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by Alison Johnson, Psy.D
Managing Director


Finding oneself required to stay at home can produce many different feelings.  Anxiety, frustration, loneliness, sad, overwhelmed – you might find that your emotions are running the entire gamut.  The lack of structure, changes in routine and the daily news updates on the COVID-19 pandemic are generating stress and anxiety in particular.  There is a tendency to want to catch up on all the things “you have to do”, or to complete all the “home projects” which you have been putting off for months.  However, the motivation and desire just aren’t there anymore. That’s because we need a different kind of “TO-DO” list, one that raises up our spirits and feelings of self-worth, not one that makes us feel even worse about ourselves!  See if you can commit to doing one of these items every day and record or share your progress.  If you are with your family, you could also do this as a family activity.  Enjoy this one-of-a-kind list to help you manage your mental health and well-being during a time when your self-care and the care of others should be the top priority.


1. Do One Educational Thing


Of course, if you are being home schooled at the moment, or if you are trying to work out how to homeschool your children, then you already have this one covered!  The idea of this To-Do List, however, is to finish it feeling remarkably better than before you started.  For the best effect, find something educational, or learn to do something that you have always wanted to be able to do.  For example:

  • Learn about a wild animal on a nature channel

  • Learn how to do something technical – the remote control you have never been able to use!

  • Choose a period of history and watch a video

  • Learn how to change a tire on a car

  • Learn a strange fact

  • Learn American Sign Language – one sign every day


2. Do One Kind Thing for Someone Else


Think of a random act of kindness that you can do for someone in your family, your neighborhood, or community.  Doing a kindness for someone else has the psychological effect of making you happy too.  

  • Write a letter to a friend

  • Write a thank you letter to a parent or friend

  • Donate to a charity or cause on-line

  • Create a photo collage that you can give later to a friend or family member

  • Check in with someone you know is living alone

  • Volunteer for a chore around the house which you wouldn’t normally do


3. Do One Kind Thing for Yourself


Practice kindness or self-compassion towards yourself:

  • Write a list of all the things you like about yourself

  • Wear clothes that you were “saving for best”

  • Indulge by using the expensive toiletries which you got for Christmas

  • Meditate using an app

  • Nap for 20 mins during the day. Just 20 minutes is all you need to get the benefits of napping, such as improved alertness, enhanced performance, and a better mood.


4.  Do One Kind of Physical Activity


The positive physical and emotional impact of exercise cannot be understated.  The “feel-good chemicals” called endorphins are released through the body when you exercise, reducing depression and anxiety. Thirty mins or more exercise a day for three to five days a week is recommended to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.  Even as little as 10 to 15 minutes a day can make a difference.

  • Making the beds in the house

  • Walking your dog

  • Gardening

  • Dancing to a favorite play list

  • Shooting hoops in your driveway

  • YOU tube exercise programs

  • Yoga


 5.  Do One Kind of Creative Activity


Whether you are creating something or watching someone else being creative, creativity is proven to improve mood and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression(1).  “I’m not creative”, I hear you say…. Everyone has a capacity to be creative or to enjoy creativity.  Remember it is the process not the end result which is just as important to creating positive feelings.  Here are just a few ideas:

  • Art projects, drawing, painting

  • Coloring books or apps

  • Baking, decorating a cake

  • Compiling “outfits” from your closet

  • Sewing, knitting, crochet

  • Woodcraft

  • Decorating

  • Playing an instrument

  • Document a day using your smart phone camera


6.  Do One Kind of Humorous Activity


Laughing is something you need to take very seriously when it comes to your mental health.  There has been a great deal of research to support the hypothesis that there is a positive correlation between humor and positive mental health(2). Here is a small exercise you can do immediately.  Try curling up the sides of your mouth into a half smile and notice any changes to your mood.  Moving these muscles in your face can change your mood in a positive direction.  Try some of these ideas:

  • Create a list of humorous movies or tv shows to watch as a family

  • Read through a list of jokes – and share them with someone else!

  • Go through you photo albums and create an album of your funniest pictures or home videos

  • Create a list of your favorite memes and share them

  • Send a friend a random joke or meme over a text message

  • Watch a stand-up comedy routine


7.  Do One Kind of “Spiritual” Activity


In this category the definition of spiritual can be very broad and roomy.  If you don’t identify or relate to a particular religious or spiritual community, you can still participate in this activity by identifying some kind of power or force greater than yourself.  Much of the research on spirituality and mental wellbeing has found a significant correlation between the two(3).  Please incorporate your own spiritual beliefs and values into these exercises which are very general and not specific to any particular religion.

  • Find a photograph of something which helps you feel closer to a higher power

  • Meditate or pray for 10 minutes

  • Write a list of ten things for which you are grateful




(1) Stuckey HL, Nobel J. The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. Am J Public Health. 2010;100(2):254–263. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497.


(2)  Yim J. Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. Tohoku J Exp Med. 2016 Jul;239(3):243-9. doi: 10.1620/tjem.239.243. Review. PubMed PMID: 27439375.

(3) Forrester-Jones, R., Dietzfelbinger, L., Stedman, D. et al. Including the ‘Spiritual’ Within Mental Health Care in the UK, from the Experiences of People with Mental Health Problems. J Relig Health 57, 384–407 (2018). 

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Photo: AJ

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