Tips for surviving isolation

Tips for surviving isolation

In case you missed it, we’re in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic and Australia, like many other countries around the world, has developed social distancing restrictions to try to stop the spread of COVID-19 disease. In true Australian style, we’ve shortened the term home isolation to “iso”.

Today marks the beginning of the 6th week of iso, a time frame I’m basing on gym closures. I measure the time period of social restrictions from the day the gyms closed even though technically we started some restrictions prior to that. This is because anyone who knows me well, knows that my daily hour at the gym in the morning is like me taking my daily tablets. A day without my medicine …..well you ask my husband how that goes by the evening!

If you’d have told me a few months ago that coming up would be at least 6 weeks (and probably lots more) of not being able to go to the gym, I’d have told you I wouldn’t survive…..but not only have I survived, I’ve found a way to thrive!

This is coming from someone who’s daily routine is to go to the gym, followed by breakfast at a café after the kids are sorted and dropped off to school/daycare/grandparents and the important work tasks have been done. So my whole world was pretty much turned upside down when they closed the gyms and the cafes on me and then told me the kids had to stay at home with me too, unless it was essential I go out!!

It’s also coming from someone who travels a lot for work and is never content to stay at home and do nothing. Someone who developed situational depression twice in my early medical career when I was forced to do stints in rural towns and mentally suffered so much from the social isolation.

I guess those experiences set me up well for these recent restrictions because I knew what would set me off. I knew I needed to stay busy and keep some semblance of “normal” to my daily routine, even if it was in a different location. I knew what to do to keep me physically, mentally and emotionally healthy and now I’m going to share that with you!

Tip 1: Keep a routine

Most successful people in history have at least two things in common – talent and routine (probably a very rigid one but you don’t have to be that strict). Routines don’t have to be monotonous and it doesn’t mean doing the same thing every day, but there has to be structure in there somewhere. Humans thrive on structure. Your routine can be varied every day of the week, or month or quarter. I love routine but I have a short attention span and get bored easily, so my normal working week is structured to do something completely different each day.

The important part is not what the routine consists of, but how safe your subconscious mind feels through repetitive motions and expected outcomes. Your habits create your mood and your mood is the filter that tells your brain how to experience your life. Routine gives children safety and it gives adults purpose. A lack of routine leads to perpetual procrastination but sticking to a routine makes us feel validated. Your iso routine doesn’t have to be the same as your normal one…..but you have to have one.

Tip 2: Make exercise part of your daily routine

You might think I’m biased, because I love exercise so much, but exercise really is so good for the body and the mind. People constantly say to me “your so good to keep exercising every morning” as if it’s a burden or a sacrifice to my day but something I do anyway. I tell them that’s like telling my husband how good he is for drinking his morning coffee every day because maybe then they can understand that I do it because I love it (and how it makes me feel) and not because I have to (I’m not a coffee drinker, I’ve tried hard to like the stuff but I just can’t!). That being said, there are still days that I wake up feeling tired and sore and unmotivated, but I know how good I will feel after I exercise and I know how awful I will feel if I don’t, so that drives me to keep doing it day after day.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, or take you a long time, but half an hour of exercise a day goes a long way to making you happier and healthier. Start by walking, then try a light jog for 1 minute every 3 minutes on your walk and build from there. Another easy one is to grab a deck of cards and think of 4 exercises, one for each of the suits, like push ups, squats, burpees and sit ups….then pull out a card and do that many reps of the exercise connected to that suit until 20 minutes is up. There’s so much inspiration out there for ways to exercise at home ….the only thing you need to do is commit to it every day.

Tip 3: Do the important things first each day

This is one of the reasons I exercise in the morning. I am in no way a morning person. Actually, quite the opposite I’m a night owl and I really wake up at about 9pm! The problem is, if you get busy in the day, it can take you on a path you didn’t expect and then you find that you don’t have time (or energy) to do that thing you really wanted to do. Since having kids I’ve had to become more of a morning person. Suddenly waking up at 7am seems like a sleep in! Now the first thing I do each day is exercise and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It sets up my day perfectly and makes me feel happy and content. If I don’t do this, I feel anxious and stressed that I’ll get too busy and won’t be able to fit it in.

This is the same for an important work task I might need to do for the day. If I don‘t do that first thing (after my exercise), it sits in my subconscious, affecting my ability to enjoy what I’m doing at the time, especially if that’s not being productive. Like kicking the ball with my son – it’s an important part of the day in this new iso situation, but not ticking any of my boxes or being particularly productive for my work day, so I find my mind wandering to the mountain of things I have to get done, or trying to multitask with a work phone call at the same time, and that’s not fair to anyone. So I try to plan out my day, spend an hour doing the things I really need to get done, then try to immerse myself fully in the parenting activity of the day as much as I can. (This one’s a work in progress because I really am a bit too busy at the moment but I do long for the day that the only task at hand is to beat my son at shooting hoops!)

Tip 4: Eat for nutrition but give yourself a treat when you need it

This one’s really important, and for that reason, I recently dedicated a whole blog on nutrition, which my sister kindly wrote for me, so have a read of that one too. Food is fuel and its purpose is to give us energy to go about our day. Healthy food choices will be more effective at giving you energy, at the same time enhancing your physical health and therefore your life. You might think that eating a whole tub of ice cream at 9am is going to enhance your mental health, but I can guarantee you’re going to have to come back down from that high, and it’s going to be a big fall.

This is another big one I’ve heard in iso – people blowing out their diets and suddenly eating all the things they never usually do. Why? I actually don’t understand. What is different about your health and your existence now, other than the location you do things from? Nutrition habits should be long term plans, not quick fixes. If you’ve started eating differently then maybe you weren’t happy with what you were eating before. Choose foods that are healthy but also taste good. We’re in this eating thing for the long run and we’re not robots. Have your treats but in moderation. Nothing wrong with a scoop of ice cream after a nutritious meal a few times a week but ice cream is not the meal. I teach my kids about always foods (meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds), sometimes foods (breads, pasta, cereals and other processed foods) and treats (surely I don’t need to list these!). Fuel you body with nutritious foods and supplement with treats and not the other way around. I promise you’ll feel better for it after a while.

Tip 5: It’s called social distancing but it really means physical distancing – keep your social channels open

I think this is the main reason I struggled so much when I moved to rural towns for work all those years ago. I moved away from my social network and I wasn’t there long enough to create a new one. I’m a social person and although I hate noise and chaos, I thrive on frequent, small social interactions. Like the people you bump into when you’re out at a café, or the mum you see at the park when you take your kid there, who really understands what you’re life is like because she’s going through the same stage (ok I never really have time to take my kids to the park, they go with their grandparents, but apparently that’s what happens there!).

One of the best things to come out of iso, is the advancement in technology that keeps people socially together even though we’re physically apart. I train every morning, often with my husband, but I love the mornings that I catch up with a few girls from the gym and we do a zoom session together. Mentally it makes such a big difference to interact with people other than your immediate family for pleasure and not just work. Go for a walk around your neighbourhood and smile and say hi to anyone you pass (while maintaining social distancing of course). If you have to do the groceries, do them at the same time and place as a friend. If you’re going to interact with other humans for a short period of time, may as well make them your friends! Humans are social creatures and we’re not built for living in complete isolation…..that’s for crazy people and it also turns people crazy.

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