As Americans settled in uncomfortably to a "quarantine normal," we took a deeper look at their tactics for coping with the transition.
Words by Jaymie Wahlen, Visuals by Emi Tolibas
Through the first wave of COVID-19 Diaries research, things were tense. People were reeling with fear, anguish, and foreboding, wondering what would happen to their health, jobs, schools, and families. Whatever routines they had were changed overnight.
Fast forward to the first week of April and our research captures a time when Americans settled uncomfortably into a new “quarantine normal” that our scout Patrick calls “Despairdom.”
And while this new way of living presented massive challenges for Americans, it was a sacrifice most understood and were willing to make. 83% of participants agreed that our leaders should prioritize “slowing down the epidemic at all costs.” And there were signs that Americans were finding ways to be positive with the pandemic in their midst.
Manesh described it as “a vacation at home” with his family.
Magaly felt like she was creating “a space for fitness” in her life.
Joshua F. valued the introspection and time for “understanding himself.”
While the sentiments may have been different amongst participants, the baseline was the same. Americans of all stripes were trying to adjust and cope with this unprecedented change in daily life.
In this round of the COVID Diaries we are specifically digging into their coping mechanisms—the strategies, approaches, and wisdom participants deployed to overcome the abundant challenges of everyday pandemic life. You’ll see the opposing forces shaping the pandemic experience, and the ways people struggled for some sense of control over all this chaos.
We saw an incredible will in parents to make things okay for their kids, in teachers to make distance learning work, and for people to connect with each other despite the physical distance. Americans rediscovered creative outlets, found solace in family, and created new rituals in the absence of the old.
There is something about a crisis that brings out both the worst and the best in us. Despite the fear, panic, and hoarding of essentials, many found ways to support and connect with strangers, neighbors, and family members.
1. Adopt a positive mantra
Be positive, remind yourself that this is temporary, and, above all, stay patient. Positive reminders are a prime way that participants tried to keep their fears at bay. Some mantras they used:
Keep it in perspective
Make lemonade from lemons
See the glass as half full
Repeat: we’re happy and healthy
Take it one day at a time
Stay in the moment
Keep your head on straight
Pick your battles
This too shall pass
This is only temporary
It's not forever
Find something to look forward to
I do a lot of positive self-talk. I remind myself of the blessings that we do have and that everyone in my immediate family is healthy.
A ritual that bookends the day can help focus your mind and, paradoxically, release your anxieties.
3. Be intentional with your time, space and mental energy
Be intentional about the things in life you can control. Take in healthy doses of self-discipline and structure in all things: work, rest, content, consumption.
SCOUT TIP: Get into the habit of doing an end-of-day reflection. Our scouts recommend asking: “What expectations am I letting go of today?”, “Who am I connecting with today?”, and “What am I grateful for today?” (Michelle M.)
4. Lean on someone
You don’t need to go through this alone. Whether you turn to a partner, friend, or a professional, make sure to confide in someone you trust.
Being home for days on end created new tensions, but also new opportunities. Our physical health and freedom felt more fragile and precious than ever. For many people, staying healthy and active was as crucial to their mental wellbeing as it was for their physical health.
1. Get outside everyday
A daily walk can be a simple tether to the outdoors and a chance to see beyond the current reality.
SCOUT TIP:Just opening a window and sitting near it for a few minutes can give you the “outside feel”—even if you can’t get away that moment. (Annabelle Y.)
2. Don't give up the gym
It bears repeating: physical health is mental health. Log into a virtual fitness class. Make use of your “home gym.” Endorphins do wonders.
SCOUT TIP: Household items make great hand weights. Mark put gatorade bottles to good use for an upper body workout.
With the outside world full of chaos and uncertainty, many did what they could to at least keep their work, their homes, and their finances solvent. People drew some comfort from logging hours and keeping money coming in. For many of those who lost their jobs or had to reduce their hours to care for their children, fresh planted gardens and clutter-free closets gave them a chance to exert some control.
1. Get to work
A 12-hour work day sure can pass the time. Economic uncertainty has put some folks' appetites for work into hyperdrive. The lack of distraction is an added bonus.
SCOUT TIP:Institute a 10-minute rule. Set a timer for 10 minutes and commit to doing one thing. At the end of that time period you’ll be impressed with what you accomplished, and you can switch modes and start doing something else. (Leif S.)
2. Finally tackle those projects
A few days at home reminded us of all the projects we’ve never quite had the time for—building that garden box, emptying the junk drawer, slapping on a fresh coat of paint. Many, many people took this opportunity to fix and upgrade their homes and gardens—creating a sanctuary during quarantine.
3. Learn something new
Distancing inspired new hobbies and awakened dormant passions. Spanish, saxophone, and sourdough are just a few of the interests that were kindled in participants.
