6 Ways to Cope When COVID-19 Forces You to Stay Home

Hunkering down at home is crucial to helping slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Try these tips to get by.

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Updated on March 24, 2020.

As COVID-19 continues to spread in the United States, most of us are staying in and around our homes to “flatten the curve” and help slow the spread of the infection. And while you’re doing the right thing by socially distancing yourself from others, hunkering down in a single place—potentially for weeks, if not months—can add to the stress you may already be feeling. Here’s how to practice sensible habits and keep a level head during an extended stay at home, when you’re seemingly far from others and a far cry from your normal routine.

Be smart about supplies

While certain items may be low in supply at your local supermarket, there are currently no nationwide food shortages, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. So, when you’re purchasing groceries, personal items and household goods, buy a few extra items so you can extend your time between trips to the store—and then stop. Stockpiling in excess feeds into panic and can lead to scarcities. When it’s time to shop, visit stores during off-hours or consider having your goods delivered.

If you take medication, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends you consider having a 2-week supply on hand. For those at higher risk of severe illness, including older adults and people with heart disease, diabetes and other chronic medical conditions, the CDC advises you to have enough medication and medical supplies on hand “so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.” The agency also suggests contacting a healthcare provider (HCP) about extra medications; mail order may be an option if you’re unable to obtain extra meds in person.

For people with prescriptions for a mental health disorder, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) encourages you to ask your HCP about obtaining a 90-day supply of medication, rather than a 30- or 60-day supply. If this isn’t possible, NAMI suggests refilling your prescription as soon as you’re allowed.

Consider setting boundaries for news

While you should stay informed about the pandemic, you may want to limit what you watch and read about COVID-19 if it makes you excessively anxious or sad. Try focusing on the news just once or twice daily, or for a few minutes at a time. It can also help to prioritize local news. In addition, it may help to seek material from credible resources that offer concrete measures that will help you safeguard yourself and your family.

Keep up a healthy lifestyle

While you’re at home, experts recommend sticking to a familiar routine and maintaining healthy habits.

  • Eat balanced meals at regular times and drink plenty of water.
  • Maintain a consistent sleep schedule; wake up and go to bed around the same times every day.
  • Avoid overuse of drugs and alcohol, as they may harm your physical and mental health both in the short and long term.
  • De-stress when possible. Set aside specific times to do things you enjoy, such as reading a book or gardening. Relaxation practices like deep breathing or meditation may also be helpful in taking your mind off current events.

Make sure to get adequate physical activity, too, since exercise can keep you in shape and relieve stress. If you have kids, go outdoors and give them time to play. You can also try walking, running, biking or hiking alone or with your family, or doing simple fitness routines at home.

Exercise videos are also widely available online, and many gyms and trainers are doing live workouts on social media. The American Heart Association recommends creating your own circuit workout, during which you do three or four exercises (jumping jacks, jogging in place, etc.) in short bursts, then repeat them.


It may take some extra effort to maintain relationships while you’re at home, but staying in touch with coworkers, family, friends and others within your community can keep you from feeling isolated. Connect through phone calls, texts, video chats and hand-written letters. Join interest- and neighborhood-based social media groups to exchange tips, discuss local developments and talk about your feelings. Many people are having similar emotions; you won’t be alone.

If you fall into a high-risk group, ask loved ones to periodically check up on you. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you become ill.

Help others

In times of crisis, aiding others can give us purpose and provide a valuable distraction. Though you may not be able to leave your home, there are still ways to lend a hand in your community.

For example, talk to older people and others in high-risk groups about how they’re feeling. Ask what they need and offer help while still following the tenets of social distancing. Running little errands such as picking up groceries or mailing a package can be a big assistance. Remember to check in on them periodically as time goes on.

You can also donate to local food banks and other aid organizations, which may be dealing with increased demand, or buy gift certificates from local businesses, since many small operations are facing serious financial troubles. Some restaurants are increasing their takeout or delivery capabilities to help keep themselves afloat; order in and tip well if you’re able. To be extra safe, have the food left at your door, throw packaging away, and wash your hands after unpacking the meal.

Recognize signs of a bigger problem

While being stressed, angry or sad about the pandemic is normal, it’s important to ask for help or reach out to an HCP if you’re overwhelmed, or if your feelings affect how you function for more than a few days. It’s especially critical if you have a substance use disorder or have been previously diagnosed with a mental health condition, such as depression.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis or is considering self-harm, reach out to your HCP, text NAMI to 741741, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call, text, or chat 988 right away.

Of course, if you think you or someone you live with has COVID-19, or if they’re showing symptoms of the disease—such as a fever, dry cough or breathing problems—call an HCP or your state or local hotline for advice.

People with mild symptoms of COVID-19 should stay in place while they recover. Remain in touch with your HCP, and if your symptoms worsen while you are home, reach out right away. You should also take care to isolate yourself from others. Specify a “sick room” and a separate bathroom if possible.

Above all and regardless of your status, remember to follow the essential preventive measures against COVID-19 wherever you are.

Article sources open article sources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Coping with Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks.” October 2014.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Frequently Asked Questions.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): How to Prepare,” “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Are You at Higher Risk for Severe Illness?” “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Manage Anxiety & Stress,” “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Resources for Home,” “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): What To Do if You Are Sick.”
National Alliance on Mental Illness. “NAMI Updates On The Coronavirus.” March 20, 2020.
World Health Organization. “Mental Health Considerations during COVID-19 Outbreak.” March 6, 2020.
Mental Health Association in New York State. “MH Update – 3/12/20 – Very Strong Statement from Mental Health America about Mental Health Impact of COVID-19.” March 12, 2020.
American Heart Association. “Resources to maintain healthy lifestyle amidst COVID-19 outbreak,” “If you hunker down against coronavirus, don't stop reaching out, experts say.” March 2020.

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