There are tons of to-do lists, health tips and isolation activities around – but often the first step is the most challenging one, which is to get in the mood to actually do it instead of just lounge all day scratching your belly and alternating between the thoughts of Armageddon and the need for more toilet paper. We know how difficult it can be to get out of that loop, so we’ve gathered some expert tips to help put you in shape to take action.
Following on our advice for isolation from cloistered nuns, we’re bringing some more expert advice here to survive isolation – without going nuts and even being productive! This time it comes from astronauts, some of which have spent months isolated in the International Space Station, apart from actual medical quarantine periods before boarding the spaceship – so they might know a bit about this. We have compiled input from a number of these space explorers, including Chris Hatfield, Tim Peake, Anousheh Ansari, Nicole Stott, Tom Jones, Rusty Schweikart, Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, Scott Kelly, Peggy Whitson and Anne McLain. If they made it in space, you can make it at home!
1. Keep the bigger goal in mind
Stock yourself with the purpose of this whole coronavirus pandemic isolation. We’re saving lives. It is estimated in the thousands already for individual countries – if you want to be more precise, find a calculator here. When you find yourself desperate, remember that this effort you’re making is part of a team that is actually achieving things and saving people from death.
2. Communicate effectively
If you’re sharing your space with someone, it is very important that you communicate clearly – as well as listen. Little quirks that are OK for you e.g. putting your feet on the table, might turn others crazy – and vice versa. If you’ve ever had a flatmate, you know what that means. Now it is especially important to pay attention and clarify any possible issues as early as possible, as there is plenty of time for them to build up and turn into tension or fights.
If you live alone, it’s equally important to communicate with yourself – not meaning that you should have conversations with household items. Rather than speaking to the lamp, listen to yourself: is it working for you?
3. Take care of yourself and those around you
Following on the point above, it’s important that you keep yourself functioning: eat healthy, do some exercise, keep your mind busy and healthy too. And do the same with your family and those around you. This maintenance will allow you to have the strength to tackle all the other challenges. Keep this purpose in mind when you feel lazy about doing these things.
4. Understand the problem you’re facing
Chris Hadfield, the man who commanded the ISS, has a great way to face his fears – become an expert about it. Breaking down the fear into the actual risks and evaluating them, we often discover that the fear is not proportional to the actual risk – and also, we build an action plan for the actual dangers. So if you haven’t yet, learn what Coronavirus is and how it is transmitted, from trusted sources – official advice: US/UK. That will help you prevent it and fight it. See the video above for some great inspiration – and a pinch of David Bowie 🙂
5. Choose your goals
Following on Chris Hadfield’s system, the next step is to choose your goals. Get your ducks in a row. If you need inspiration you can check our list. Be ambitious, but realistic. Learning to play violin from scratch might be slightly too far (and a bit painful for the neighbours too), but maybe it’s the perfect moment for reading that book in your list. Or to make your own face mask. This is your chance – what would you like to achieve?
6. Examine the constraints
Once you have chosen your goals, what’s in the way? Say you want to have an indoor garden, but you killed the last poor cactus you had. Well, do a bit of research and find exactly what you need. Maybe you need a planter; you can order online, or find tutorials about how to make them from recycled containers. Maybe you tend to water it too much; track how often you do it and place a Don’t drown me post-it on the pot. Every hurdle can be matched to a solution that works for you. Also, this breakdown of challenges will allow you to face pretty much anything in life.
7. Take action
Divide and conquer all over again. Plan your hours, day, week, month, break down your list of actions from the point above. Organise your routine to make sure you achieve everything you want, but leave room for changes as you go along. Start ASAP. Get an easy task first just to put you in the flow, and feel the achievement, then face bigger tasks first and after that everything will look easy 🙂
8. Build a routine
You’d be surprised how silly animals of habit we are. Our brain falls on what we’re used to, by default. If you arrived home and fall on the sofa every single evening, your autopilot would take you there again and again with no effort. Breaking with that routine is an opportunity then – we just need to build healthy habits. Start your day in a different way than you used to, and set a repetitive plan to work on your goals: set a place, a time, and all the props you need. Try to be smart about it – if the place is bed and the prop is your pillow, the conflict with sleeping won’t make you very productive (or your sleep very restful). Suit it to yourself: are you an early bird or a night owl? In any case, after a few days of your new routine, your brain will take you there by default.
9. Be patient
Rome wasn’t built in a day; and you can’t turn yourself from a sack of potatoes into a healthy, fit, artist, influencer, multilingual and philosopher in a day. Remember the breakdown of tasks and just keep going one step at a time, without missing any steps. This is especially important in the first days, when you’re setting up your new routine. And be aware that whenever you start something, you feel completely useless. It’s part of the learning process. Actually, the worse you start, the more difference you will notice as you grow – keep a record. Stay patient and eventually you’ll see the results.
