Coronavirus: Take care of yourselves to take care of others

Ideas and tips for how to get through the next few months

An image of a pathway to the front door of a terraced house, with large pink roses growing around the door.

The coronavirus situation seems to be going from bad to worse.  As I write the death toll in Italy has exceeded that of China, and countries across the globe are rolling out increasingly strict measures to try to slow the spread of the virus.  It is becoming clear that governments and their citizens are ill-prepared to deal with the situation, and in some cases have some very messed-up priorities.  I don’t want to get too political about something that is causing so much pain and grief to so many people, but let it be said that a Tory government led by Boris Johnson, following years of cruel austerity and cuts to public services, including the NHS, is about the least reassuring set-up one can imagine.  Here in Australia there is harsh criticism of the Morrison government, but it remains to be seen whether cautionary measures in both countries will have the desired impact.

With advice changing seemingly multiple times a day, with some dramatic U-turns from the Johnson government, it is clear that the burden will partly be on individuals to take a sensible approach and keep a clear head.  We have to look out for ourselves, but more importantly, each other.  Even if you feel that you are a low-risk individual, it is your duty to help reduce the risk of exposure for those who are more vulnerable.  Remember, this doesn’t just mean older people.  It doesn’t just mean people who ‘look’ like they have an existing condition.  Some of the factors that greatly increase risk, like diabetes and heart conditions, are not going to be visible to you.  It’s not up to you to decide whether someone is or is not at risk.  Perhaps the best approach therefore is to take all the precautions you would take if you were a high-risk individual.  By taking as much care as possible with yourself, you can help protect others too.

So with that in mind, I’ve compiled some tips and ideas that can help you through social-distancing and self-isolation.  The UK government just imposed a lock-down, and other countries that aren’t yet locked down are, I’m sure, not that far behind, so it looks like we’re all going to be spending a lot more time indoors in the coming months.  Obviously I write with the huge caveat that I am not a medical professional, so don’t come here looking for serious medical guidance.  I will pinpoint a few websites you can visit if you want some in-depth health advice, but you should think of my suggestions more as lifestyle ideas than as healthcare advice.  It’s really important to be mindful of what you’re consuming at the moment, so only take medical advice from reputable, confirmed sources.  Without any further ado, here are some ideas that I hope will help you in the coming months.

Keep your windows open

Being stuck indoors can feel really claustrophobic.  Not getting out into the wider world can, counter-intuitively, be very draining.  But keeping your windows open, as much as temperature and weather allow, can make a huge difference.  Official advice is to keep enclosed spaces well ventilated, but you’ll also benefit mentally from the fresh air, birdsong (hopefully!), and being a bit more in touch with the outside world.

Limit your time on Twitter

This is largely about Twitter, but goes for social media in general.  It is not a great idea at the best of times to spend hours scrolling through your feed, but it is even less so in the current situation.  It can be very anxiety inducing to overload on anecdotal and largely negative stories and information about medical crises.  The capacity for misinformation is huge, so while there is some useful material, you need to be wary of unconfirmed advice.  So try to limit your time to, if anything, less than you would usually spend on social media.

This could be a good time to explore Twitter’s list function, which will allow you to create lists of your favourite Twitter accounts.  You could maybe put together a list of positive stories, or accounts that aren’t tweeting about the pandemic at all, to give yourself a little oasis away from it all.  One of my favourite accounts for a quick and wholesome laugh is Moose Allain – I just can’t resist a good pun!

Start an indoor workout routine

With gyms closing one-by-one across the world, even those that remain open are hardly an inviting prospect.  Lots of sweaty, mouth-breathing people trying not to stand too close to each other is not particularly appealing.  And in many places the gym just isn’t an option anymore.  If you’re a regular gym-goer it can be really upsetting to have your routine disturbed.  But while we might not all have space for a treadmill, there are plenty of ways that you can get some exercise (and the associated endorphins) without having to leave the house.

Workout apps are a good option for this, and there are lots of good free ones you can turn to.  One of my favourites is 7M Workout.  This was a bit of a craze a few years ago, but there’s nothing that mind-blowing about how it works.  It’ll give you seven minutes of circuits, running you through different exercises like crunches, squats, lunges, the dreaded plank, and jumping jacks.  I can attest that seven minutes is certainly enough to get your heartbeat raised, but if you’re looking for a replacement for your regular Pump classes, you can do multiple rounds.  There are also tailored workouts for if you’re trying to focus on particular areas of your body.  Just remember that the calorie counter might not be calibrated to your body, so two rounds doesn’t necessarily equal one KitKat!

If you’re after something a bit lower impact, you could try some of the many great, free yoga videos on YouTube.  Who among us hasn’t tried at least one Yoga with Adriene video over the years?  Now might be just the time to make this into a regular habit.

