We’re in the grip of a global crisis, and millions of us will have to self-isolate at some point over the next few months, either because we’re unwell, or as a precaution. The latest advice is that you should isolate even within a family home — sleeping in separate beds as much as possible, and staying a healthy distance away from other people.
It’s unique to have self-isolation happening on this scale. But it’s not unusual for people to spend time by themselves at home — and there are lessons we can and should learn now from those who do it regularly. Millions of people worldwide live by themselves, and the numbers are growing all the time — at the Living Well Alone Project our resilient, active community of almost 10,000 ‘soloists’ are already well prepared for what’s coming, and these simple steps are drawn from their experience.
1. Stock up on some of what you need…
We’ve all heard the advice — stock up on tinned goods, dried pasta, and of course toilet roll. You might also want to add in other items you use on a regular basis — toothpaste, shower gel, handwash. Kitchen items too — for example baking foil, bin bags, and washing up liquid. Work through your daily routine, and work out what will run out if you use it regularly. And if you’re actually sick, you’ll need paracetamol (NOT ibuprofen or NSAIDs), cough lozenges, tissues, and simple foods like soup. Do remember though that delivery services are still running, and supermarkets are open. Get enough in, but don’t panic buy!
2. …and also some of what you like
If you’re facing the prospect of self-isolating for a week or longer, you’ll rightly be focused on getting the basics in. Stand back for a second — what would you like to have in your cupboards to tide you over? As long as you’re eating mostly healthily, there’s nothing wrong with a little comfort food — a few biscuits, some chocolate, jelly, peanut butter, or ice cream, could be a nice way to treat yourself, especially if you’re feeling really under the weather.
3. Stay connected
Texting, calling, emailing, skyping/facetiming, writing cards and letters, or talking to your neighbours from your door or window — whatever your method/s of choice, staying connected is the single most important step you can take to look after your mental health while you’re self-isolating. Contrary to expectation, people who live alone are typically well connected, and recognise the importance of social contact. They also know that as humans, we’re wired for connection — feeling lonely can creep up on you if you don’t proactively manage your relationships. Check in on people you care about. Get back in touch with old friends. Join a discussion forum online. Whatever you do, stay in touch with other people.
4. …and sort your emergency contact
If you’re self-isolating alone, make sure that you’ve asked at least one person to act as an emergency contact. This should be someone you can call if you take a turn for the worse, and could be a neighbour, friend, or family member. It’s worth being explicit about the role you want them to play — are they going to fetch supplies for you? Are they going to check on you if you don’t reply to messages or calls? Are they going to get medical assistance if you need it? It can be hard to ask for help, so make having this conversation a priority.
5. Make sure you have enough to do
Even with all the texting, calling, skyping and face-timing in the world, if you’re self-isolating (and not working) then you’ll still be facing more time by yourself than you’re probably used to. Make sure you have enough to keep yourself occupied. After a while, TV and Netflix WILL get boring. You’ll finish reading your magazines more quickly than you might imagine, and even looking at cat videos online has its limitations. Mix things up — you’ll get bored of any activity if you do it for long enough. Catch up on some reading time — you can order books from Amazon, or download to a tablet or Kindle. Try a craft — paint, knit, sew, make things — YouTube videos are brilliant. Take an online course — apps like Udemy can help with low cost, high quality options, or you may be able to sign up to something via your local college or university. Bake or cook. Journal. Meditate. If you feel well enough, tackle house projects you’ve been putting off — painting, decorating, upcycling furniture. Whatever you do, make sure you have a good mixture of activities to do on the days when you feel okay.
6. Get outside
The good news is that self-isolating doesn’t have to mean staying inside. Have a balcony? Get outside and enjoy a cup of coffee while you watch the world go by. Watch the sunrise, watch the sunset, and count the colours. Have a garden? Even better. Stretch your legs. Breathe in as deeply as you can. Practice mindful walking — go as slowly as you can, and take time to notice the details. The shapes of the petals, colours of leaves, lengths of each blade of grass. You could draw, if you’re any good at it — or even if you’re not. You could take photographs. You could write. You could just use your eyes. Depending on where you live, you could even leave the house — as long as you don’t come into close contact with anyone else, then a walk around the block, to a nearby park, or a country stroll, are all a good way to get some fresh air and exercise.
7. Enjoy the freedom
It might seem strange to describe self-isolation as being any kind of freedom. But if you are home alone for a while, it’s worth trying to make a mindset shift. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to the frustation of being in one place for days on end — and spending time alone comes with simple joys. Try reveling in having the whole bed to yourself, the freedom to decide what you eat and when, what you watch, do or listen to, and how you organise your things. Wear your PJs all day if you like. If you’re feeling up to it, try dancing like no-one’s watching, or singing your favourite karaoke tunes — feel the freedom, and know that you’re doing it just because you can.
Overall, self-isolation isn’t anyone’s ideal. But with preparation and the right mindset, it’s possible to make it work — and even to be okay about it.