“Roz, no offense, but I think you need to get out.”
I was getting weird. I knew I was getting weird, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. Self-isolation and cabin fever will do that to ya. I needed to get out, but – like most of you reading this right now – I couldn’t.
Being in isolation is tough – your weirdness starts to manifest itself in strange forms. Your anxiety and stress levels can start to rise. Your depression can begin to take over.
My ‘isolation’ started when I moved to Canada in March 2019 and, unable to work & with no car or public transit near me, I found myself isolated all day every day while my husband worked. Towards the end of 2019 we finally started making friends, but when my husband was offered a job in another city, we found ourselves in isolation once again. During the same time that we were moving cities in early January 2020, my dad had an accident and – to cut a long, tragic story short – my sister and I suddenly had to fly to South Africa to be with our mom and say our goodbyes to our dad. My dad had somehow contracted Avian Influenza (bird flu), three types of pneumonia and two types bronchitis while in hospital. He was in a coma in an ICU quarantine cubicle for almost 6 weeks… which meant that my family and I had to isolate ourselves too.
Nothing can prepare you for seeing your loved one in an ICU quarantine cubicle with tubes, a ventilator and machines keeping them alive. Nothing.
It has been a very traumatic, stressful and lonely time for my family, and now with the COVID-19 pandemic, life has become a very stressful and lonely time for many others too.
What people neglect to share on social media about these kinds of situations is that -during times of extreme stress and isolation- we tend to fight more with our loved ones. Every little thing that someone does seems to trigger feelings of irritation, fear, pain, grief or anger in someone else.
When you’re in a vulnerable state, it’s often difficult to manage your emotions the way you’d ideally want to. You can try your best to be the mature adult you know you should be, but you may find yourself having the reactions of a toddler who’s been denied a treat at a candy store. When you’re cooped-up and stressed out it’s easy to say things you don’t really mean and lash out at those you love most. It can be tempting to try to justify hurtful actions to ‘save face’ – even when you know you’re being unreasonable. Sound familiar?
Of course, all of this in-house drama just leaves everyone feeling even more stressed out and depleted than before.
When you’re facing stress and tragedy, you need to realize that those around you are also feeling it. During this time of the COVID-19 global pandemic, everyone is filled with fear: fear for their health, fear due to lack of finances and resources, and fear for their loved ones’ safety.
Fear is a natural instinct designed to protect us, but it shouldn’t overwhelm or control us. Putting different personalities into a confined space with fear and extreme stress can create a real challenge to maintain the peace.
We need to realize that everyone deals with stress and fear differently, just like everyone grieves differently. Stress, fear and grief bring out the worst in us. Being confined means that those feelings often feel amplified, making them harder to control. And who bears the brunt of it? Our loved ones, of course.
Don’t make the mistake of allowing these emotions to ruin your relationships.
During my (seemingly never ending) time of isolation, I’ve learned how to keep (most of) my sanity and how to share small spaces with others while we’re all experiencing high emotions. So I’ve put together some practical tips to help you and your loved ones share spaces without tearing each other to shreds:
1 . Find Purpose
Having a sense of purpose plays a pretty big role in helping you to feel content. Whether your sense of purpose comes from helping your kids with their schoolwork, cooking wonderful meals every day, pursuing your passion in some capacity or helping someone less fortunate – holding on to that sense of purpose will help you to feel more settled. If you’re not feeling a sense of purpose, you may need to dig a little deeper to find it. It could be a hobby or passion project that you want to take up, or even a change of career. Whatever it is, find your sense of purpose and encourage your loved ones to find their purpose too. It will be your saving grace.
2. Join an Online Community & Learn Something New
I recently signed up for an online workshop for those involved in theatre in my area, and being able to interact with people on a weekly basis while learning some new skills has made such a huge difference to my mental health!
Think of a skill or hobby you’d love to learn, and find an online community to join. If improving your writing or copy is something you’re interested in, you can sign up for a free writing workshop that will help you to create more engaging content and will allow you to socialize with others online!
3. Keep the candy, junk food and booze to a minimum
It’s tempting to get into a groove of constantly foraging for food in your kitchen in an attempt to fill your emotions with copious amounts of sugar, but it’s not going to help you feel better at the end of the day. Junk food, candy & booze will give you a sugar rush (ie: too much empty energy) and if you’re unable to use up that energy, that pent up sugar will manifest itself as red hot ants in your pants: anxiety, anger, aggression, irritability or the inability to concentrate. For the sake of peace within yourself, limit the sugar.
4. Creative therapy!
During the weeks my dad was in hospital, I found it really helpful to create things while watching movies or series on Netflix. That way, I was distracting myself from the pain and fear (giving myself a break from the stress) while allowing myself to process everything. Painting, knitting and song-writing became my creative and therapeutic outlets. Shortly after my dad passed on, I saw a psychologist which was helpful (and I recommend talking with a professional if you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, extreme stress or trauma) – but because I’m an internal processor, I personally found that being creative and processing my trauma through writing, art and song was more beneficial for me than simply talking about it.
