88 Ways to Not Freak the F*ck Out During Isolation

Credit: Ashley Fairbanks

TThere are about a gazillion articles on the internet right now listing facts, statistics, and recommendations regarding the threat we are facing with COVID-19. I’m glad those exist, but what I couldn’t find was one that simply told me how to not freak the fuck out.

So I wrote one. Who am I? Not the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization (though I urge everyone to follow their websites for the latest updates). I am a 33-year-old woman currently living alone in San Antonio, Texas — 1,000 miles away from my partner, pets, and lifelong network of family and friends in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I’m asthmatic, have a suppressed immune system, and chronic migraines. Things have been rough.

I wanted to channel my nervous energy into something that can help others, so I compiled a big list of ways to prepare, stay calm, and do the best you can do during these weeks of self-distancing. I looked to online resources, surveyed friends on Twitter, and drew from my own experience working at home as a freelancer. I hope some of these tips help you in the weeks and months ahead. Note: Please abide by your local restrictions, first and foremost.

First, the basics

I know you know these, but it feels irresponsible not to include them.

1. Wash your hands frequently. Use soap and water and scrub to the meme of your choice for at least 20 seconds. Washing hands is especially important before eating and whenever you go from space to space outside of your home, particularly after you interact with surfaces others have touched.

2. Keep a six-foot distance from other people. Help #FlattenTheCurve.

3. Don’t attend parties or gatherings.

4. Stay home if you’re sick. Even if it’s that I-might-be-getting-a-sore-throat kind of sick.

5. Only wear a mask if you are sick.

6. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

7. Don’t be a fucking racist.

8. Don’t assume that just because you’re “young and healthy” you can ignore all this. Even if you’re likely to recover from the disease if you get it doesn’t mean you can’t spread this shit to people who are more vulnerable.

Preparation

9. Decide where you want to be. Do you live alone? If so, do you want to be alone? Decide if you need to possibly stay with family, friends, or a partner, but really assess what situation will be most beneficial for everyone.

10. Mentally prepare for what we are facing. Some people will try and calm your anxiety by minimizing the scale of this pandemic. For me, that ends up backfiring. While it’s not helpful to panic, do keep yourself informed and ready to do what you need to stay healthy and sane.

11. Find trustworthy, reliable information. There are a lot of people panicking and sharing misinformation about COVID-19 online. Stick to up-to-date information from reputable sources, including the CDC or WHO, along with verified medical and public health professionals. If you feel yourself getting overly worked up when reading about COVID-19, step away and take a breath.

12. Inventory your fears. Set a timer for two to five minutes and do a freewriting session on a piece of paper about whatever you’re thinking, including your worst fears. Getting these stressors out can feel good and will help you see what is or isn’t in your control.

13. Inventory your needs. Set a timer for two to five minutes and do a separate freewriting session, this time about everything that makes you feel comfortable, safe, and loved. Set up your space accordingly and schedule time to meet whatever needs you’re able to address.

14. Make a wellness checklist. Take out a pen and paper and write down five basic check-in questions to help yourself assess how you are doing and what you might need right now. These could be: When was the last time you had water? When was the last time you ate? When was the last time you stepped out into the sunlight? When was the last time you talked to someone? When was the last time you took a deep breath? Post these questions someplace where you will see them periodically throughout the day.

Establish boundaries

15. Have a plan for what social distancing will look like for you. As of Tuesday, March 17, residents in six Bay Area counties will be under a “shelter in place” order, meaning that everyone will be required to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible for three weeks. For the rest of us, the rules of social distancing are a lot grayer. Consider your limits, and err on the side of caution.

16. Have conversations with your older relatives about what they are feeling and what boundaries need to be established to keep them safe.

17. If you feel like your friends and family aren’t taking precautions, invite them to have a real conversation with you about what’s going on. Tell them that you care about them and are worried about their health and safety. Offer them resources.

Shopping

18. Don’t just run to the store and start throwing things in your cart. Make a healthy quarantine shopping list, but be flexible, knowing that markets might be wiped out of many of the items you want.

