Isolation for COVID-19 can be a time to rest, reflect, prioritize, and tap into your strengths. Below are some tips to get you through the isolation period.
Adopt a growth mindset - This is the opposite of a “fixed mindset,” or the belief that certain traits, skills, or qualities—such as intelligence, physical abilities, or social skills—are predetermined and unchangeable. Attitude isn’t everything, but it does have a huge impact on whether or not we are successful because our attitudes fuel our actions. Adopting a growth mindset, and developing a sense of self-efficacy has been shown to:
- Lead to increased effort and greater achievement of goals
- Protect against stress, and builds resilience
- Reduce helplessness, anxiety, and depression
Take a moment to think about a specific way that you have grown or changed over time. This could be a challenge or difficulty that gradually became easier, a skill that you developed, or a personality trait or attitude that has changed as you’ve grown older. Write freely for about 15 minutes about how you have changed—for the better—in your life.
Take an extended break from upsetting, violent, or COVID-19-related content - Make time to unwind. Try relaxation techniques and listening to music. Try to do some other activities you enjoy. Skip scrolling the news and replace it with an activity that supports your routines, health, and builds on your strengths.
Move your body in ways that work for you - Choose movement that works for your body and your level of energy, being mindful if you are battling fatigue. Even one session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces anxiety, and even short bouts of movement are beneficial especially when they take place outside. You might consider this no-equipment workout or throwing a virtual dance party.
Manage thoughts and feelings - With all this alone time you might find yourself getting stuck in negative thought spirals or feeling emotions more intensely. Riding the waves of these highs and lows is difficult; using a coping skill during this time can be helpful. A coping skill is a strategy that helps you to adapt to the current situation and tolerate or lessen stressors you are facing. This might include listening to a song or making an entire playlist, following a guided drawing mindfulness activity, taking a cold shower, talking to someone about a problem they’re facing, virtually exploring a scenic view or national park, or focusing on your breathing with a strategy like box breathing. Find what works for you.
Maintain connections - While isolated it can start to feel like you’re away on an island and that no one shares your experience. Consider leaning on socializing you might have done earlier during the COVID-19 pandemic. What did you enjoy about it? What did you want to try you didn’t get the chance to? You might have lots of people checking in on you, but spending social time engaged in an activity with someone might be more enriching.
A few options for interesting ways to connect with others:
- Netflix Party - Plan to watch a show with someone else synchronized!
- Instagram Question Feature - Avoid mindlessly scrolling and start a conversation with the question feature on Instagram.
- NYT 36 Questions that Lead to Love - Plan a time to chat with someone you care about and use these questions to deepen your understanding of them. Try it out with romantic and platonic relationships alike!
- Virtual group hangout ideas - plan a virtual hang out with friends near and far.
Set up a daily routine - Following a routine can help to reduce stress by reducing the amount of decisions your brain needs to make in the day. Routines can also provide you with a sense of predictability and control, two important things to maintain when in isolation. Often routines are focused on productivity and work completion, however while you’re in isolation it might be helpful to build a routine to prioritize your well-being. Consider the following:
- Sleep and wake times - A powerful way to protect your well-being is to ensure your body and mind have enough restorative time. While it might not feel like it, isolation creates significant body and mind stress. Try to avoid varying your sleep and wake times by more than an hour and give yourself at least 8 hours of sleep.
- Social time - It’s probably no surprise to you that being physically isolated may make you feel more lonely. This is a tough experience. If you can, set up social time each day so you have some positive social interaction and support during this time. Write down a few people you could reach out to and how you’ll plan to talk. Choose people who are helpful and you feel restored after talking to.
- Prioritize well-being - What ways do you already take care of yourself? Maybe it’s: eating delicious food, moving your body, listening to music, or (re)watching a favorite TV show or movie. Make room for a few of these activities throughout the day. Write down a few things that help you to feel well in your everyday life. If you find yourself having a hard time deciding what to do, make yourself a menu to choose from. It’s much harder to make decisions when you’re under stress, a menu can help to remind you of the choices you have.
- Eating - Eating consistently and in a way that is satisfying to you is a way you can be a friend to your body during this time. Add times to your day when you plan to eat consistently.
Remember, as you prepare your routine that you do not have to follow it perfectly. You may find you need to make adjustments or following a routine might just be hard right now. If it doesn’t work today, you can always make changes if needed and try again tomorrow!
Engage your strengths & practice self-compassion – Identifying and capitalizing on your core strengths has been shown to decrease depression, increase happiness, boost engagement, and improve academic and professional outcomes. To start, you could visit www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/testcenter to take the VIA survey of character strengths. This is free, and will take about 20 minutes to complete. Choose one of your top five strengths, and write freely for ten minutes about how you can use this strength to help you implement your routine, rely on your relationships, connect to your values, and support your best possible future when you return to your community.
With isolation can potentially come challenges, disappointments, and rough patches. When we acknowledge a hard time and practice self-compassion, it has been shown to:
- Improve mood, reduces depression and anxiety
- Increase connection to others
- Build confidence and positive self-image
- Speed recovery from setbacks and difficulties
- Increase persistence and the likelihood of goal achievement
Unsure how to practice? Here are four self-compassion exercises from Dr. Kristin Neff, a fantastic self-compassion researcher and teacher, to choose from based on what you might need most today:
- How would you treat a friend? How do you think things might change if you responded to yourself in the same way you typically respond to a close friend when he or she is suffering? This exercise walks you through it.
- Self-Compassion Break This exercise can be used any time of day or night and will help you remember to evoke the three aspects of self-compassion in the moment you need it most. Also available as a meditation track.
- Changing your critical self-talk By acknowledging your self-critical voice and reframing its observations in a more friendly way, you will eventually form the blueprint for changing how you relate to yourself long-term. This exercise will help you learn how to do it.
- Supportive Touch In this exercise you will learn how to activate your parasympathetic nervous system by using supportive touch to help you feel calm, cared for and safe.
If emotions start to feel big, pause, breathe, and see if you can name the feeling - Observe how you are feeling and what you are thinking, without judgment. Instead of responding or reacting to those thoughts or feelings, note them, and then let them go. If you can’t let them go, try giving yourself some space from the feeling by reminding yourself that feelings are temporary and you’ll get through this.
Get help if you’re feeling overwhelmed or unsafe - If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others, seek professional help. If distress impacts activities of your daily life for several days or weeks, talk to a chaplain, counselor, or healthcare provider. Licensed counselors and medical professionals are available 24/7 through go/MiddTelehealth.