I think the word ‘unprecedented’ has been used enough times over the last week to last us for the next year. But I can’t blame the Chancellor Rishi Sunak for peppering his announcement with the word – the situation and the measures being taken by the government are beyond what most of us could have imagined, perhaps even a week ago.
Last weekend I was wandering around central London with a friend, the only difference being that we chose to have lunch in Wagamamas rather than Pret, so we wouldn’t have to eat with our hands. We went for cocktails and then I went to a CD launch for work, joining an audience of around 100, networking and enjoying free prosecco after the recital.
This weekend, I, along with many others in the country, am facing two days of staying indoors, followed by a week of working from home, with no plans in the evenings other than watching TV or reading a book. This will probably be the case for many weeks to come.
Of course, I am incredibly lucky that I am able to work from home and still have a steady income during this time. I’m acutely aware that there are many people who are facing financial uncertainty on top of everything else, who would do anything to have the security of a 9-5 desk-based job right now. I’m also aware that I am lucky to be able to protect myself from the virus, while NHS workers and many others are exposing themselves to risk every day, just by showing up to work. Maybe I have it easy. I mean heck, I do have it easy. But that doesn’t stop me feeling anxious and overwhelmed about the coming months, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.
Clearly, I don’t have all the answers – no one does – but there are things we can all do to help us stay sane in this crazy new reality. Here are a couple of ideas, for me as much as for anyone else.
Create a routine (but don’t compare notes on Instagram)
I’m not the first person to say this and I definitely won’t be the last, but routines are important. As much as I still get that Sunday evening feeling about the week ahead, there’s something so comforting about waking up each morning, making a coffee in my reusable cup and heading to the station at exactly the same time every day. As I walk I listen to Bible in a Year, getting the same train and seeing the same people. When I get into the office I switch on my computer and make a cup of tea in my favourite mug. It feels mundane, but losing it this last week has made me realise how much it helps me structure my time. Anyone who is now working from home is going to have to come up with a new routine. It might involve 8am yoga, but it might not. Don’t feel bad if all you can manage is rolling out of bed at 8.55am and arriving at your desk in your PJs. Presumably, most of us are expected to stick to usual working hours, but there’s probably going to be some flexibility in that. Do what works for you. Personally, I like to shower, get dressed and do my usual make-up, but that won’t be the case for everyone. It won’t help to scroll through Instagram, looking at everyone else’s aesthetically-pleasing desks and feeling bad about your own kitchen table set-up. The person who posts a picture is probably trying to validate their day and actually feels just as unproductive and inadequate as you do.
Watch your mental health
Self-isolation doesn’t have to spiral out of control. If you already struggle with your mental health, this time is going to be a huge challenge for you. Your anxieties and fears probably thrive on isolation, so it’s easy to use this as an excuse to retreat even further away from the people around you. Even if you are having to spend a lot of time alone, keep talking to people on the phone or online. Check up on other friends who might be struggling. Also, keep a diary or a mood tracker, just so you’re staying aware of your emotions, feelings and worries. Now could be the perfect time to start that bullet journal you never usually have time for…
Do things for others
It’s easier than ever at the moment to become self-absorbed. We’re all worried about our own lives, finances, health, social lives etc etc. But spare a thought for your 75-year-old neighbour who lives alone. Maybe you can’t go round and see her because of the risks, but if you’re low-risk yourself, you can drop a note through the door offering to buy supplies, or you could even FaceTime her if she wants virtual company. It’s great to hear about all the initiatives springing up all over the place, whether they’re providing food for older people, or offering free coffee to NHS workers. There will definitely be ways of getting involved in these, and in doing so, you’ll not only be helping others but will probably also feel a sense of purpose. (NB: I am not doing anything like this at the moment. This is really a note to self.)
Find new ways to have fun
This is something my mum keeps on saying and I must say I’m sceptical. As much as I enjoy a night in, I also like meeting friends at the pub, going to the theatre, wandering around town and discovering bougie plant-adorned coffee shops. I will probably have to readjust my idea of ‘fun’, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Maybe fun will now look like spending an evening reading a book in one sitting, having a virtual Netflix party with some friends, writing lots of blog posts, playing board games after dinner, doing some baking, or starting a sketchbook. (If anything, you’ll have an artistic record of this historically significant moment in time). If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, you could even grow some veg and avoid the mad supermarket queues. There are lots of simple ways to have fun without going out, you’ve just got to be a little bit creative.
FaceTime family and friends
This doesn’t need much explanation really. Not being able to physically meet up with people means we’ve got to find other ways of keeping in touch. Crises can bring people closer together, because we’re all reminded of who is important to us. If there are people you see every few weeks, schedule in a regular FaceTime call with them, so you can catch up and keep some semblance of normality in your week. Have a virtual cup of tea with your grandma, or a virtual drink with your girlfriends. Not only will this help you, but it will benefit the other person too. Just because we’re spending more time alone, we don’t necessarily have to be lonely.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t write a novel, create a side-hustle and learn a new language
And finally, remember that it’s okay if you come out the other side of this having just about survived. You don’t have to have written a novel, learnt a new language, or set up an innovative side-hustle. Social media is full of people showing off their new-found hobbies and projects, but that doesn’t mean you’re failing if you don’t having anything to show for yourself at the end of all this. (And there will be an end to all this.)