Grow something

While not all of us have gardens we can easily escape into, we all have the capacity to grow a few small plants in our house.  Gardening or planting is a great way to casually achieve something, and can be really soothing and relaxing.  As a naturally quite impatient person, I find gardening really helpful for slowing me down, and making me feel at ease with a more chilled pace of life (something we might all have to embrace now).  If you’ve got houseplants these are a good place to start – why not give those Monstera leaves the clean they’ve been desperately wanting for weeks?

Nothing quite beats the joy of growing things from seeds though.  A few tiny pots and the even tinier seeds within them can give you weeks of pleasure.  Whether you’re after flowers or vegetables, there is a special kind of excitement when you see the first few shoots poking out of the soil.  Having something positive to mark out the passage of weeks spent indoors is also a bonus.  Most seeds take about two weeks to germinate, but if you’re looking for something faster you could always try cress!

Don’t watch daytime TV

It is massively tempting, but try to resist watching TV during the day.  With an endless selection of shows and films to choose from on Netflix, Amazon Prime, iPlayer and soon, you could quite easily sit out this whole pandemic just watching TV.  But you won’t thank yourself for it.  It is incredibly disruptive to watch TV during the day, and it’s really easy to say ‘I’ll just watch one episode’ and then wake out of a semi-comatose state an entire season later.  The same goes for watching live-streams (stay away from Twitch!), or YouTube.  Try to stick as closely as possible to the structure of your normal days.  Ask yourself, ‘would I normally watch Parks and Recreation at 11am on a Wednesday?’  If the answer is ‘yes’, good for you, go right ahead.  If it isn’t, put the remote down and step away from the TV.

Honour the weekends

One of the strange things about being at home all the time is that everything starts to get a sort of lazy summer holiday feel to it.  Days drift by, little difference between them, and before long you don’t know what day it is, let alone what week you’re in.  So try wherever possible to stay true to what a ‘normal’ week would look like.  If you workout on certain evenings, keep doing that (and even if you’re doing indoor workouts, change into your gym kit to make it feel ‘official’).  Most importantly, honour the weekends.  Try to keep all your ‘work work’ to days you’d normally be doing it, and keep your weekends clear for fun things.  This could mean still ‘saving up’ your fun indoor activities, cooking a long recipe, or getting in a workout. Whatever it takes to maintain a sense of normality.  The structure this brings to your weeks, and your days, will be its own reward.

Read more books (printed or digital)

So the TV is off limits, but without the commute and trips to the pub, you still have a lot of extra time on your hands.  This is kind of an obvious one, but trying getting in some good, old-fashioned reading.  We could all use a bit of escapism right now, and books are the original and ultimate form of escapism.  Try a genre you’d normally avoid, an author you’ve heard about, or a series you’ve been meaning to get to.  I’ve set myself the goal this year of reading more books by women, and especially women of colour.  I can’t say I’m doing particularly well so far in that I’ve now read Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, and Kate Chopin (three white women), but it’s a fun way to find new things, and stop yourself from falling into the same old choices.

Moving to Australia has meant that I’ve been parted from the majority of my books, but this has had the unlooked-for advantage of making me realise just how good reading on your phone can be.  I’ve had the Kindle app on my phone forever, and never really paid it much attention.  But it turns out a good novel is just as good on the Kindle app as it is in hard copy, and offers a great alternative to scrolling through social media.  You can adjust the font size so even if you have a small screen you can still read comfortably, and you can track your progress by percentage through the book, page numbers, or hours reading left in the book.  For slightly complicated rights reasons Kindle editions are often almost as expensive as physical ones, which if you’re used to picking up a nice solid paperback for a few quid in a charity shop feels a bit wrong.  But there is a large selection of classic books available free of charge (those that are old enough to be in the public domain), and if you have an Amazon Prime subscription you can take advantage of Prime Reading, which gives you free access to books, kind of like a lending library.  The diversity of choice is not always what you’d hope for, but it is a good way to explore beyond your own bookshelves.

Lend a (washed) hand

There are huge numbers of vulnerable people in our society who are going to need help more than ever during this pandemic.  From shopping for elderly neighbours to volunteering, the healthy among us can do a lot to help.  Check out local bulletins to see if there are any local initiatives you might be able to be a part of.

Just because we’re dealing with a new crisis doesn’t mean the old ones have gone away.  There is still a homeless crisis.  There is still a refugee crisis.  There is still a foodbank crisis. There are charities working to help with these issues, such as Care4Calais, Shelter, and the Trussell Trust, and who are doing their best to respond to the developing situation.  If you can lend a hand, or make a donation, please do so.  It’s important that we don’t forget about these people.

Learn a language or increase your knowledge

It is easy to feel helpless and futile during a crisis on such a large scale as this, but the power of community activism and solidarity doesn’t and won’t go away.  If you’re already involved in local efforts the chances are there will be alternative arrangements put in place that you can still help with.  If you’ve never been involved in charity work or political organising before, don’t be afraid to get stuck in.  People will always welcome what support you can offer, and as long as you are following relevant health advice, there is nothing to stop you joining in.

