wallowed, pick yourself up, have a glass of water and a cool shower, and bring on the day.


Check-in on your friends.  Check-in on your family.  Do what you can to help others, but do not minimize or ignore the load that you are carrying.

We have all been under varying amounts of stress for weeks without a break.  Whether you are in an ‘ideal’ situation or one that is more difficult, do not minimize the weight you are currently carrying. 

When a plane encounters turbulence you are instructed to put on your own oxygen mask first and foremost.   We are in turbulent times, and ignoring your own strain and failing to reach for the oxygen is not a sign of strength or toughness.  Find your oxygen.  Find the thing that keeps you grounded and clear-headed and grab onto it like the lifeline that it is.  Check-in with others both for their benefit and yours.  Keep yourself preoccupied to keep your mind off of things.  And give yourself the time and space that is needed to acknowledge that yes, the plane is shaking.

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