During that time I hand-knitted the above throw. (I’ll be posting the tutorial tomorrow)
5. Work out!
Even a 16 minute workout is enough to get the blood and endorphins flowing, and will help you to feel better about yourself. Exercise will also help you to feel calmer and less squirrelly.
If you’re struggling to get into a workout routine, I recommend the following:
– Liezl Jayne’s 16 min HIIT workout for fat loss
– ZUMBA FITNESS with Aimee every Monday and Thursday
–Yoga with Amy (short videos uploaded daily)
6. Stay Social
Call your loved ones daily, have regular FaceTime coffee or wine dates with your friends. Keeping your social routine up despite the distance will do a lot for your mental health. Remember those who are alone … they need some extra love right now.
7. Don’t beat yourself up if you have an unproductive day
A few days ago I had a particularly bad day. I felt so lost due to grief and I was unable to do anything. I tried so hard to be productive (I hate wasting time) – but the only thing I managed to do in an entire day was bake a loaf of banana bread. What should have taken me 10 minutes to prepare took half a day simply because I was experiencing massive mental blocks. This is a common symptom of depression that no one really talks about – forgetting things, and the sudden and total inability to complete basic tasks. People think that having depression means that you feel sad all the time – but in my experience, I’ve found that I feel emotionally numb and I struggle to do very basic things. I’ve had to learn that when I start to feel this way I need to stop trying to be productive and just allow myself to cry. I put on a sad movie, look through old family photographs, write about my experiences – anything to get those tears flowing.
If you are having an unproductive day – that’s okay. Just rest. Cry. Do what you need to do. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
8. Recognize your own emotions and find an outlet for them
Try to recognize your fear, your stress and your grief for what it is, and keep those emotions separate from your loved ones. Don’t let yourself project those feelings onto your relationships with others, because things will get ugly. It’s okay to be afraid, to feel stress and sadness during this time – in fact, allow yourself to feel those emotions. Put them on paper, release them into a song, fight them out in a video game, or punch them into an actual punching bag. But don’t take it out on your loved ones. They’re trying to deal with this just as as much as you are.
9. Recognize emotions in others and don’t take it personally
Everyone feels and expresses things differently. Don’t judge your loved ones by how you see them express themselves during times of extreme stress. If they are taking their stress, fear, grief and pain out on you, then walk away (if you can). If their feelings seem misdirected at you, try help them to channel those feelings into something more productive. Encourage them to write, paint, work out, play video games… let them do whatever they need to do. But recognize the outbursts and the fights for what they are: high emotions in small spaces.
(Side note: One or two “verbal outbursts” during extreme stress is different to abuse. If you’re experiencing consistent abuse or if you or your loved ones are in physical danger, call 911 (USA & Canada) or 10111 (South Africa). If you’re experiencing consistent physical, psychological or emotional abuse, you may want to reconsider your living situation).
10. Find something to be grateful for every day
Be it that single flower that just bloomed, or the fact that you have enough to eat during the shut down… gratitude is one of those golden ingredients that helps you maintain happiness and good mental health even in the toughest times. Every day you have a thousand things to be grateful for – so try to focus on those things instead of spending all your energy feeling frustrated with the inconveniences you’re facing at the moment.
11. Consider those less fortunate
Foster an animal (the animal shelters are overflowing right now), or donate some food or money to those who are really struggling. If you’re lucky enough to have an income right now then keep paying for those art classes or swimming lessons – because many people who own their own businesses don’t have the support or financial cushioning they need right now. Some of my friends and I (an artist, a social worker and friend who runs a local charity) have created The Coffee Collab 21 Day Challenge where you can donate the money you would normally spend on a coffee and put it toward food for those people in South Africa who are unable to feed their families right now. The equivalent of ONE Starbucks coffee is enough to feed an entire family for a day! You can donate or find out more information here: (click image)
12. Be kind to yourself
Most of us talk to ourselves when in the shower or brushing our teeth. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have very nice things to say to ourselves. Think about the way you speak to yourself – would you speak to someone else like that? I know I wouldn’t… because it would be considered abuse! Whenever I catch myself ‘verbally abusing’ myself, I stop immediately and try to think of something positive or encouraging instead. Speak kindly to yourself & don’t curse or verbally yourself because it will make you feel like…. you guessed it… a piece of 💩. The way you speak to yourself will affect how you feel about yourself, and how you feel about yourself will affect how you treat others.
Take the pressure off yourself. Stop obsessing over your ‘flaws’. Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed because you’re weirder, more emotional or less productive than usual. Watch your favorite show, nap, journal, take a long bath, meditate, paint your nails… you do you and treat yourself well!
You may feel all out of sorts right now, but you’re not the only one feeling that way. Take a moment to browse through Instagram for 10 seconds and you’ll see people flying their freak flags high on social media. We are all getting squirrelly and weird right now. That’s okay.
If you think you’re the only family or couple fighting right now – you’re not. Be kind to each other.
There are a lot of heightened and very big emotions in the world right now and most of us are confined to very small spaces. So, be kind to yourself and have grace for others.
We’re all in this together.