10. Vary your activities
The whole point of this is to not get bored, so make sure you include variety in your plan. I remember a friend I used to live with, a medicine student, speaking about her stressful vocation:
So when you choose to study Medicine, it’s like – ok, I like mac&cheese, I’m going for it. You’re happy and everyone is for you. But then you go and find a whole swimming pool full of mac&cheese and you have to jump in it and eat the whole thing NOW. And that’s today, tomorrow, and every day of your life for at least the 6 years you’re studying.Espe, my flatmate – now a Pediatrician
Don’t force yourself into something if you don’t have to. Set your goals but, include some creative activities, exercise, time for friends and family, and to try new things. What would you like to try?
11. Connect to family and friends
It’s easier to forget if you’re an introvert, and more challenging if you live alone, but it’s essential to keep your human connections and your mind healthy. Make sure you get face time, even if it’s a video call, with your loved ones. If any of your loved ones is a drama queen (that happens, you’re not alone), you might need to manage how much you let that influence you, but don’t cut the line. The patience you build to deal with them will be useful for you too. It’ll all help you and them stay sane.
12. Stay fit
I’ve mentioned the gravity field of the sofa before. Don’t let yourself fall in this black hole! You need to move, and though the first try might be literally painful if you haven’t done anything in a long time, it’ll all pay off. Be sensible, build up. Yoga for example can go from relaxing beginner stretches to challenges that would take you years to accomplish. Remember that a small but constant effort is what really counts over time. Listen to your body, get some research: what’s your thing? Then DO it, get over the initial piece of rotten wood feeling and repeat until you realise you actually feel much better 🙂 It’ll help you clear your mind and give you more energy to face any other challenges, as well.
13. Take time for fun
You’ll need an outlet that is neither work/productivity nor maintenance; reserve some time for fun. Series, games, chatting with friends; with moderation, it’s essential to stop you from going nuts.
14. Be creative
Take this time as a chance to see thing from a different perspective, to create something; to paint, DIY, learn music, even rearrange your living room or turn empty beer cans into an opera concert. Being creative is fun and it gives you a purpose. Don’t be afraid to be silly, you can get great things from that.
15. Educate yourself
This is the best possible time for isolation is now. You’ve got all the knowledge in the world at the reach of your hands. You can learn languages, read thousands of books, get lost in Wikipedia, learn about your next trip; there are tutorials for pretty much anything, even virtual visits to museums. Take advantage of this and feed your mind too – there’s life beyond memes. Think of what you’d like to learn and go for it!
16. Monitor how things go
Monitor the global situation, to know how it’s evolving and how it affects your plans (maybe that trip you had in mind?), also to give you a push for any good news that come (e.g. countries that are flattening the curve). Monitor yourself too; see if you feel well, if you need anything, if you’re bored, etc so you can react accordingly. Successful people dedicate some time every morning to ask themselves : is this the right route? And if not, make any necessary amends.
17. Be positive
(Except for the COVID-19 test)
There is a silver lining to all this. A clear one is how people are coming together despite the distance: people singing in the balconies, offering help to others, cheering for health professionals, and how these professionals are pushing beyond their strength to save lives. All this shows a beautiful side of humanity that we’ll want to keep – maybe we’re not as crap as we thought.
Look into yourself as well and find the opportunities this brings to you, such as spending more time with your family or having more time for yourself and the things you always wanted to do.
18. Be aware of your own influence
We used to be part of a hustle and bustle where we feel like a speck of dust. Being at home, in a smaller environment where you are a very significant part of it, can be a chance to evaluate your individual impact. Your impact in yourself, your life, your house and your family, how you make a difference – and then extrapolate that to the bigger picture of us all. We’ve seen, for example, how these individual actions are changing the trend on the coronavirus expansion, and how it has greatly reduced the pollution levels. It’s a great moment to acknowledge that your grain of sand counts.
19. Get some perspective
Getting out of our usual routine is a great chance to step back and reevaluate things. We are discovering how human, and how fragile we can be. We are surviving without many of the things we used to have – were they all necessary then? Can you make your life simpler? Also, we have understood how we’re all connected – keep the bigger picture.
20. Hang on to the lessons learnt
Never let a good crisis go to waste.Winston Churchill
You’ve probably heard from the 2008 crisis that in Chinese, the word for ‘crisis’ is also used for ‘opportunity’. Crisis revolve everything and when the dust settles, things are not like they were before. Take that chance to put yourself in a better place. Keep what you have learnt about the world, about the new perspective gained about humanity, how we can come and act together, how we can overcome difficult situations. Also, anything you have discovered about yourself, any useful new routine you have acquired. What are you learning from this? Have you learnt to appreciate what’s really important? Have you realised your life can be simpler? Hold on to any lessons and let them help you through the rest of your life.
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