19. Create a cooking calendar or Google Doc filled with easy recipes that use very few ingredients. I’ve put together some ideas on this Pinterest board titled “Cooking in Isolation.” You don’t want to exhaust yourself trying to decide what to eat when you’re stressed.

20. Clean and inventory the contents of your fridge, freezer, and pantry. You probably have more (nonexpired) food than you think.

21. Stock up on nonperishable foods: canned items; dry goods like rice, beans, and lentils; and frozen fruit and vegetables.

22. If you can’t afford food, don’t be afraid to visit a food pantry in your community. And if you can afford to donate to one, do.

23. Buy good spices — in bulk if you can. Spices can make dry goods magically delicious without a ton of effort.

24. Buy some treats, too. Are there certain foods that bring you comfort? Keep a supply of these goodies in your stash. We still need joy in our lives.

25. Buy soap, lotion, and medication to treat the basic symptoms you might face if you get sick.

26. Make sure you have refills of any necessary prescriptions. Our health care system will likely become overloaded. Don’t wait until then to stock up on what you need.

27. If you can find one, buy a thermometer and, if you have multiple people at home, extra probe covers to go with it. Fever is the most common and consistent symptom of coronavirus and one of the first to present.

28. Most importantly, don’t hoard when you shop. Remember that we are in a community, and when any of us take all of the resources, we are hurting all the people around us.

Daily living

29. Create a schedule. Wake up at the same time every day. If you are working from home, set work hours with a hard stop.

30. Get the proper amount of sleep. Don’t short yourself but also don’t spend all day in bed.

31. Get dressed every day. Even if you’re just changing into loungewear (aka daytime PJs), the ritual will boost your energy levels and help you to feel motivated.

32. Practice good hygiene. Take a shower, brush your teeth, and floss. Don’t let the fact that you aren’t seeing people stop you from taking care of yourself.

33. Keep your space tidy. When we’re anxious or depressed, our space can be the first thing to really suffer, which only makes us feel worse.

34. Create a deep cleaning/disinfecting schedule, taking care to follow CDC guidelines. This is even more important in these times.

Mental health

35. Get right out of bed in the morning. Try not to look at social media, emails, and texts before your feet touch the floor.

36. Keep taking your prescribed medications.

37. Download a meditation app such as Calm or Headspace and start doing some basic meditation.

38. Monitor how much you are drinking or using substances, and do a regular gut check to determine whether your habits are helping or harming you.

If you are starting to panic

39. If you are feeling like you are going to hurt yourself, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800–273–8255.

40. Ask for help. Whether it’s from a partner, parent, friend, or mental health professional, remember that there are people out there who will support you, but you can’t expect them to know what you need.

41. Find some grounding techniques to quiet any distressing thoughts and refocus on the present. These techniques might include reciting a poem, completing some math problems, or imagining the voice of someone you love.

42. If you need mental health care, in person, right now, look for a mental health urgent care clinic in your community. These are usually located in major hospitals.

Social media

43. Set boundaries around social media. Whether you decide you’ll only check Facebook and Twitter during certain hours of the day or something totally different, have a plan and do your best to stick with it.

44. Don’t be afraid of social media. As we become more isolated, we still need to keep up with people. But try to find the places online that make you feel good rather than stressed out.

45. If you use Twitter and are feeling anxious, liberally use the mute feature to limit your exposure to certain keywords or users. You can find this in your settings under “Content preferences.”

Working from home

46. Set up a dedicated workspace, even if it’s just a card table or a section of the counter.

47. Beyond having a set space, do other things to signal to yourself that it’s time to work. Play classical music, brew a pot of coffee, change the lighting, or what have you.

48. Make a to-do list every day. A bullet journal can be helpful. I stick Post-it notes on the wall next to my desk. Do what works for you.

49. Use the Pomodoro technique to keep yourself efficient and on-task.

50. Talk with your partner/kids about boundaries during work times.

51. If your pets are distracting, try and shut yourself away from them.

52. Use headphones.

53. Set weekly goals instead of daily goals. This is an uncertain time, and there may be some days when you can’t focus at all. Give yourself grace.

