Steps to Master Social Isolation
I genuinely commend many I see doing their part to at least distance, if not entirely isolating. It is cute to see the little ‘day count’ posts on social media and already the talk of stir-crazy. I hope my observations can help.
Welcome to your new reality for a little while! I am your possible future speaking, having now achieved 60 days of largely self-isolating with my fiance. Don’t worry, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but don’t expect it soon.
We’ve limited our wandering outside as much as possible. It is likely that we have been overly-responsible in our efforts these days. I know other people here, foreigner or native, have exercised differing levels of caution in both directions. Our theory has been that there hasn’t been a great need to heighten the risk in our community with going out, so why bother? I have been productive with working online and all our needs can be met in our little 2-3 block radius. Actually, for the most part, we can cover our needs without really leaving our apartment community at all.
Whatever your situation, and I know it’s different than my little 570 sq ft box of an apartment, I want to offer reflections and suggestions for getting by as the stir-crazy and cabin fever grows. Most of you have indoor surroundings we would salivate over, compared to our modest dwelling. Count your blessings. Some of you even have outdoor areas large enough to basically be considered part of your ‘indoors’; veritable ‘parks’ by standards here that, to many average Chinese, appear to be ‘villas’. These conditions will be profound fortifications, should you allow it, against the viral predator by lending extra cushion to your mentality.
This obviously only applies if you’re not among the necessary professions needed outside to combat this virus and keep supplies available. I think it also only applies if you’re not among a small fraction of people who could make themselves useful by helping your community through volunteering with a litany of possible acts. If you’re a person who wouldn’t pose a harm to others in your home surroundings by making yourself available to perhaps go out to help deliver necessary goods for the elderly, for example, you should really consider that option. I’m sure there are many mutual aid and civil society groups you can research about that. I know I would have if I wasn’t stuck in a foreign country. At the end of this, if you were able to stay in mostly and benefited from the efforts of these people. Throw a barbecue and invite them over or something.
All in all, you will discover your calculus for staying mentally positive will shift considerably because the options on the table are different.
First, plan ahead in order to create any kind of structure for yourself. You have the advantage of slightly more foresight than we had in Beijing. At the beginning, it appeared that maybe after the end of our 3 week winter vacation it’d be about 2 weeks working online before going back to school and work. That’s now stretched to 6 weeks for schools here, while more and more professions have incrementally returned. Even if it doesn’t pan out exactly, plan for a couple months. I’m not talking about supplies though, I’m talking about things you could do and routines you can hone. This will be highly tailored to each individual and family, as it must.
Next, get creative with obtaining your needs. You’ll feel the pull of, “oh I better just go out to get ‘X’ ”. Fight that little voice in your head. The way to do that is to examine what you need and how you can get it on a regular basis within your home. Is there anything you can eliminate and streamline? That probably means using some app or website for delivery services you wouldn’t have considered in normalcy. When a case appeared very near our neighborhood block, Natalie found we could just avoid supermarket trips entirely through delivery services here. Many of the other methods I detailed more here. By hook or by crook, find any way to cut down on needless trips because your stupid brain is going to try to exploit that temptation. I know mine does all the time, and that stupid brain is a traitor.
Revamped Psychological Balance
Binge watching and binge gaming is fine, even encouraged, to an extent. It’s okay, don’t beat yourself up if you fall into that pattern. Now is really the most optimal time for it. Get it out of your system now so that when normalcy returns you can dive in and flourish without the anchor of that kind of time wasted.
Sure, moderation is preferable, but don’t worry if it feels good to just immerse yourself in all the content you can get. It is better to do that than to get negative and feel guilty. Those feelings will just foster that little voice in your head that whispers, “maybe I should get out and have just a small little itty-bitty gathering with my close friends”. Anything to combat that voice is society’s ally right now. I’m going to do a separate post about my own reviews and recommendations of movies, tv, video games, and sports to try for yourself, because I’ve been able to dig really deep.
After binging content extensively, you’ll come to the end of your rope and that’s when things get really interesting.
Your hobby and skill development could have its own renaissance right now. If you balance the ‘bad habits’ with the good, by all means do it. I had varying degrees of balance throughout.
Personally, I made strides in my piano abilities that had plateaued somewhat. I picked a piece, Reverie by Debussy, tacked it to my wall in front of the keyboard, and systematically went at it with a fury. It wasn’t much different than any other time practicing piano seriously in the past, but the degree was certainly heightened. I knew there was a particular section that intimidated what I thought was my capability. It only took a short time to break through it. Additionally, I picked out pieces that I had let fall by the wayside over the years as I tried novel musical interests. Some from middle and high school had basically fallen to the level of having to start over completely. I found when restarted, whoa, muscle memory is a miraculous thing. What once took months to grind out way back then, now returned like it had never left me. Whatever you particular passion, use this time now to augment or revitalize it.
