7 Ways to Adapt to Life in Social Isolation
Robert Joyce, a patient contributor who lives with MS and asthma, is no stranger to self-isolation. Discover 7 ways he keeps his routine in check
By Robert Joyce, Patient Contributor
The turmoil over the last few weeks caused by this global pandemic has altered so many lives. Many have lost their jobs and we’ve all been forced to isolate ourselves and stop doing so many of the things we’ve always taken for granted.
As I write this, people in the UK are being told to stay at home, only leave the house for essential shopping and to avoid groups larger than two. For many other countries, this has been the norm for weeks already.
While this change in how we manage our lives is difficult for many, it is almost the norm for me. During a typical week, I would do my one day at work after which my only other social interaction would be a trip to the shops to get some fresh vegetables.
This minimal interaction has now been reduced to nothing.
The only reason I leave the house now is to get some fresh air, and perhaps a short walk to keep whatever mobility I still have intact.
Even so, my situation has changed a little, so I’m making sure to employ the following seven strategies to help me to adapt in an even more isolated world.
Keep a routine
It is so tempting to treat this time as a vacation, and I would forgive you if you need to take a few days for a mini break, but this should not last long. Give yourself a short break, and then you have to go back to a properly structured day.
Simple things like waking at 8 a.m. for five days of the week and having two days as your weekend will help maintain feelings of normalcy. Eat lunch and dinner at the same time you normally do and avoid grazing on snacks and treats.
Get dressed and make the bed
Although you won’t be seeing anyone, I’ve found it is important for my frame of mind to make my bed, have a shower and get dressed every morning. Psychologically, this helps me to differentiate between leisure and work time. My mindset is better and I feel like I have achieved something.
Once you’ve made your bed, you’ve completed your first task of the day. This might only be a small achievement, but it sets the right tone for the rest of day.
Have a project
If the current situation has impacted your employment status, it is critical for you to have something to focus on every day. We all hope this situation will improve, and that each country will manage to re-start economic activity relatively soon, but while we wait we should do something productive and proactive.
Is there a new language or skill you want to learn? Do you want to do an online course in programming? Or is there simply a household task that you’ve been postponing because you never had time? Well now is the time. Aim for a goal to give purpose to your day!
To achieve a new goal, I try to use the SMART technique for goal setting. There are many online resources that explain how to do this effectively.
Take care of your mental health
It’s likely that this crisis will exact its toll on your mental health, and you must be careful to make sure this doesn’t become a problem.
There are a few things I do to help me keep my mental wellbeing in check. The first is meditation. I have been doing this for years now, almost every day for 10-20 minutes. I have shared this body mapping technique on my personal blog. It only takes about 12 minutes and is a great way to help clear my mind. After I do this, I write in my journal to help process my thoughts. (I have this published on Amazon if you want to take a look.)
Here are some key things I like to reflect on:
What I am grateful for?
What is my plan for the rest of my day?
What are my goals and aspirations in life?
What happened yesterday and how I do I feel about it?
What I am thinking of right now?
I also like to write down any emotive thoughts which may have cropped up during my meditation.
Your physical health is just as important as your mental health. Exercise is essential, but you will have to be creative about this when social distancing. There are many online resources that have exercise plans, so you have plenty of options to find something that is suitable for you.
You could also take this as an opportunity to improve your diet and to try and fix some of the bad habits you have. Too many pizzas and fizzy drinks are not good for you, and now you have a chance to experiment in the kitchen. Take your time to find nice recipes where you make everything from scratch.
I have enjoyed this myself and now I don’t need recipes to follow. Instead I just use them for inspiration and invent something myself. If it tastes great, then I feel like I’ve achieved something (baked sweet potato fries are AMAZING). However, I have had some disasters too. I once used roasted peppers in vinegar instead of normal roasted peppers and it wrecked a birthday dinner, but this is all part of the learning process.
Be mindful of social media usage
Be careful with social media. It can be great to use this as a way to interact with others and to catch up with friends, but it can also a source of a lot of bad information and negative sentiment.
It’s easy to chase down a rabbit hole of negativity and lose several hours with nothing to show for it. In my experience, it is important to limit your time on Twitter, Facebook etc. Have a set time to use social media and use a timer to limit yourself.
Don’t forget to have fun
I left this for last because I want to end on a happy note. It is important to also have time for fun. This might be watching a series, reading a book, or doing some crafts you enjoy like painting or woodwork. You might even have a games console you can use.
Having fun doesn’t have to cost you anything, either. Because I have lived on a small income for a long time, I use the local library to borrow e-books and magazines instead of buying them. It is such a brilliant resource and it’s free! And everyone has a pencil in the house, so why not try your hand at drawing?
Another possibility is to have a virtual coffee with someone. Arrange a time, use video calling software, and ‘meet’ each other for coffee. Sit on a comfortable chair and have a chat. You can even boost this to chatting with a few friends at the same time. We are so fortunate to live in a time where we have access to this kind of technology.
A final thought
Undoubtedly this time will have its challenges and it will not always be easy. You will worry about your health and safety. Financial concerns are also highly likely. Yes, the government is using words like ‘isolation’ and ‘distance’, but this is only to protect you from this virus.
Isolation does not mean alone.
We are all doing this together at the same time. You are not in this alone.
NPS-US-NP-00614 APRIL 2020
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