Speaking from the future, namely the U.K., where Covid-19 quarantine began some time before the U.S., author Kay Hutchison has much to say about self-isolation in present time (our future) and her past. As documented in her memoir, My Life in 37 Therapies, she had a crisis in her life, a period of several years in which she spent much of her time alone, shut away with little connection to the outside world. Without internet, TV or radio, she experienced long periods of silence and stillness. Plenty of time to deal with self-isolation. Whilst it was a challenge at first, in time it became an important part of her life, a key therapy in her recovery.
As we listen to the relentless and often heart-breaking news on Coronavirus and deal with self-isolation and social distancing, I’m often asked what I learned during my solitary time that might be of benefit today.
One thing I learned was the importance of gaining some perspective on events and not giving way to the sense of growing panic around us which, though compelling, is of little or no help to anyone. I remember that as soon as I stopped feeling stressed about my situation and stopped reacting to events over which I had little or no control, my general health began to improve. I found I was able to look forward to the future and the possibility of positive change.
The U.K. is some weeks ahead of the U.S. in terms of lockdown, so perhaps my thoughts on this time here in Britain may be helpful in what’s likely to come. Remember that things will normalize, once again. This time will pass. Yes, it’s worrying and we need to be mindful of the official advice — avoiding social contact, staying at home whenever we can — but we can also look for the positives during this strange and unsettling time.
1. TIME FOR A POSITIVE VISION
It might only be temporary, but with so many day-to-day activities coming to an abrupt halt, it does give us an opportunity to envision a different future. If we reflect on what our society has become over the past 20 or 30 years, perhaps this time offers us a welcome pause for thought.
Think about the sudden reduction in pollution for instance. Swans and even dolphins have returned to the waters surrounding Venice. Think about birdsong without aircraft or traffic noise. Think about the value of collaboration — with people across society having to work together to beat the virus rather than battle each other. Think about examples of doctors, scientists, even governments sharing information. Think better air quality — if only for a while. Think about changes to travel patterns and to flying — all of a sudden those excited tourist groups and crowds that have swamped beautiful places around the world have vanished. Think Yosemite, Barcelona, remote Scottish islands, Sorrento, Cornwall, Easter Island. There’s a chance to re-imagine how things could be. For a time, gone too is the demand for bigger and better cruise ships that threaten once pristine places like the Galapagos Islands. Less cars, more bikes.
The future could be different and we have the ability to think about what a “re-set” might actually look like. That’s the big picture of course, over which we have little control. In our own lives we still have some control. We can control how we respond to events, and we can choose to respond positively. Perhaps it’s a time to re-evaluate our own health and outlook by taking a few simple steps for ourselves.
2. POSITIVE MINDSET
Set out to see the positive each day. Choose to look for the beauty and value in all that you experience. Seek out simplicity, especially in nature — the spring blossom on the trees, the birds singing their hearts out with so little background noise competing. Whatever you have, be thankful that you are alive, that you can enjoy the world. See the good in other people. There are many examples right now of people offering their support, their time and their ideas for the benefit of others.
And speaking of giving, there is so much being offered for free online right now — podcasts on working remotely, radio programs helping parents home-school their children, and wonderful nutrition, yoga and exercise classes.
And if you can, give something back yourself.
3. POSITIVE HEALTH
Poor mental health often reveals itself in physical diseases, so keep your physical health in the best possible shape at this time. Focus on keeping your whole system stress-free by regularly calming the mind and focusing on your internal stillness. One simple tip is to put your hand on your heart and listen to your heartbeat and your breathing. Feel the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe in slowly, filling your lungs, then breathe out, becoming aware of the warm air leaving your system and releasing all tension in your body. Relax your forehead, your jaw and your tongue, close your eyes and let them roll gently down into their sockets. The mental centering that these thoughts bring is good for your system. Do this as often as you need, especially at times when you feel your stress levels are rising. And remember that this IS something you can control, you’re in charge of your thoughts so don’t let them take over. If you like yoga, try “legs up the wall,” another great grounding pose. Look online on how to get into the position and rest there, flat back against the floor and legs up, for five to 20 minutes (the longer the better). It rests the mind and is even better if you place your hands on your chest and stomach, feeling the gentle rise and fall as you breathe. Give yourself a break and look internally.
4. POSITIVE ACTIONS
In the morning, get up, make your bed and prepare for the day. Why not go for a walk early before everyone else, get some fresh air with very few people around. Come back and organize yourself for the rest of the day, including time for your own wellbeing. There will be so many things to do, for family, for work, for the children, for grandparents, even walking the dog. Of course, you need to do those things, but you will be more able to accomplish all that you have if you also make time for you. And if you don’t manage everything, that’s just fine. Don’t beat yourself up for not doing what you have always been able to do in normal times. This is a different time and it needs a different, slower approach. So, if you can, do something that nourishes you. Give yourself a self-care treat, whatever works best for you. Try something creative — perhaps writing? It’s therapeutic for the mind. Take a fresh sheet of paper, write the date at the top, do five to 10 minutes of fast writing to get you started. Put down all your ideas, don’t think too much, just write and feel the pen on the paper or your fingers on your keyboard and don’t stop, don’t criticize, don’t question … whatever you think of your writing, just keep going. Do it every day, just write. You will feel better and you might just want to do more. If you love it, keep doing it, take a course. You never know, it might even lead to your first book.
5. POSITIVE ATTITUDE TO ISOLATION & SOLITUDE
It sounds strange to talk about a positive attitude to isolation but with so many people being forced into “lockdown,” perhaps this opens up an opportunity for us to rethink our attitude towards silence and solitude.
For much of my time over the last few years I’ve lived alone and also on occasion gone on a silent retreat. It was both challenging and uplifting. We tend to view people living alone as somehow not part of society. Perhaps with so many experiencing forced isolation and with people now taking it seriously as an issue, it might finally be OK to express concerns about loneliness and seek help. Perhaps also, as a first step, it will encourage some to connect with others and finally take advantage of the many new online possibilities with video calls and group activities.
Above all, see the positive in everything you do. Soon this time will be over. Once the noise and the bustle of normal life returns, we may be glad to have appreciated a different way of being. Perhaps we’ll even change — for the better.