During the #COVID19 pandemic, self-isolation may be the right decision for you and your family, but it’s easier said than done. Isolation, whether self-chosen or imposed by government, carries risks to your mental health and we need to talk about how to mitigate the risk. If your lifestyle is busy and you are always on the go, then self-isolation is like hitting a brick wall at 100mph. You need to be prepared and I’m not talking about stockpiling toilet paper. Rather, be prepared for the psychological impact of isolation.
This is especially concerning for people who are prone to depression or already feel lonely; after all, loneliness rivals obesity and smoking as a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Add in fears for cashflow, business stability or job security, mixed with the risk of the actual virus and wowzers, people are in for a rude awakening.
Some people will revel in the idea of a forced hibernation equipped with movie marathons, comfy clothes and an escape from reality. It sounds enticing, but in my experience, it gets old quickly.
As of writing this article, I have not isolated for #COVID19, however, my life has come to an abrupt halt on several occasions after surgeries and resulting pain complications. I often tell the story of how I went from 18 hours a day of “doing” to squeezing my priorities into 2 to 5 hours of functionality and couch-lazing the rest of the time. It’s because of those experiences years ago that resilience and finding ways to succeed when resources are limited are the overarching topics that I share in my speaking, writing and coaching business. It’s also why the subtitle of my book is How to Be Resilient When Life Sucks.
Being cooped up at home when I really wanted to be out with others was really disheartening and that sensation has never left me. Knowing hundreds of thousands, even millions of people are or are about to go through it - sucks. Also on my mind are the children who have never learned how to entertain themselves without constant external stimulation and are about to learn how to play I-spy-with-my-little-eye. Kids aren’t my area of expertise when it comes to resilience, unfortunately, so I can only share adult-focused ideas.
Here are some tips I learned to deal with being cooped up at home. (BTW, I am fully functional again, so gratefully those years are behind me – even so, these concepts still ring true for me today.)
Successfully navigating isolation takes self-awareness, self-compassion and a newfound purpose.
Complaining about the situation you have zero control over, is going to make you feel worse. Me telling you to stop complaining is like telling someone to calm down – completely ineffective. So, complain, just do it strategically. There’s a difference between venting (healthy) and constant complaining (unhealthy).
Complain with awareness and within a prescribed timeline. “Right now, I need 5 minutes to just vent about how horrible I feel this is.” Peppering complaints into every conversation and focusing solely on the negative aspects will actually make you and everyone listening more miserable. Another way to complain strategically is to say a negative statement and force yourself to find a silver lining in it to at least train your brain to believe it’s not all doom and gloom. Find aspects of the situation within your control and focus your problem-solving efforts there.
How many times have you said that you wished you had time to visit with family and old friends? Now you have time. On day 1 of your isolation, make a list of all the people you wish you had more time for in your regular, busy life. Start reaching out and fill your schedule with some virtual conversations or a virtual party using technology. It’s not the same as having the human touch, but it’s the next best option.
When I was couch-lazing during my tough times, everyone else was going on with their regular lives, which made this technique harder. With COVID19, we’re all in this together, so other people will have more time too and may be desperately looking for some connection. They will likely appreciate your effort. If you’re fortunate to have others in your house, use this time to connect in a more meaningful way.
If you think of having two weeks to yourself to do whatever you want at home (providing you aren’t actually sick with the virus) what would you want to accomplish? Make a list! The weeks will fly quickly, even though the minutes may seem to drag. The key is to make the most of the time and focus on small goals so you can feel accomplished throughout your isolation. How disappointed would you be if, at the end of two weeks, you still hadn’t cleaned out that cupboard? Learn a language. Start a new skill. Knit that sweater. Write that book. Strategize for your business. Tackle that nagging problem. Get organized. Take an online course. (I offer a couple online courses!) Research better, more effective ways to do what you do, because eventually things will go back to normal - be prepared. Use this time to do the projects that get ignored when you’re caught in the hustle of daily life.
Remember Newton’s first law of motion? (No? Well, you have extra time to learn about it!) Essentially it says that objects remain at rest or in uniform motion until an external force changes that – and that applies to humans too. How your day starts will have a big impact on how it will progress. Keeping a morning routine could positively contribute to a more fulfilling day at home.
Be aware that resuming the horizontal position on the couch to watch one movie can easily turn into a day of consuming a full season of a show you barely like or getting lost in WNetwork romances. A few couch-lazing days are probably healthy as you isolate, just be sure you’re choosing them rather than using it as a technique to go numb in a tough situation.
Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule or popular productivity techniques like “just commit to 10 minutes of a task” or “when I get up to go to the bathroom, I’ll stay up and do something” can get you started on more meaningful tasks.
For years, I’ve been asking people to delete “busy” from their life. One reason is because I believe we hide in the spinning of busy and wear it as a badge of honor. That way, we too busy to deal with the uncomfortable feelings, like shame, guilt, regret, anger, that surface when we go quiet. It’s why meditation can be so hard for people. The truth is, this could be the first time in years many high achievers have been forced to pause and not have external stimuli occupying their mind.
What if COVID-19 offered a “reset” button for your life. Run a personal experiment, block out all distractions and figure out what makes you tick. It’s such a rare opportunity to stop the chaos from spinning around us. Even vacations don’t have the same impact, because the expectations just pile up while you’re gone. The quiet can bring up a lot of issues – explore them and hopefully you can come out the other side less vulnerable to old patterns, happier and more in flow. There are lots of free resources on the internet to help you through this. Seek professional advice from a health care professional or coach if you get into emotional trouble. (virtually of course)
The earth has shifted under your feet. This is uncharted territory – for everyone. We will get through this, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. You may face regrets or have a lot of self-criticism during this time. It’s natural when you’re left alone with your thoughts or have a massive shift in how you approach your day-to-day. Yes, you *should* have saved money for a rainy day, so that a business shut down doesn’t bankrupt you. Sure, you *could* have created that online program or started that side hustle earlier. Yes, you may feel restless or lazy or like you’re unproductive during this time. None of these are helpful judgments as you navigate COVID-19 lock downs.
When in doubt, reach out to others and talk about your feelings. Find ways to exercise at home to keep the blood pumping and seek ways to infuse humor into each day.
We’re all in this together.
For more ideas on being resilient, check out my book How to Be Resilient When Life Sucks and follow me on Linked In where I'm most active. Virtual programs and lots of content are available at AllisonGraham.co.