How To Emotionally Manage Your Social Isolation

birds eye view of a dark haried woman sitting on a couch with a backpack and pillows, in her living room

Listen to your chronically ill friends and family right now. We are experts in this field. We know what’s up.

It looks like we are headed towards many more people needing to isolate themselves at home, for an undetermined amount of time. Many of us chronically ill folks have needed to live this way for years already. Believe me, it is doable and it is not as bad as you’d think. In fact, people getting so bummed out about this publicly is kinda bumming me out lately because “social isolation” is my everyday life. People acting like it is the worst thing imaginable really sucks. (Alright, maybe I’m just jealous of you “healthy” “people” who get to “leave your house” “everyday”).

It isn’t that bad and anyone can get used to it. I am, as they say, quite the social butterfly and I have gone through periods of actual, complete social isolation, albeit not by choice. I continue to stay home most of the time, leaving for medical appointments and then maybe another social thing a week. The longest I’ve gone in actual social isolation was from being bed bound by surgery for several months, so it wasn’t like I could go anywhere even if I wanted to. If anything, that might have made it easier because I didn’t have a choice.

This time around, for so many people, it might not be as easy because you don’t have a choice, but you kind of do. If you get that cooped up, can’t-stand-it-anymore feeling, you might say fuck it and go downtown even though you technically aren’t supposed to. I am not advocating for this, just predicting it could happen. If the best thing to stop the spread of covid-19 is social isolation, please do that. It is needed for a reason. Even if you are a healthy strapping young lad, please remember that you self isolate not for yourself but for the immuno-suppressed in your community. 

I can’t just tell you to be patient, although that is my first instinct. But yes, you will need to be patient, and no, nobody knows how long this is going to be. In case you do end up needing to do the whole social isolation thing, here are some genuine tips from a seasoned pro. 

Make yourself a schedule to follow every day

Some people might be able to work from home, but others will find themselves with new time on their hands. It might feel good to sleep in and eat whenever and be on staycation for the first few days of isolation. Take a break! You deserve it. Get that out of your system and enjoy it, then go back to a routine to stave off the depressing feelings of isolation. It doesn’t matter what it is. Some people plan their entire days, or it can be as little as having your afternoon coffee with a book or the news for half an hour. Whatever it is, having one will help with your self confidence, help the days go by, and make you happier in the long run. 

Remember – most people have their usual tricks in place already specifically for keeping up with their mental health. Whatever these are for you, double down and make sure you actually do them. Isolating can make you extra vulnerable, so stay on top of it and make this a priority.

Become a reader (if you aren’t already).

Your local library will have free apps to download which give you a number of free e-book, comic book, and audio book rentals every month. Yes – comics and audio books totally count! My library in Canada is connected with Hoopla and Libby. As long as you have a library card number, you can follow the prompts and sign into these apps within a few minutes. Between the two of them, you’ll get at least a dozen rentals a month. Looking for inspiration? Start using Goodreads to find out what kind of new-to-you books are out there, or search for recommendations on BookBub or BookRiot

You can’t stare at screens all day long. It might sound fun for a day or two, to binge watch something you’ve been meaning to see forever, but doing this too much will make you strung out. Honestly? From my months of being bed bound? I had to switch it up. Yeah I watched a lot of TV but I also made myself read a bunch of books to balance it out.

Get your spring cleaning done.

Clean behind your stove. When’s the last time you did that? Or go through your closet and make a “sally ann” pile (my dad used that term for the Salvation Army here in Canada, so now I say that for any donation of any kind.) The problem here is that you don’t have an excuse not to get these once-a-year things done. When you are out of self-isolation and back to being extra busy in work and life catching up on what you missed, you really won’t have time to do the bottom-of-the-pile chores. Now is the perfect time to do them.

Write emails and make phone calls

Reach out to your cousin who you’ve been meaning to write to. Check in with your loved ones. Better yet, call your older neighbour down the road and see how they are doing. If you are self isolating, they probably are too. Imagine being stuck in your own house for a while… I bet you’d like a phone call check-in, too. All of my “what to do with illness” listicle advice type posts will inevitably include some form of reaching out to others, and for a good reason, because we need our communities every day. 

Watch your comfort shows

I aggressively binge watch Parks and Rec pretty much every time I become bed bound. I also have a back up list  (yes, a literal list in a journal) of my favourite throwback shows, favourite light comedy shows and movies. I purposefully stay away from dramas that are too intense. Nobody needs that when they are already dealing with sickness or in this case, self isolation. 

Back up suggestion? Nature shows. David Attenborough never disappoints. 

Beware of feeling unproductive

You are not purposefully being unproductive, you are staying home because of circumstance. It is okay that you have to stay home, and don’t let your need to feel productive either ruin your entire time at home or make you leave when you should be staying. We all get those feelings, believe me, I have been there nonstop since I first became sick. Feeling like I must be lazy because I compare myself to the healthy people around me. It is programmed into us to be a productive, contributing member of society. That is all well and good if you are healthy and able to do so, but nobody wants you there if you are sick. Taking care of yourself *is* your job now, and take it seriously. You can be successful at that job. 

I started framing it that way to myself and my mental health is better for it. I am a manager and my job is busy. I manage treatments, rest, feeding my body, feeding my family and household organizing. It is a full time job for me because of my illness, whereas healthy people might do all of this plus have a full time job and kids and a social life. And here lies the danger of comparing yourself to others or getting down on yourself for being unproductive. You are not them, and you can rest; or in this case, stay home to self isolate for a few weeks. You don’t need to be productive 100% of the time. You are adapting to your changing circumstances. You are doing great!

Remind yourself that this is temporary

Remember that this will pass, and you will be back to your normal life soon enough. Take some time to be grateful for what you have, and enjoy your alone time. We all need alone time anyway and getting an extra dose once in a while doesn’t hurt.

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