When I posted my poem last week about grieving as things are lost and life changes dramatically, a friend wrote: ‘You must be thinking, “Welcome to my world”’. Well yes… and also no (but we’ll leave the ‘no’ for now).
These next weeks will be a big change in lifestyle for many who find themselves stuck at home for long periods of time when they are used to being out and about. Obviously the experience will be very different for couples, families, and single people who live with others, compared to those who live alone, and for those working compared to those who are not, but some of the same things apply.
As someone who lives alone and has been close to housebound for much of the last 30 years here are my top tips for surviving stuck at home, and hopefully emerging with your sanity (more or less) intact:
Go to bed and get up at sensible times
Both your mental health and your sleep will be better if you stick to sensible times for going to bed and getting up, even if you don’t have to be somewhere at a certain time. It is all too easy for day to creep into night, and sleep and waking patterns to get turned upside down, but that way depression and sleep disorders lie. Try to keep your bed for night time (unless you are too ill to be anywhere else).
Get dressed every day if you possibly can
Unless you are actually ill, or it is a weekend or holiday and you want to designate a one-off pyjama day, do not stay in your pyjamas all day, or even half the day. Getting dressed for the day helps with better sleep at night and better mood overall. My main aim most days is ‘Get dressed’ because I know how much it helps my mental state.
Eat three meals a day at reasonable times
People tend to divide into two categories when it comes to being home all the time and eating: those who eat all the time, and those who don’t eat enough. Neither is good for your physical or mental well-being.
Be strict about sticking to reasonable meal times, and making those meals reasonably healthy. But also as delicious as possible. Even if you are on your own you deserve to eat healthy and nice food. It is part of looking after yourself. If you aren’t doing much else and are able to cook, then make mealtimes a highlight of your day, so that you can look forward to cooking and eating something you will enjoy. Eat mindfully – ie pay attention to what you are eating, and savour it.
As a former eating disorder therapist I don’t want to encourage anyone to obsess and worry about food, but be aware that if you are home more and moving less you probably need to eat a bit less than if you are out and about. Eat sensible, regular meals with a few treats thrown in.
Make a rough plan for your day in advance
You don’t have to have exactly the same routine every day but it is good to have a basic plan, know what you are hoping to achieve (realistic goals are essential), and how that might fit into your day and when. Otherwise you can easily fritter the time away achieving nothing.
If you aren’t working, brainstorm ideas of things you can do at home to make the most of your time and feel productive
Most people have long lists of things they haven’t got around to doing – DIY projects, sorting photos, crafts, gardening, cooking, learning a new skill etc etc. There are loads of ideas online including lots of extra recent opportunities – free courses, videos, books, audiobooks, tours of museums and tourist sites, downloads of theatre productions. Write a list of all the things you could do/would like to do, and decide where to start.
Have a ‘to do’ list for essential jobs
Put jobs that need doing but you aren’t that keen on, on a ‘to do’ list and do at least one a day. More if you can. Include small jobs as well as big ones and break bigger ones down into stages. If you don’t feel like starting something, tell yourself you will just do 5 minutes and then see… We humans have a need to feel productive. Watching TV all day may be tempting but you will feel much better about yourself and life in general if you know you have achieved at least one useful thing. And one useful thing often leads to another.
Also have a ‘nice things to do list’
Make a list of activities which you enjoy and which will nurture you and comfort you. Self-care and being kind to yourself is important. Do at least one of these a day. Ideally more. When you have done a useful thing, especially one that took a lot of effort or willpower, reward yourself with a nice thing later on. Save up the nice things for the evening so that you can look forward to them or intersperse them with harder things during the day to keep your motivation going.
Connect with at least one real person a day by phone or video chat
We were made for relationship with others. Not having in-person contact is tough. We are fortunate to live in an age of telephones, internet connectivity, social media, email, texts, video calling etc. Do not sit at home feeling sorry for yourself because nobody has called you. Make the first move, contact friends and family, and ask how they are doing. Stay connected to others as much as you possibly can.
Do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it
Deep relationships are born in times of hardship, when we are forced to face and admit to our own limitations, and our dependence on others. Most people actually like helping and feeling useful. Don’t bottle things up. Talk to others about how you are feeling when you are struggling and ask for the help you need. This is a golden opportunity to strengthen friendships and build community albeit at a distance.