This is another area where apps can be a great help.  It may seem a little ambitious to learn a language without leaving the house and in a matter of weeks, but with time and some practice you can make great progress.  We all know we’re not going to be travelling abroad for a while, so we might as well do what we can to make it more enjoyable when we finally can.  With few exceptions locals appreciate you making some effort to speak their language, and knowing a little bit more than just ‘please’ ‘yes/no’ and how to order an ice cream can go a long way.  If languages aren’t your thing, you could dip your toe into other disciplines like maths and the sciences.  There are some great apps to help you improve your mental arithmetic (something I know I need to work on), up your knowledge of chemistry, or just get you back in touch with everything you learnt at school and have subsequently forgotten.

Image of the Duolingo logo of the green owl, with the word 'Duolingo' underneath
‘Duo’ the Duolingo owl

On the languages side, I’m a huge fan of Duolingo.  The system is really easy to use to build yourself from an absolute beginner to a near-conversational level.  There is a wide range of vocabulary, and you’ll learn grammar as you go.  The instructions are simple, and you can access it on phone, tablet or computer.  They’ve recently released Duolingo Stories, which offer a more interactive way to learn.  There are lots of languages to choose from (including some fictional ones like Klingon!), and best of all it is totally free.  For extra vocabulary training you can check out their Tinycards app, where you can access existing flashcard packs, or make your own.  Another fun language app is Drops, which teaches you vocabulary in five-minute doses each day.

I feel I should point out that despite this glowing review, I am definitely not sponsored by Duolingo!  Just a long-time user and big fan.  When I thought I might be moving to Geneva I binged through the French course, and found it really helpful in building my confidence.

Write letters (or very long e-mails)

Image of a fountain pen writing in cursive on lined paper.

People often talk about letter writing as a dying art, but I prefer to think of it as a hibernating one.  It’s sitting just under the surface, waiting to reappear when the conditions are right.  It’s super important to stay in contact with your loved ones during this situation, be it through WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, or whatever you prefer.  Chatty, quick conversations are as, if not more, important than ever.  But the opportunity of some quiet hours indoors is a great one to pick up a ‘correspondence’.  Write to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, an old school friend, or your grandparents.  Or even someone you used to see every day, pre-isolation.  They don’t need to be handwritten (although as someone who hand-writes all her blog posts before typing them, I can certainly speak to the soothing qualities of pen upon paper), you could type them and send them as e-mails.  But the messages we send are different when we are not expecting an immediate response.  We put our thoughts together differently in prose to in brief, instant messages.  We tell our stories with greater depth and reveal more about ourselves.  Receiving a letter (or long e-mail) which has no purpose other than to engage or entertain us is such a genuine and simple joy.  Treat yourself to writing one, getting it all off your chest and down on paper, and treat your friend/parent/relative to something to look forward to in their mail/inbox.

Remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint

It’s tempting to think of isolating as a sort of hard reset – we’ll all disappear home for a few weeks and emerge to find everything back to normal.  All the medical professionals are telling us that this won’t be the case.  This is a situation that will last not weeks but months.  So pace yourself.  Don’t try to cram every activity into the first week.  Spread your ideas out so that you’ll have something to look forward to.  Try to schedule things like video calls a few weeks ahead.  Maybe try some apps like Netflix Party to replicate your normal social calendar, but in the digital sphere.  This is going to be along game, so keep yourself fresh by distributing your efforts, and not going too hard too soon.

Be realistic, and cut yourself some slack

Finally, this is all well and good, but you need to be realistic about how ‘productive’ you can be during this crisis.  You’re never going to be as productive working from home as you were at the office.  Working whilst taking care of your kids presents a whole new set of challenges, and even if you don’t have kids (or pets) there is a lot more to worry about, which is going to cause totally reasonable distractions.  It’s hard to think straight when you’re worrying about the people you love.  There are going to be times when things feel quite low and as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  But it’s not going to be like this forever.   There will be light, and you’ve got to keep moving forward towards it.  Time passes, things develop, and we keep moving.

If your partner, friends, or family are a bit grumpier than usual, forgive them, and forgive yourself when you do the same.  This is a strange time and a totally unusual situation to live through, and you’re not going to be able to keep going exactly as normal.  Be kind to yourself, and to others, and we’ll get through this together. 

I hope that you’re all taking care of yourselves in these troubling times.  Do share your experiences and ideas in the comments section.  What have you found that’s helping keep you calm and occupied whilst stuck indoors? 

Below you can find a list of a few different official sites that are offering advice about what you should be doing right now.  I’m sure most of you will be reading these anyway, but keep an eye out for any updates. 

WHO – World Health Organisation (there is a particularly good section on myths)

NHS – National Health Service advice pages

UK Government website – Updated with latest government advice, including on restrictions

Australian Government website – Advice on what you need to know and do


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