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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Ways to Stay Sane and Relaxed During a Pandemic

I like to think of myself as a well-rounded anxious person. I have situational anxiety—like with public speaking and flying—as well as general anxiety about everything else. What if the elevator I’m in breaks down? What if the subway gets stuck underground? What if the giant rock we’re living on decides to suddenly spin out into the depths of space?

Still, I thought we were starting to put the dread of this horrible pandemic behind us. Now, however, with the Delta variant once again raising infections and filling hospitals, we face another possible winter in quarantine. Even for those less prone to everyday anxieties, things haven't been normal for over a year. A continuous stream of bad news takes its toll on the mind. I've curated some suggestions to help make your living quarters comfy and your mind calm. (Note: These are not meant to treat serious anxiety disorders—those should be discussed with a physician or therapist.)

If you're looking for more traditional ways to keep yourself semi-groomed and presentable, we've got you covered with our Ultimate Quarantine Self-Care guide and our manuals on how to cut and how to dye your hair at home. We also have a handpicked selection of gadgets under $20 the WIRED Gear team loves, movies and TV shows we're re-binging, plus YouTube channels we can't stop watching. Hopefully, they'll keep you entertained—or at least distracted—for a little while longer.

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Updated September 2021: We've added more ways to keep yourself together while staying inside.

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Table of Contents

Make a Home Sanctuary

Your surroundings affect your mood. Start with a clean slate—whether that means simply giving your home a deep scrubbing or purging the junk you've been holding onto—and fill your space with things that make you feel good. 

Add Fresh Scents

A low-lit room with warm, flickering candles can feel especially calming. Studies also show that pleasant scents can improve your overall mood. Of course, they have to be scents that you personally like—it doesn't help if you think citrus smells like bathroom cleaner or vanilla makes you nauseous. These are some of my favorite retailers that offer a wide variety of choices:

  • Yankee Candles ($30): If you miss going to the mall with your mom, Yankee Candles is a classic brand that offers hugely popular seasonal scents. Woodland Road Trip is a WIRED staff personal fall favorite.
  • DW Home ($6+): has more affordable options if you like different scents throughout the day. I'm particularly fond of Warm Tobacco Pipe.
  • Otherland ($36): If you find that traditional candles smell like preteen body spray, Otherland's scents offer a more modern take, and they aren't overpowering. We recommend starting out with Mountain Lace.

Oil diffusers are another great way to turn your home into a sanctuary, and you won't have to worry about an open flame. (Just be careful if you have pets.) WIRED reviews editor Julian Chokkattu loves Muji's diffuser ($70). It's recommended for spaces around 100 to 133 square feet, but the Japanese brand has a larger version ($119) for bigger rooms.

Keep Cool

Summer may be on its way out, but in many parts of the country, heat waves are still turning our homes into saunas. If you don't have air-conditioning, don't let yourself suffer. We have a full guide on how to stay cool, but here are the basics:

  • Get a quality fan like the Vornado 630 ($65).
  • Open several windows to get a cross-breeze going. One open window won't help.
  • Kafka's Kool Ties ($11) are full of polymer crystals that absorb water. Wet one and put it on the back of your neck. It's cooler than you think.
  • And, of course, stay hydrated and keep your belly full.

Wrap Up in a Robe

Whether you're trying to cool off or warm up, you need a robe. I spent March rewatching The Sopranos and noticed that Tony Soprano has a robe collection fit for a king—that's because lounging around the house in one just feels good. 

I put together a list of some of Tony's best, but my top pick is Brooklinen's Super-Plush Robe ($98). It's a classic cotton robe perfect for post-shower drying or even if you haven't made it out of bed in two days. (We're not judging.) It'll keep you warm but won't overheat you. And for a more cooling, slinky feeling, go for the Alexander Del Rossa Satin Robe.

I also tried the Gravity Weighted Robe ($130), with a 3-pound removable collar that's just heavy enough to feel like a deep pressure massage, yet fluffy enough to keep me warm and toasty. (We talk more about weighted blankets below.)

Add Some Green

Plants can transform any living space, making it feel like your own oasis. I lean toward the artificial kind, due to my penchant for killing even those that need minimal care. Target, West Elm, and TJ Maxx have a lot of great faux plant options. You can check your local Facebook Marketplace listings too.

