When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was in shock. My plans changed in an instant. I did not attend my high school reunion, I had to be absent from work, and I couldn’t play in my fall soccer league. I grieved the loss of my health and felt scared about the days ahead. My treatment even required physical isolation from others. I could not be within 15 feet of other people for about a week. It was a disorienting and difficult time.
The past few days and weeks, the spread of COVID-19 has reminded me of my days fighting cancer. I see those around me reacting with shock, fear, and grief, the same way I responded to my personal illness. We are all facing a shared challenge, a collective suffering in this new era.
While my personal health crises pales in comparison to the current pandemic, I learned some lessons that might be helpful for those stuck at home. Here are some strategies that I found helpful to deal with isolation.
Establish and follow a routine
Having a daily routine, even a basic one, will help fight boredom and lethargy. Wake up, eat, and go to bed at roughly the same time every day. Yes, having a few days to lounge in your pajamas will be nice, but eventually that can lead to feeling sluggish and bored. Decide on your routine with the people you live with and make sure to build in time for fun.
Do one physical activity every day
If possible, get outside for a walk to stretch your legs and get a change of scenery. If you can’t get out, stretch, do a workout video, do yoga, or just put on some music and dance. Exercise is known to release endorphins and can help fight the blues that come with being alone indoors.
Reach out to loved ones
During my isolation, when I could not be near my family or friends, I realized the power of a text message or a phone call. I also felt the power of prayer and was encouraged to know that many people were praying for me. Similarly, we will need to depend on others in the days ahead, even if we cannot physically be together. Make that phone call, text your friends, or send silly group snaps to stay connected with your social network.
Do one mentally stimulating activity everyday
For those working from home or suddenly homeschooling children, this suggestion might already be covered. If you find this time of social distancing mind-numbing, however, get your brain working. Do a puzzle, play board games, listen to podcasts, read a book, learn a new language, or take up a new hobby. Better yet, do one of these activities with someone. Keeping your mind sharp will also help fight the blues.
Talk to God (or yell if you need to)
It’s normal and expected that such a time will bring up questions about God and why suffering happens. Those questions are real and important. Even if we don’t know the answers, just asking the questions can help us journey farther in the spiritual life. Whatever you are thinking or feeling, share it with God. Especially if you feel upset or angry. Writing in a journal can be a good way to get these thoughts out (you don’t have to save what you write). Opening that network of communication with God is what’s important.
Ask for help if you need it
We are all going to need some sort of help in the coming days. For my family, we need help entertaining our kids and our neighbors are stepping up to the challenge by hanging fun things in their windows for our daughters to see. Find your support network and reach out if you need help. If you find yourself feeling overly sad or anxious, reach out to someone you trust for help.
Right now, we are retreating into our homes and practicing social distance, which is reshaping our day-to-day life. It is going to be challenging and we will need to support one another, but if we can rely on God and each other, we’ll not only survive — we’ll come through the other side as more free and compassionate people.