Do at least one nice thing for someone else every day
If you live alone and aren’t going out it’s very easy to become inward-looking and self-absorbed. Fight it. Whatever your own situation it will help you as well as other people if you can do at least one nice thing for someone else every day, however small. It can be as little as an email or text, or something much bigger. Small acts of kindness go a long way.
Don’t put the TV on unless there is a programme you have specifically decided to watch
TV will sap your time, energy and headspace if it is just on, or suck you in to watching far more than you intended if you start early in the day. Decide what you are going to watch, and when, and keep it off the rest of the time. If you are lonely and want the sound of voices vary it with radio, music, audio books etc. Radio 4 is a lot less mindless than most daytime TV. Borrowbox do audio books for free.
Limit your exposure to news via TV, radio, internet, social media etc
Listening to every news update will leave you anxious and depressed. Having it on in the background constantly will not help you. You don’t need to be updated more than once or twice a day.
Limit the time you spend on social media
I love the power for good that social media can be. It is also a horribly addictive waster- of-time, generator-of-anxiety, and black-hole-of-things-you-never-needed-to-get-involved- with which make you feel worse about yourself and your life. Be strict with yourself. Endless scrolling will not benefit your mental health.
Learn to embrace silence and sit with your thoughts and feelings
It may feel scary at first but you will discover riches in silence. Dare to switch off the TV, radio, music etc. Set aside time for prayer, relaxation sessions, meditation, and just being. Ideas, thoughts, prayers, future plans, writing projects, things you would never have encountered if you had left the TV or radio on in the background all day will emerge. And your own inner world, strength, and faith, will grow.
Do not try to fill the loneliness/void/time or blot out uncomfortable thoughts or feelings with drink or drugs or other unhealthy coping mechanisms
They may make you feel better temporarily but they will destroy your health and your mind, and make you less able to cope with everything long term. And ultimately stop you fully experiencing and enjoying life. Do not go there.
Move as much as you can
If you can exercise then set aside time to do so indoors if you aren’t allowed out at all. There are lots of online ideas or DVDs available. If you are unwell then at least try to move a bit, even if just from your bed to a sofa or a chair for a while. It will help mentally as well as physically.
Take joy in small everyday things
Learning to notice the beauty and joy in small everyday things really helps when you are stuck at home. Take time to appreciate a sunset, really taste and enjoy your cup of tea, delight in your garden if you have one, enjoy a phone call with a friend. It’s a good time for a gratitude diary if you are feeling low. At the end of the day note down at least three things you are grateful for from the day so that you end the day focusing on the positives.
Learn to laugh a lot especially when things are tough
Watch, read and listen to things that make you laugh. Learn to laugh at yourself and your situation and get others to laugh with you.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Of course you probably will. We all do at times. But remember that when your world has physically shrunk and there is nobody beside you to help give you perspective, small things take on much greater importance than they really have. When they are good things this is great. When they are upsetting they can feel overwhelming. Try to take a step back and evaluate things objectively. If you have faith then pray, and focus your eyes on God rather than the problem. Ring someone up to offload and get another perspective.
Give yourself a break and be kind to yourself
Just like in ‘normal life’ some days will not go how you’d hoped or planned. Some days you will feel rubbish and fed up. That’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up. Tomorrow is another day.
After 30+ years I still find it hard at times. But I have learned to be comfortable with my own company, to appreciate silence and solitude and the riches it can bring, and to be content alone at home most of the time. My faith, my wonderful friends, and the incomparable resource that is Radio 4, have helped a lot, but I’ve had to work at it. I have the advantage of being a natural introvert (albeit one who loves parties). But extroverts can do it too. I know many who do, long-term, because they have no choice.
See this as an opportunity for personal growth and exploration, for new adventures and experiences. Ones you may never have chosen, but will now exploit to the full. Discover a whole new world. Remember what it is like, when you are finally back in the outside world, and, remember too, that a whole host of us with chronic illness will have to continue living it, but with even more challenges than you had. Be determined to learn from it and look back at it with the knowledge that, hard though it may have seemed at the time, it changed you, and the rest of your life, for the better.
3 thoughts on “Welcome to My World”
wise words 😉
Thanks for sharing such great advice Alison x
Thoughtful and wise, as always x