If you want the real deal, you don't have to schlep to the nursery. Lula's Garden ships excellent succulents that are easy to take care of, including this Glow Garden ($32) that even I have succeeded at keeping alive. Everything comes in a pretty gift box that doubles as a planter, so you don't have to repot them until they grow out of it; they also come with plastic droppers for easy watering.

Of course, it never hurts to check out your local businesses, which were hard-hit during the pandemic. It's important to support them if you can. And if you partake in the other kind of green, we like the Pax Era Pro Weed Pen ($70) for indulging anywhere, whether that's in the park or your living room.

Invite Some Birds

A window-mounted bird feeder can connect you to nature. Even if you don't love them as much as I do, you might find all these little chirping birds arriving at your window quite relaxing during a time of uncertainty.

There are a lot of options to choose from, but we recommend starting out with a simple rectangle feeder ($20). Or you can go for a hummingbird feeder ($12) if you're committed to cleaning it every other day (and don't use red dyes in their nectar).

Get a Hobby

I never know what to say when someone asks what I do for fun. Does online shopping and cuddling with my cats on the couch count? If you relate, you may have found yourself in desperate need of a hobby during quarantine. You may have to try a few different things before you find your thing, so if you're still looking for something to occupy downtime, see our roundup of WIRED staffers' favorite hobbies and products getting us through quarantine.

Learn to Knit or Crochet

Knitting and crocheting are relaxing, they take up a lot of time, and they are easier to learn than you think. All you need to get started is yarn, knitting needles or crochet hooks, plus a phone or TV to watch how-to videos on YouTube. I’ve found Kristen Mangus of GoodKnit Kisses and Bella Coco to be exceptional guides. The company Shit That I Knit has knitting kits ($65) that make jumping in really simple.

So far, the rectangles I've created are not turning into anything wearable, but the repetitive motions have kept my mind occupied and my hands off my phone.

Color Outside the Lines

Creating art is soothing and rewarding, but it can be daunting if you don't feel like an artist, and expensive if you need supplies. Just color instead.

There are adult coloring books that might appeal to how you're feeling right now. Might I suggest coloring in curse words ($6)? Or how about This Annoying Life ($10), which features frustrating scenes we can all surely relate to, like going to get ice, only to find the trays empty.

Write It Down

If coloring in a picture of the F-word doesn't do it for you, try writing it down instead. There are many ways you can go about journaling. Write about what happened in a day; try gratitude journaling to remind yourself about the good things in your life; write poems or short stories, or jot down profanities for five entire pages. Writing it down can really ease difficult days.

Journaling can be as simple as tapping in your Notes app. But I recommend pen and paper. A simple paper planner can double as a journal, as well as help you keep track of your tasks. Here are our favorites. I also like Miquelrius notebooks, because the paper is so delightfully soft. 

The Blue Sky Thoughtful Journal ($35) is good for figuring out what to write. It offers prompts, including intentions and aspirations; weekly highs and lows; places to describe a perfect day or favorite attribute about yourself; as well as plain pages for free writing. 

Gabriela Herstik's Embody Your Magick: A Guided Journal for the Modern Witch ($15) is a great option for the witches among us, to guide you through your spiritual practice and get to know yourself a little better. 

Read, Read, Read

I used to go through multiple books a month, until my phone, and then college and work, started taking up more of my time. But there's nothing like cracking open a new book and settling into an alternate world. Plus, filling up bookshelves is an easy way to decorate and make your sanctuary a little warmer.

I prefer real books, but I've recently come to appreciate the Kindle. Many ebooks are cheaper than the hard copy, and if you have a library card (and if you don't, what are you waiting for?) you can check out ebooks for free.

Mind, Body, and Soul

It's important to focus on your mental health during this time, but attending to your physical health can give you a mood boost as well. 

Work Out

Some people work out to relieve stress and feel calm. I am not one of those people, but I do take their word for it. WIRED reviews editor Adrienne So put together a guide on how to work out from home that will help even the laziest and most out-of-shape (me) to get moving.

If working out sounds more stress-inducing than stress-relieving, but you still want to stay somewhat active, try yoga. We have some tips on how to make the perfect yoga space at home, from where to buy an inexpensive yoga mat to how to decorate your corner. Yoga melts away my stress and helps build muscle.

