As luck (heh!) would have it, my husband’s 100-day medical quarantine managed to end right when a pandemic was gathering steam, so we have this isolation and social distancing thing down pat. My husband’s quarantine was necessitated by an October bone marrow transplant that left him with a very suppressed immune system and required all kinds of extra considerations that I am pretty sure the average person with or avoiding COVID-19 won’t have to deal with — washing towels after every use, changing the bed sheets every other day, no fresh fruit due to bacterial concerns, no food prepared outside the home, etc. — but it is still a headache, right? The end of John’s medical quarantine didn’t mean we could run to Disney World and share popsicles with strangers, but it did mean a gradual lifting of the most onerous aspects (the laundry — dear lord, the daily laundry) so we have found ourselves back to square one of seeing other people and every surface as vectors of doom crawling with germs, grocery carts as Satan’ own delivery system. No biggy! This is old hat at this point.
I think the tips on not exposing yourself to or spreading germs are pretty well-covered at this point but here’s some guidance from one seasoned pro on social isolation to you on the emotional aspects of finding strength and stability during a quarantine.
• Now is a great time to get into hobbies that you have long wanted to explore. I recently took up drawing again after a very long hiatus and it is giving me a very welcome distraction from reality.
• Plan for future things you’re excited about. Maybe it’s your garden. Maybe it’s seeing a friend. It’s easier said than done, but remember that this is temporary. Unless it isn’t and a good percentage of us dies while the others fight for survival in a roiling post-Apocalyptic hellscape. (Okay, ignore that last part — quarantine brain was kicking in).
• Get some fresh air. Open a window. Listen to the early springtime birds. Take a walk. Even sitting outside with the sun on your face for a few minutes is a relief.
• Do what you need to do to feel safe, even if it makes you feel silly. Postpone plans, get that extra bag of frozen fruit or peanut butter, make sure you’ve got lightbulbs and batteries — even if it isn’t necessarily relevant — if it’s bothering you. The whole idea right now is to be kind to yourself in the middle of this crisis so it’s one less thing to obsess over at 3:00 AM when the walls seem to be squeezing in on you like a vise and you can barely breathe. Oh, yeah. I was going there again. Sorry.
• Call a friend or loved one. I am as phone averse as anyone, but there is no replacement for talking to someone with whom you share a history and just giving yourself a good hour or two to catch up. I can tell you that during my husband’s quarantine, the occasional conversations with friends were lifelines, reminding me not only of my life before our isolation, but my enduring fondness and connection for that person. No matter how introverted and privacy-craving we are, as a species, humans still need intimacy and connection.
• Check in on those you know may be going through a hard time. Whether they are worried about the coronavirus themselves or experiencing anxiety or feelings of loss with our world in turmoil, it’s a lovely gesture to let people know you are thinking about them, and it will help you as well to feel better. Kindness is a gift that keeps on giving.
• Do you have a movie you’ve watched a million times that always makes you laugh? Watch it again. An album that means so much to you? Listen to it again. A book that is guaranteed to make you feel better? Read it again. A photo album that is certain to make you smile? Pick it up again. Go for the low-hanging fruit in the enjoyment department. This will build momentum toward feeling better all around.
• Organize. I spent most of yesterday cleaning out a long-overdue refrigerator and cupboards and it was a huge weight off my shoulders. Closets, desk drawers, piles of mail you’ve been meaning to get to and papers you’ve been meaning to sort also offer great opportunities for redirecting your anxiety.
• If you have someone in your life who dismisses or minimizes your valid concerns, tries to gaslight you or promote conspiracy theories that cause distress and it is not more stress on you to cut them out of your life, consider doing that. If it is more stress to entirely cut them out, let them know what your boundaries are on this issue and stick to them. If you need to distance yourself for the sake of your self-preservation, please do that.
• Ultimately, you’re going to need to learn to make peace with uncertainty. We can take all the precautions we are able and it will still not be impermeable. Being mindful and noticing your emotional state so you can stop yourself before you get into a full-blown panic and/or despair mode is such a gift to your psyche and your nerves. It amazes me sometimes how we think our feelings just happen out of the blue when they are so thoroughly connected to our thoughts. Observe your thoughts, not for beating yourself up over but for preventing a tumble down a rabbit hole that is not helpful to anyone. Redirect your thoughts to something neutral and things that are within your control. Expecting to quickly shift from despair or anxiety to happiness is too much pressure on yourself and too steep. Look for relief instead by feeling just a little better. Then you have something to build on. Think of it like a staircase: one better-feeling thought leads to another, which has immediately positive results for your state of mind. If you try to run up five stairs at a time, you could well stumble and fall.
Anyway, I hope this helps. I am not a psychologist or a social worker, but I do know what has helped me.
Continued best thought to everyone. We’ve got this!