Need Help Getting Through the Day? Here’s How to Find Purpose During the Pandemic

Follow these tips to foster your inspiration and motivation.

woman looking out window

Updated on April 14, 2020.

If you’re struggling to find a sense of motivation or meaning during the coronavirus pandemic, you’re not alone. Major life changes—like isolating ourselves from others, working from home and homeschooling kids—have disrupted our daily lives, leaving many of us feeling uncertain, stressed, anxious and even depressed.

“When we become lost in our thoughts of the future by worrying, ruminating and feeling anxious, it can become difficult to focus on tasks at hand, which in turn affects productivity and sense of purpose in life,” says Denise Shields, PhD, ICF Certified Coach and Director of Curriculum, Delivery and Research at eMindful, an online mindfulness platform.

“It can be tough to find purpose when under quarantine,” adds Carly Lupo, MSW, LCSW, and founder of Adaptive Mind Therapy in West Palm Beach, Florida. “Quarantine can make it difficult to engage in fulfilling acts, but it can also be hard to complete the daily skills of living, like showering, cleaning and doing laundry, too.”

Uncertainty in the world may make it feel hard, but finding your daily motivation and reason for being can help you navigate these challenging times—and boost your mental and physical health.

The benefits of purpose

Researchers have frequently linked purpose to positive health outcomes. For example, it was associated with fewer hospital admissions and ER visits, more preventive care and higher quality of life in one 2018 study of older adults published in Population Health Management. And in a 2019 study in JAMA Network Open, purpose was connected to a lower mortality rate in people over age 50. Scientists found that participants with a greater sense of it had a longer lifespan.

“Feeling connected to a purpose in life is like having an anchor in the wild sea,” says Shields. “A lack of purpose can cause additional stress and anxiety, leading to a decrease in overall well-being.”

How to find your why every day during the pandemic

When the world feels out of control, finding purpose may seem like an impossible task. But taking small steps or making small changes daily can help you live a more meaningful life during uncertain times. Here’s how:

Aim for daily goals. Whether you want to try to make something out of lockdown by organizing your home, getting more exercise or starting a larger project like learning a new language, creating a list of goals promotes a sense of accomplishment when your everyday life is out of whack.

Keeping your ambitions more modest is entirely okay, too. “Be sure to write your goals down and mark each task off, even if that task is as small as getting out of bed and showering,” adds Lupo.

Set an intention each morning. Intentions are guiding principles—the values that drive you—which makes them slightly different from goals. Establishing them daily can boost feelings of productivity and worthiness.

“Setting intentions is like creating a map of where you want to go,” says Shields. “It only takes a few minutes of mindful reflection to set an intention for yourself.”

Your intentions will be personal, but some simple examples include, “I will make someone smile today” or “I will call my loved one today.” You can also try reflecting on the things for which you’re grateful.

Reach out to friends and family. Staying in touch with loved ones maintains connectedness and acceptance. Try using a video conferencing app to chat face-to-face, like Zoom or FaceTime; play online games that enable players to log in remotely, like Jackbox; or start a remote book club.

Contribute to the greater good. If you’re able, donating to charity or volunteering (when possible) can give you purpose and help you feel connected to your neighbors, not to mention help someone affected by the pandemic.

“Start by connecting what you are passionate about with a need that others may be experiencing right now and do something that builds on that,” Shields recommends.

Food banks and other non-profits are in dire need of both money and help; check a charity review site like Charity Navigator or Charity Watch for other COVID-19-specific suggestions.

Practice good-for-you habits. While keeping up a healthy lifestyle may not lead to self-actualization, per se, it can contribute by helping you concentrate and boosting your mental state overall. So:

  • Don’t hit the snooze button. Sleeping late may feel tempting when you’re confined to your home, but try to stick to your regular schedule. Not only will it add a sense of normalcy and routine to your day, but established sleep and wake times can help maintain good health, too.
  • Go outside. Even if you don’t log hours of exercise every week, getting outdoors and moving around can improve your mood and enhance focus. Just be sure to observe social distancing and remain a minimum of 6 feet away from others. If you’re in a densely populated area, you should also wear a non-medical cloth covering over your mouth and nose, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Eat a balanced diet if possible. There are countless reasons to eat a healthy, well-rounded diet, including reduced risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. But research has shown that what you eat can have an impact on your mood, too. For example, in one 2019 meta-analysis in Psychosomatic Medicine, scientists found that a diet low in “junk” food and high in fiber-rich, nutrient dense foods like vegetables improved depressive symptoms.

    Many people have limited access to groceries right now, so do the best you can with what’s available. And remember: It’s okay to indulge on comfort foods occasionally—just try to balance them out with more nutritious choices.
  • Practice self-care and self-kindness. The extra free time you may have during quarantine provides the perfect opportunity to practice self-care, says Lupo. Self-care routines are individual, so it’s important to do what makes you feel good—whether that means skipping laundry day or going for an extra-long run.

Finding purpose in your everyday life is important, but it’s okay to take a break from daily goals, intentions and activities. “Remember to offer yourself kind compassion, knowing it is hard for most everyone right now—including you,” says Shields.

If you experience feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety or depression that become debilitating or interfere with your everyday life, or if you have thoughts of self-harm, it’s important to seek help right away. Get in touch with your healthcare provider, text HOME to 741741, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or call, text, or chat 988.

Article sources open article sources

S Musich, SS Wang, et al. “Purpose in Life and Positive Health Outcomes Among Older Adults.” Population Health Management. April 2018.139-147.
A Alimujiang, A Wiensch, et al. “Association Between Life Purpose and Mortality Among US Adults Older Than 50 Years.” JAMA Network Open. 2019;2(5):e194270.
Marla Tabaka. “Setting Goals Isn't Enough: Setting Daily Intentions Will Change Your Life.” July 11, 2016.
Melissa Eisler. “Intention Setting 101.” Mindful Minutes. September 6, 2014.
JR Lunsford-Avery, MM Engelhard, et al. “Validation of the Sleep Regularity Index in Older Adults and Associations with Cardiometabolic Risk.” Scientific Reports. September, 21 2018.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission.”
J Firth, W Marx, et al. “The Effects of Dietary Improvement on Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Psychosomatic Medicine. April 2019, Volume 81, Issue 2.

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