Whether your muscles get sore from working out or from slouching over your computer for the 100th day in a row, a muscle massager (also known as a percussive device) might help fix you right up. We love the expensive Theragun, but there are more affordable options, like the SKG F5 ($129), which adds heat, and the nonpercussive Sharper Image Powerboost ($130).

Clear Your Mind

Meditation is an extremely beneficial tool to feel calm. We are constantly plugged in to what's happening in the world, and right now especially, it's weighing on us. Setting aside time to meditate, with your phone on silent, will give you at least a few minutes of peace.

All you need to meditate is yourself and a quiet place. But it can be hard to turn off your thoughts and focus on the task at hand. We have some tips for how to get the most out of a simple meditation app. A few that we like include the Headspace app (iOS and Android), which has an easy-to-follow beginner's course, a decent free library of guided meditations, and Andy Puddicombe's soothing British voice. Unplug (iOS and Android) has a seven-day free trial. Both have super-short courses, which are perfect for when you're in desperate need of a mental break. 

I love the Core Meditation Trainer ($179), a small device that uses vibrations to help focus your mind and breath as its connected app walks you through practices. However, you don't really need an expensive accessory to learn to meditate.

For a full-body reset, try an acupressure mat like this bundle from Bed of Nails ($180). Acupressure is similar to acupuncture, but instead of needles it uses firm plastic plates—or "nails." It's a lot less scary than it sounds. The pressure those nails create purportedly releases endorphins in the body. While I can't scientifically confirm this, it has helped ease my stress.

Try Tarot

Whenever I'm feeling stuck, I get my tarot cards read to give myself some clarity. Tarot is what you make of it. It can be a spiritual experience, or just a way to practice applying different analogies and approaches to different problem situations. 

If you've never done it before, I recommend getting your cards read by a professional. But you can always learn the ropes yourself. If there was ever a more perfect time to dedicate many hours to perusing the symbols and meanings of tarot cards, it's when you can't go out for non-essential reasons.

I recommend the classic Rider Waite Deck ($20) as the easiest beginner deck, since it has the most resources that reference it. But there are a lot of beautiful decks, as well a few great apps out there. Labyrinthos Tarot (iOS and Android) is my favorite. Here are a few decks that the Gear Team likes: 

Sip Some Tea

I associate coffee with getting out of bed in the morning. Tea, on the other hand, I associate with relaxing at the end of the day, usually curled up in a robe or soaking in a warm bath. When I brew myself a cup, I know it's time to wind down.

If you're not sure what tea to get, a Sips By ($16) subscription might be helpful. First, you take a quiz to figure out the types of tea you might be interested in—pick your favorite flavor profiles, select caffeinated or caffeine-free, loose leaves or bagged—and then you receive a curated selection of four teas. (I chose bagged tea and got four bags of each, equaling about 16 cups altogether.) If you choose loose leaves, you'll get filters as well.

After trying them, you can rate the teas so the next month's box will be more in line with your preferences. It's a fun experiment to develop your preferred flavor profile if you haven't before.

Try an Epsom Salt Bath

Nothing else that makes me feel as good as a warm bath. If everyone took two baths a day, I'm pretty sure we'd achieve world peace.

If you're feeling overwhelmed and have a bathtub, fill it with warm water and Epsom salts. (Dr. Teal's with lavender is my favorite.) Light some candles and pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Now close your eyes and try to turn your brain off for a few minutes.

To up your bath level even more, consider a bath tray ($30) and pillow ($22).

Use a Weighted Blanket

When all else fails, crawl into bed and pull 20 pounds over your body. Scream into your pillow if necessary.

We rounded up our favorite weighted blankets at various budgets. Our favorite is the Yaasa ($249), which feels sufficiently weighty, even compared to blankets I tested that weigh more. It has an open-knit design, so it doesn't get as hot underneath, even if it is a little stiff and large. The Baloo Weighted Throw Blanket ($159) has been a godsend for sharing a bed with a non-weighted blanket fan.

For more drapey and traditional-looking blankets, we also like the Casper Weighted Blanket ($161) and the Luna ($87).

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