Written by Kim Furlow, Institute for Public Health; Natalie Galucia, MSW; Nancy Morrow-Howell, MSW, PhD; and Emma Swinford, MPH, MSW, Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging
Stay-at-home orders have meant that the routines of millions of people have been disrupted. To stay safe at home, many older adults have been disconnected from jobs, travel plans, grandparent obligations, volunteer engagements, and social gatherings with friends and family. For many, this has been a disorienting shift in the use of time; and for others, it has been very instructive.
In the past two months, we have all been forced to devise a new structure in our days, schedules, and even in our society. We are now finding new ways to fill our time at home, complete our errands, maintain relationships, and decide what fundamentally, on a daily basis, gives us purpose.
To help prioritize time management and restructure our downtime, care professionals recommend making lists of all daily activities and incorporating a variety of things to do, including cooking, connecting with friends and/or family, exercise and rest. This may also be a good time to start learning a new hobby, honing a specific skill or taking a class online. Knowing what you want to accomplish is just as important as it’s always been, so identifying immediate and long term goals keep us on track and provides a sense of accomplishment.
The pandemic provides an opportunity for older adults nearing retirement to think critically about what life might look like in the next few years, or even decades. Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, encourages this group to approach this time as a “practice run in retirement,” during which they might revisit financial plans, consider activities that will be appealing and stimulating not just for days, but for years. We are also more aware of who might help us if we become ill with the virus, and who we are committed to help. The pandemic has emphasized the importance of older adults creating care plans for themselves and their loved ones.
Circumstances surrounding the pandemic have also spurred conversation about the importance of mental and physical health. Newspapers, television commercials and websites are now in the business of health promotion centering on balanced nutrition, regular exercise and movement, adequate sleep, and social connection. Similarly, the importance of positive mental health habits is being discussed by a wide range of sources, including experts at Washington University in St. Louis. Part of time management also includes creating a balance in how we spend our time. We can focus some of our time on new activities, maintaining social connections and remaining healthy, but we also need to know it is ok to spend hours or days bingeing our favorite shows and indulging in tasty treats.
Professionals from the Department of Psychology are speaking with local and national media about ways to ensure good mental health during the pandemic. Institute for Public Health Faculty Scholar, Jessie Gold, MD, MS, who works in the Department of Psychology recently offered these suggestions in an interview with PBS Television.
Developing coping skills, managing anxiety, and combating loneliness are just a few of the topics that are being explored on a wider scale. Specific resources for older adults promoting mental and physical health are widely accessible like this page on the CDC website or this article published by the American Psychological Association. Mindful magazine offers this free guide to meditation as part of any good mental health maintenance plan. It’s okay if you don’t know how to meditate to reduce stress. The quick-read guide offers basic instruction aimed at “improving focus,” “getting to know our pain” and “being kinder to ourselves.”
Whether in articles or tips presented directly by mental health professionals on radio or TV, all resources seem to concur that good time management and insuring good self-care while “sheltering in place” are key to a healthier “new normal” in our future.