A small sample of our participants' COVID pursuits:
Practicing a fine art like drawing and painting
Getting crafty with wreaths, friendship bracelets, posters, and baskets
Making keepsakes like photo books and posters
Baking bread and learning the art of sourdough
Picking up a new language (Spanish and Italian) in the hopes of future travels
Playing an instrument (like guitar)
Taking an online course (like data science)
Becoming self-sufficient (like learning how to garden and rear chickens)
I learned how to make friendship bracelets. I made a poster for my room. I’m playing instruments. I learned how to do the worm and the splits.
Working to make a difference in the lives of family, friends and those on front lines was a key interest for our scouts. For many, this meant donning the mantle of “Super Parent.” For others, it was sewing masks or donating blood.
Social distancing and stay at home orders may have separated families and friends physically, but the hunger for connection was stronger than ever. With feelings of isolation common, people leaned hard into digital communication—battling fear and uncertainty with frequent outreach, lighthearted conversations, and nostalgia.
1. Reach out and say hello
The word that participants emphasized here was “intentional.” Be intentional with communication. Reach out and check-in on others. Really ask “how are you?” This message seemed especially true for people feeling down or alone.
2. Take advantage of being together
If there is a silver lining to all of this that Americans saw, it was a chance to reconnect with the people they live with. Parents of teens and college-aged kids were keenly aware of this being such a rare opportunity for them to all be together.
3. Get together and do stuff virtually
While one-on-one time is important, people see the critical importance of gathering in all sorts of groups to bring more fun energy and connection to their COVID lives.
SCOUT TIP:For happy hours, have each friend share their favorite drink or cocktail recipe. (Aileen V.)
4. Take advantage of animal companionship
Pets have provided pet owners love, solace, and cuddles. Many non-pet owners are considering fostering or adopting new buddies.
There is something about a crisis that brings out both the worst and the best in people, and this “invisible threat” has inspired a lot of fear. Still, we’ve seen that even in wars or pandemics, people fit themselves to new realities, finding comfort in reputable information and doing what they can to protect themselves and their loved ones from physical, financial, and emotional stress.
1. Be well informed and vigilant
Rather than giving into panic and collecting misinformation, people found resolve in straightforward guidelines from reputable sources like the CDC.
2. Cut back and save up
For many, being frugal is not an option, it’s a matter of survival. For others, financial planning provided a sense of control in anticipation of long-term financial uncertainty.
3. Keep calm and carry on
Many people worked to maintain a sense of normalcy, especially parents. Their own concerns took a back seat to the needs of their children. Many managed their kids' stress and fear by playing games, stocking up on favorite foods, and having fun as a family.
4. Strengthen that immune system
Cooking at home became an opportunity to learn some healthier recipes and eat better. Vitamins, juicing, and immune-boosting were added to our scouts' menus.
SCOUT TIP: Darnell’s healthy tea recipe includes fresh turmeric and ginger root, cinnamon sticks, and honey.
Amid all this distress there looms a sense of social pressure. Participants struggled with the feeling that they weren’t “winning quarantine.” Many parents, now entrusted with educating their own children, had to come to terms with “lowering the bar.” Many struck “bargains” as they tried to live up to lingering expectations from their pre-pandemic lives. On the whole, many people embraced a “good enough” mindset, possibly for the first time in their lives.
We all learned that people loved movies during the Great Depression because it provided an escape. Now, people have an endless supply of digital films, shows, and books to occupy them.
I’ve been trying to busy myself on social media, watch YouTube, watch Netflix, and just try and forget that this is all happening.
Video games, board games, and puzzles provided much needed distractions. Games like “Codenames” and “Animal Crossing” earned special mention.
3. Treat yourself
Small pleasures and old comforts have helped people rest and recover. A long soak in the tub, a face mask, or a glass of wine can feel like embracing a familiar and positive friend.
4. Parents, be kind to yourselves
We used to joke that parenting was a “full-time” job. Now, we know better. Working from home, keeping children entertained, and trying to support homeschooling was more than any of our scouts bargained for. Parents worked to accept that they were doing their best, and that perfection is just an idea designed to torment.
SCOUT TIP: Give your children—and yourself—an hour-long break. Your child can go to his/her room and put music on or have some calm downtime (no TV). This gives you an hour off to recharge and unwind. (Lauren B.)
We fielded this research between April 3rd -April 7th using dscout’s “Express" missions, a new methodology based on dscout’s screener platform. 905 participants answered a combination of closed-ended questions and open-ended prompts.
In addition, we conducted a diary study with 40 participants focused on capturing changes in everyday life with COVID through photographs. You see their images throughout this document.
Jaymie Wahlen is the VP of Customer Success at dscout, where she works to make dscout the most customer-centric company on the block. When she’s not leading dscout’s team of Research Advisors, you can find Jaymie spinning a pottery wheel, or seeking out the world’s best street food.
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