Surviving 5 Months of Quarantine (and Beyond): How to cope and maybe even thrive

My family and I went right into self isolation on March 1st and the official “Shelter in Place” in San Francisco started March 17th. Most of us around the world have been in lockdown for the past few months. The last 5 months in 2020 have been very challenging for many of us of all walks of life.

I certainly recognize as many people in the tech and media industry have, that we have the immense privilege and safety of being able to do our business from home. But for me and many of this working generation, it’s been especially weird & hard to adapt to this environment due to decades of easy mobility and travel.

Yet as always in times of crisis and challenge, you are forced to learn about yourself and the people around you. One of the practices I began in April was a Daily Weather & Mood Journal. It’s helped me understand what drives my moods and productivity. This is like looking at the key metrics in your business and learning what drives performance. Or in the case of us people, it’s about what drives our happiness or sense of progress/accomplishment.

So some observations and lessons.

1. Lots of emotional ups & downs:

Yes, this is life in general. But it seems far more extreme when in lock down in the middle of a pandemic + economic recession + civil disturbance. We all just have way more time to think. This is the reason solitary confinement is used as an especially dreaded punishment in prisons around the world.

It’s okay to be down & feel anxious/sad & unproductive (for some of the time). This tweet storm below is really apt.

Alexis Rockley on Twitter: “Let me be clear (a thread): Those “all over the place” feelings you’ve been having? They are symptoms of stress, NOT personal failures of yours. Do you feel FLAKEY + INCONSISTENT? That’s b/c your brain doesn’t know what news to brace for next, or what next month will hold.”

Mourning the past and pre-Covid world is okay. This is the only way to move forward into this new world we find ourselves. So forgive yourself if you don’t get much done during this time.

2. Have a daily routine & wear work-related clothes:

This was very important for me. Burnout is a real issue when you are working from home. Personally as an obsessive compulsive, hours bleed into another. You literally can spend all your waking hours working.

Additionally, for me it’s hard to get in a good frame of mind if you are doing work in your pajamas. So I made sure to specifically demarcate my home and work life. I did this by changing into work clothes in the morning. I also had to mark a specific part of my house for my projects and taking calls.

3. Have self-improvement & learning projects:

I have always been a big self development guy and my big motivation in life is just to be learning new things all the time.

So I used this opportunity to read a lot of books, listen to podcasts, join some workshops and masterminds. I joined the Managing Happiness mastermind & Bullseye Workshop which was really helpful. (Thank you David & Nick). Now in process of taking “Write of Passage” writing class (Cohort 5 baby!).

These activities help me get charged up. I also think it’s important to feel like you are making progress and not wasting time.

4. Get sun, fresh air, exercise & meditate:

Exercise is self explanatory, yet overlooked. It gets the blood circulating and you always feel better. Not doing it makes you feel bad. Period. I follow a morning exercise routine and try to go for a walk outside when the weather is good.

I traced some of my low days to being indoors all the time, the consequence from lack of sunlight. I now fully understand how my Nordic friends feel during, well….most of the year. Taking vitamin D has been helpful but does not replace getting as much sun and fresh air as possible. (Especially in San Francisco during summer time, which is notoriously foggy).

Having a regular Tai Chi and meditation practice has also been immensely helpful for me mentally.

5. Be careful of too much news or social media:

“If it bleeds, it ledes” whether on Facebook or New York Times. It’s good to be informed but it can be tough. I have specifically traced bad days to reading too much news. There is just SO much bad news out there these days it seems. But the present media is designed this way.

My strategy? I limit this news reading time to 1–2 hours a day. If I read something that makes me angry (also very common these days), I shut down the computer. Then I read a western or Science Fiction novel, or go for a walk or just listen to some happy 80s or 90s music.

6. Always have a small reward to look forward to daily or weekly:

For me, it was buying a half dozen donuts every two weeks. Or having ice cream once a day. Or playing Super Mario Kart with my daughter in the evening. Could even be buying a new book once a week to get me through the day or week. Small treats are very helpful to get you through a rough patch.

7. Have a Tribe & regular catch-up calls:

One thing that has been helpful for my sanity was to build an informal group of friends in venture capital, Family Office, founder & entrepreneur that I talked with every 2 or so weeks.

This regular cadence was helpful and served as an opportunity where i could talk through what was going through my head or what i was experiencing. Extended social isolation is dangerous even for introverts.

8. Help others when & where you can:

I always made sure to schedule calls with some of my old portfolio company founders to chat. I also keep busy mentoring at other startup accelerators or speaking at startup webinars/online conferences.

Being of use and able to help others is a balm for me personally. Professionally, it also keeps me aware of what’s going on in the startup world. I’m in an industry that changes all the time so it can be hard to stay relevant or up to date.

9. Having Personal Time and Space too:

Even if you are fortunate to be around family or friends, being stuck together for days and weeks on end is not healthy. Making sure you have specific set time to yourself, especially if you are an introvert like myself. Helps to not get on each other’s nerves as much as you care about each other.

I really hope these ideas & thoughts are helpful for everyone. Sadly for us in the USA, the data points to not getting out of lock down anytime soon.

My suspicion? This lockdown will last through the rest of 2020. So we might as well learn how to survive and thrive while we are still Sheltered in Place for the foreseeable future. And everyone should know, in situations like this, “surviving is winning.” Personally I am determined to come out of this year better than when I went in.

Hope to see you all on the other side of this pandemic, hopefully smarter, healthy and sane!

Written by

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything! www.marvinliao.com

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