Food

54. Try to eat on a regular schedule. If you no longer have a set lunch hour, you might tend to graze all day or forget to eat. Make and maintain a meal schedule that works for you.

55. Drink water. It’s easy to ignore your basic needs when you’re stressed. I set up my Apple watch to remind me to have a glass at regular intervals throughout the day.

56. As much as you can, eat food that makes you feel good. Don’t be obsessive over your food choices, especially if you are prone to disordered eating, but notice what affects you positively and repeat those choices.

57. If you decide to order food delivery, take proper precautions and tip more than usual. Our friends in the service industry are losing a lot of their income right now. You can also donate to the COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund for restaurant workers, launched by the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation.

Personal growth

58. You know those goals you’ve always wanted to accomplish? Pick one or two to focus on, break them up into smaller pieces, and dedicate some time to accomplishing them.

59. Work on learning a new language or brushing up on the one you haven’t spoken since college. Duolingo is a good place to start.

60. Read books. You’ve probably got more than a few laying around your house that you’ve bought and never read. You can also borrow ebooks or audiobooks from the library using the Libby app. To make things more interesting, follow the 2020 Tournament of Books.

61. Try an online course. There’s so much to learn on sites like Skillshare and MasterClass. There are also 450 Ivy League courses that you can take online, right now, for free.

62. Learn to cook and bake things you’ve never made before. Baking bread is incredibly relaxing once you do it a few times. Here’s a good recipe.

Entertainment

63. It’s easy to let your days slip away to Netflix. Give yourself a TV limit. You don’t want to fall into a black hole.

64. Maybe don’t watch Contagion.

65. But do watch TV shows and movies that give you joy.

66. Color. Paint. Doodle.

67. Order some simple craft supplies, like yarn and knitting needles. It feels good to make things with your hands. Personally, I’m really obsessed with these tiny dollhouse kits.

68. Do a puzzle. It can help you get out of your head.

69. Try a calming mobile game like My Oasis or Neko Atsume.

70. Buy a Lego kit to assemble. Just don’t leave any pieces on the floor.

Social time

71. Talk to your friends on the phone or using video chat, especially if you are alone.

72. Call your parents regularly if you are in each other’s lives. They are probably worried.

73. If it’s been really quiet and you just want to hear another human voice, turn on a conversation-style podcast. I really love The Read.

74. Talk with your friends about how you can spend time together virtually — can you all eat breakfast together on video chat one morning?

Moving your body

75. Ride your bike solo. It’s safe to enjoy the outdoors as long as you’re practicing social distancing.

76. Teach yourself to dance. Check out one of the many tutorials on YouTube — or just put on some music and move.

77. Follow a basic yoga routine, or follow along with a YouTube video, like the ones from Yoga with Adriene.

Living with others

78. Have a real conversation with everyone in your house about your boundaries, needs, and expectations.

79. Play some games together. Board and card games are a great way to get some time away from screens.

80. Make sure to get time apart however you can.

Sexy shit

81. If you’re with your partner, maintain some normalcy by making out and having sex — as long as you’re healthy and have both been practicing self-distancing.

82. Alone or just don’t feel like taking the risk? Discover the joys of phone sex.

83. Masturbate. I probably don’t have to tell you to do this, but it can be easy to forget our sexual needs when we are overwhelmed.

84. Order a vibrator online if you don’t have one. Here’s my recommendation.

The world beyond ourselves

85. Make a plan for how you can help your friends, neighbors, and people who are the most impacted.

86. If you have extra money, consider sending it to friends who don’t, who are losing their jobs or losing tips. Or make a donation to a local solidarity fund or food bank.

87. Try to be frugal and stick to a budget so you can afford to help others and be prepared financially for the worst of what might come.

88. Foster an animal if your situation allows. If you’re going to be home, it can provide companionship.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I hope you are able to do what you need to do to get through this time. Just don’t forget to wash your hands.

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