There are still many unanswered questions about what we should be doing amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. So while I wait to hear on the latest strategies to 'flatten the curve', I feel morally obligated to make my own arrangements.
Not the common-sense steps such as washing hands regularly and minimising the risk of exposure to the vulnerable - that should go without saying for all of us.
I mean about expecting the worse while hoping for the best. What can I do to keep my various income streams a-trickling and how best can I use my time if I end up having to self-isolate? What can I do to keep my sense of wellbeing high and not go stir-crazy?
This article is more of a personal therapy session for yours truly in some respects. There are times when I struggle, and this week is one of them - by getting some ideas out of my head and on to paper, it helps me keep a sense of perspective.
So if the sh*t does hit the fan and a lot of us find ourselves quarantined, I'm aiming to make the most of the time and have prepared myself something of a "Go Bag" for my wellbeing. Here are nine things that I've mentally packed in case of self-isolation:
Do something creative
Being creative can improve your mood and self-worth - fact. Creativity leads to a sense of achievement, releasing a neurochemical cocktail with high levels of serotonin and dopamine, producing a sense of energised calm.
My wife has gone for adult colouring books - strangely addictive, but I'm planning to crank up both my reading & writing output. That pile of books next to my armchair doesn't know what's coming.
Even a minimum effective dose of five minutes can be enough to get into a flow state. Tapping into this calmer more rational mind is imperative to switch from fight-or-flight that a crisis can trigger. It's the easiest way to decompress when you get riled by another tabloid headline or ill-informed politician.
Learn new skills
Achieving goals I've set myself helps increase confidence adds to a more optimistic outlook for the future. I've set myself a few challenges from Dr Rangan Chatterjee's book "Feel Better in 5" - now to cement them into daily habits.
With a family wedding coming up later this year I also need to brush up on my Portuguese, so downloading DuoLingo is on the cards. It will also help when tempers fray and I get yelled at around the house - I'll know what's being said rather than just getting the emotional gist.
Eating well to boost my mood
What goes in our mouths can have a real influence on our physiology, so choosing healthy foods will increase energy levels and a sense of wellbeing. Conversely, eat the wrong stuff, and you'll suffer postprandial somnolence - that's a food coma to you and me.
So instead of filling my store cupboards with toilet paper and pasta, I'm stocking up on frozen fruits and veggies, cans of pulses and beans and other goodies like nut milk. Oh, and coffee. Two weeks of self-isolation and no coffee equals a living hell.
Knowing there are going to be tough moments if I do self-isolate for two weeks, there are strategic stashes of chocolate hidden around the house. It'll serve as a fun game too - adapting squirrel behaviour to work on my spatial memory.
Keep in touch with your friends and loved ones
I already have a myriad of way to stay in touch with colleagues, associates and clients. I know these all work as I work remotely 80 per cent of the time as it is - it's like I've been in training for self-isolation all my life.
But it's worth noting that people who spend time with their family, friends and colleagues have increased wellbeing. Just look at the videos on social media of whole streets in Italy coming out to sing together on their balconies.
If I find myself in lock-down, I know I can still commune with friends and family whether they're down the road or the other side of the globe. From WhatsApp group chats to Zoom conferencing and phone calls. I have no reason to feel alone or have other people feel alone - I just remember to use technology to my advantage.
Keep physically active
A study found that objects disproportionally affected by hands are the surfaces most likely to have viruses. Think door handles and knobs but include barbells into that subset. These surfaces can harbour germs for up to nine days.
I know exercise lowers anxiety and depression - just 30 minutes, five times a week, can make a difference. But what if self-isolation rules out going to the gym or getting in my 10,000 steps?
I guess the risk to myself and others is pretty low if I go for a run, especially if it's on quieter paths and roads. But failing that, I've uncovered a heap of routines to do at home with little or no equipment. Hey - a change is as good as a holiday. And mixing up my exercises may trigger some #gainz.
On top of this (I appreciate that not everyone can afford to) I have signed up for GP on Demand. It is a 24/7 service that enables me to have a telephone or video call with NHS-registered doctors. If the sh*t does hit the fan, I can at least talk to a medically-qualified person and not just "Doctor Google" - great for peace of mind.
Being involved in a fun event or a project can lead to new skills, making new friends and a sense of fulfilment. Now, my options will be limited if I am housebound, but there are ways around this.
It could be as simple as being in touch with an elderly neighbour or friend. If I'm stuck inside, I can't pop round and make them a cup of tea or take a prescription to them. But I can make them feel less isolated with a phone call (or FaceTime if they're technically au fait).
I can also make sure other people are aware of them and can help if I can't. Facebook's already seen various local action groups spring up (here's my local one) if you're wondering how you can help.
Take a break
Booking a break may sound counterintuitive and even downright optimistic. But I'm going to book some annual leave for later this year. Everything comes to an end, including pandemics. So to give me something to look forward to I'll use any self-isolation time to dream, research then book a trip for Q4 this year.
Booking time off in advance to spend with your nearest and dearest is a great idea, pandemic or not. By proactively committing trips and plans in your diary, you'll not find yourself reacting to life, your job or boss. And guess what? Anything else that's important will fit itself in, and a lot of the mindless crap you think is relevant will get pushed to the side.
If you need reminding about the significant people and things in your life, read this great post by Tim Urban, entitled "The Tail End". You're welcome.
Ask for help
If I begin to feel pressure regarding my work or finances, I'll make sure I will take the opportunity to discuss these feelings with people I trust. Not only will this prevent unnecessary anxiety from building up, but it'll also give me another perspective.
One thing an introvert reading this will appreciate is that it can get pretty lonely inside your head. Worse, if you are used to a busy, office environment, you will hit cabin fever at some point - trust me.
I've saved arguably the dullest till last. But let's face it, you're not going to be working solidly 8-12 hours a day. A brief bit of self-isolation will cast a stark light on just how ineffective you and an office environment can be. And you'll not be motivated for 14 days straight to engage in some of the 'holier than thou' activities above - I get it.
For those dull moments, I'm going to get down to a little bit of good old-fashioned Spring Cleaning. Not just around the house (though I highly recommend "The Organised Mum Method"). Other aspects of my life need freshening up.
On a more personal level, I also intend to up the ante when it comes to my meditation practice. I've used InsightTimer a free app for a couple of years now. It has everything from guided meditations, to timers for self-meditation and even meditation-inspired bedtime stories for the younger members of the household.
I'd rather not be self-isolating for a couple of weeks, but if the worse comes to happen, hey, it's not the end of the world. By a little bit of planning and maintaining an optimistic viewpoint, I intend to turn the situation to my advantage.
I hope you're able to do the same if you find yourself in the same position. I wish you and your loved ones good health and peace of mind.
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