Natalie had her own endeavors. At various times she practiced Latin dance, as she was missing being able to go to lessons that were allowed sometimes at the private dance company where she works. As is the norm for most Chinese girls, producing fun TikTok videos was unavoidable. She gave considerable effort to continue studying Spanish. We both made good progress on the books we were reading. We also both started something new, her by beginning online coding lessons to start learning Python. For me, well, it’s the writing here on my personal website, because apparently I need a world pandemic to break through my feelings of ‘impostor syndrome’.
Routine is important and we landed on a pattern of rotating our responsibilities. It’s nothing structured specifically. Just, “yesterday I cooked, it’s your turn for tonight’s dinner”. This extends to different cleaning tasks and whatever else. This rotation helps with varying the inherent monotony of domestic patterns. Granted, some tasks we prefer over others, such as the proportion of me washing dishes and her sweeping floors. Play it by ear.
The Fail Safe
If there is one ace in the hole that you need to hold on to, listen carefully here. This one is the fail-safe. It is the miracle psychological boon that is like an atomic bomb tearing through negativity, monotony, and stagnancy. You ready?
Rearranging your room[s].
Again, keep it in your back pocket. If things get tough, mull it over a bit. Hold off as long as possible, if you can. You need to be in dire straits to engage this switch. Hopefully it never comes. Thankfully it coincides with the ‘Spring cleaning’ routine.
The idea came to me the morning after a particularly difficult night for us sometime around day 40ish, wallowing in anxiety and the like. This anxiety and uncertainty was multiplied even more by our situation as an international couple (again, count your blessings).
My analytical mind went towards the dimensions of objects in our room and whether the puzzle could be rearranged. Once we decided to do so and try a different arrangement, it was like a new day had arrived. Nothing short of a baffling black magic voodoo miracle. Not only was the new design a huge practical improvement on every level, our tiny little space felt reinvigorated and so did we. That tipping point was a massive boon and I cannot understate its importance. So, keep it in mind and you’ll know if and when you have to use it.
Never underestimate the power of delayed gratification. For many of your activities and binging, it might be good to prioritize the ones you want to do most at the end of the list. Build towards it so that you have some of the ones you think will be most entertaining just when you need it the most. I delayed watching the new season of Letterkenny as long as possible. When my anxiety and concern over the developing situation back home was getting a bit too much, having that season to rip through was a welcome release valve.
If you live with someone, use this time to be especially gracious and generous. Keep everything ‘in good faith’ and earnest between you, especially if it’s children. Things like harmless sarcasm taken the wrong way and petty acting out is usually not a big deal in normal times. Daily annoyances abound and snapping back and forth happens with everyone. Those could easily get out of hand given the abnormal circumstances. Focus on patience first and be more generous than you otherwise would have. You possess the time to make it happen. Whatever was so important that prevented that introspective reaction before, well now that can almost certainly take a back seat. It’s just one more ‘stupid brain’ move that can’t be allowed to fester with stakes like these.
Bad habits will gain traction. It’s just a fact. While you should combat them however you can, don’t let the psychological side of beating yourself up over failure outweigh the need for consistency during your isolation. Keep the enemy in mind always. For me the physical fitness side is a habit I value immensely and it has surely taken a hit. My desire to go out and rip a 5 mile run has achieved heights that are almost insurmountable. At various times I’ve reignited an indoors exercise routine after stretches of simply being an asshat. Early on, I tried to be creative with my body-weight exercises and utilizing our many water containers for different resistance routines. That was effective for a while but the shine wore off. Take advantage of your surroundings as much as possible. For me, forcing myself to run up 14 flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator had to be done at key points. There are ways to mitigate the damage to habits, whether it’s sleep patterns (which I am failing badly at recently), nutrition, screen time, etc. Weigh your needs and prioritize them against the negativity that guilt or shame throws at your conscious.
Lastly, reach out for video chat conversations with people you never would think to call during normalcy. It might seem odd at first, but that socializing has to replace the urge for face to face time. I guarantee you’ll both find comfort in it and each of you will notice your confined little world is broadened. If you think about your usage of it in regular times, you’ll realize just how much this incredible tool is underutilized. Already I’ve seen commendable efforts at this by various organizations trying to aid the public in their solitude by airing live-streams or virtual tours. This can also be exercised on the individual level and it’s impact is of a higher degree.
Only you can find that special balance that reduces negative psychology while not catering to actions that aid the viral enemy. This is certainly not a comprehensive guide by any means. If you take anything away from this, it’s the suggestion to re-frame how you value you actions. It is abnormal times and it is okay to act abnormally in order to counter this attack. Those actions should stem from your own calculations of how you can put ‘that little voice in your head’ back in its place and raise positive thinking to an impenetrable pedestal despite your isolation.