Strategies for Coping with Self-Isolation
I have a small sign in my office that reads, “storms don’t last forever.” It feels like a particularly good reminder to me these days, as we all work to adjust to life under the cloud of this pandemic and its related restrictions. Just like small children cooped up in a storm, we may be scared, frustrated, impatient, and fielding so much that is outside of our control. It can feel impossible to imagine that we’ll ever be free and out in the sun with our friends again; but eventually the weather breaks, the sun does come out and life feels a little bit more joyful and familiar.
In the meantime, how to survive these days (weeks, months) of sheltering? One of the best things we can do in a context that feels outside of our control, is to reconnect ourselves with the things we CAN still control. No, it won’t magically erase the stressful effects of living under pandemic isolation, but it can reduce them and it can support a level of need meeting that preserves energy, shifts perspective and keeps us functioning in a way that retains a bit more of our quality of life, restrictions and all.
So, what can we control? It’s hard, from a place of stress, to problem solve, or generate new ideas. Which means, whatever we’re feeling, we can become a little stuck in it, begin to feel like we’re sinking. The following list is general, but meant to get you started on creating a list of your own. A list to help you cope, to buoy you up when it starts to feel like the water levels are getting too high. You can put your list in your phone, or on the fridge. If quarantined with friends or family, encourage everyone to create a list.
I’ve organized this list by categories that make sense to me, but there’s not “right way” to do it. If something different works for you, run with it! Part of feeling empowered (as opposed to powerless) is to put your own stamp on things. Kids (or adults) might like to use a certain colored pen or marker, or decorate their list. The point is absolutely to “make it your own”.
- Be gentle with yourself. That means have compassion if you’re forgetful, moody, distracted or not as productive as you used to be. These are all normal and often unavoidable symptoms of stress.
- Lean in to connection with others you miss spending time with.
- Take space if you need to. Even people who generally consider themselves to be extroverted, sometimes need time and space to recharge.
- Journal. This is a great way to offload emotion and “feel heard” about what challenges you without concern about the judgement or feelings of others.
- Listen to music. Listening to music can shift our mood, affirm how we’re feeling and connect us to a sense of comfort that someone somewhere has also felt as we do.
- Create. Any creative activity is expressive and is also empowering as you exert control over the media used to create things as you see, feel, or need them to be.
- Go slowly. In times of stress we can find ourselves in cycles of reaction that don’t reflect who we are. Going slowly makes time for you notice how things are affecting you and gives you space to adjust things as needed to support your well-being.
- Exercise: Any kind of exercise, but start slow (like walking) if it’s not a regular part of your routine. Slow exercises teamed with an element of mindfulness (enjoying the view while you walk, attending to the breath while stretching or doing qi gong or yoga) can be particularly rewarding and stress reducing.
- Dance parties. They’re not just for kids. Sometimes shaking stress off physically gives a renewed sense of relief and a reconnection to our capacity for joy.
- Attending to the senses: Adjustments to light, getting some sun (don’t forget your SPF) and sounds and scents can help us regulate our nervous system. Salt lamps, fairy lights, incense, essential oils and ambient music can all contribute to the creation of a calming environment.
- Routine: Routine helps our bodies know when to sleep, when to get up, and when and what to eat and when to eliminate wastes, all essential to feeling good.
- Do nothing at all: Sometimes just sitting and allowing yourself the time to “catch up to yourself” is everything.
- Reading. A workout for the intellect and/or the imagination. Also, a great “escape”.
- Puzzles: jigsaw, Sudoku, crossword, etc.
- Mindful activities: cooking, baking, gardening, adult coloring books, writing letters, doing chores. These can keep us busy, absorb our thoughts and give us a break from our worries.
- Spending time in nature. Connecting with nature can be a major source of calm and create a feeling of connection to the wider world.
- Mediation or prayer: There are many great meditation apps available. It’s a personal choice. Explore to see what appeals most to you.
- Other spiritual/faith-based rituals: It can be helpful and illuminating to read up on what other faiths and cultures believe brings people comfort and relief. You can adapt some of these practices to your own needs.
If nothing else, do your best to approach your shifting thoughts and feelings with compassion. Much of the difficult aspects of what we experience in times of stress don’t define who we are, but are a function of our defense mechanism and its investment in our survival. A little compassion goes a long way in disarming those defenses and ensuring we stay connected to the softer, gentler parts of ourselves that are essential to seeing ourselves and others through rough weather.
Amber L. Alexander-Huggins, MS, RCC