Tips for Surviving Social Isolation, from a Chronically Ill Person

Are you in isolation because of Covid-19, voluntarily or otherwise? Is it really starting to get to you? Welcome to my world! This is how much of life is for people with chronic illnesses. In my case, I get sick more often than others do with various respiratory infections and isolate myself to keep my roommates, students, and others safe until I am well again. I’ve picked up a lot of information about isolation and coping mechanisms over the years. Here is my primer for you. And guess what? I’m super poor, so almost everything in this post is free if you have computer access.

Body Health

Being stuck at home means your body movement is probably dramatically reduced. Exercise is part of several processes that keep you happy and healthy. If you can find a way to get your body moving on a regular basis, you are going to be a lot better off. Ways to exercise at home:

  • Use free videos from YouTube for stretching routines. Who knows, maybe you’ll come out of this way more limber and in way less pain because of daily stretching! Here is a great video you can follow along with from a doctor.
  • Use free videos from YouTube to do workouts on your own floor at home. You can find lots of them that don’t need any equipment. Here is a good one for strengthening your core, which I like to recommend because it talks about how to safely perform the exercises. Core strength is an important place to start with workouts because it supports all of the rest of your strength, so if you are a beginner, start with this. Also: Your abs are not your core. Your core muscles are underneath those muscles. (By “underneath,” I mean more internal, not lower down on your body.)
  • If you are able to do so, go on walks in your neighborhood.
  • If you have stairs in your home, walk up and down them extra times every time you pass by them.
  • Some may find this suggestion a bit crass, but you can also masturbate. It produces some of the same physiological benefits of exercise and typically takes up less space.

Mental Health

Most people have some kind of personal balance between alone time and social time. Very few people truly enjoy constant isolation, and even then, humans tend to prefer to do things voluntarily. Add financial distress and pandemic-related emotions to the mix, and it makes sense that a lot of people are struggling a lot right now. Here are some things you can do to support your mental health:

  • See the body health section above. Everything up there will support your mental health. Here is info on why and how.
  • Be careful about your sleep patterns. If you can set up your life so that you are going to bed at about the same time every day and waking up at about the same time every day, you will likely notice several benefits, including mental health improvements.
  • Establish a routine. Losing yourself in social media and the bowels of the internet for a few days is one thing; doing it for weeks on end can be destructive, especially with all the horrible news permeating every part of the internet right now. Use alarms for things like bedtime, meal times, when to start a regular activity, and other significant routine markers if you are someone who loses track of time. Avoid setting alarms for meal times if this strategy aggravates an eating disorder. Here is some information about the likely benefits of family routines.
  • Sit down, take a look at the time you have, and decide intentionally how you will use it. Are you going to look for online work, and/or work from home? Are you going to learn a new skill? Are you going to create something? Are you going to start a revolution? Now is the time to figure out how you are going to use your time. This will support your ability to establish a routine. It will also give you some control over your own life, which will support your mental health as well.
  • Have a meeting with yourself and figure out what your unmet needs are. It may require some daily thought to figure them out. Once you identify what they are, you can make a plan to find alternate ways to meet those needs. For example: if you identify that you need your quiet bus commute time to feel centered but you aren’t using public transit right now, you would then be able to establish an aspect of your routine that is designed to meet that need. This may be a useful conversation to have as a household if appropriate.
  • Find a healthy way to express what you are feeling. Maybe it’s journaling, or writing a song about it. Maybe it’s making a model of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and destroying it. Maybe it’s talking about it with your therapist or deity if you have one. There are all sorts of options; find one that works for you. If you aren’t accustomed to doing this, I recommend starting with looking up more options until you find a few you want to try. It may take trying several before you find a way that works for you.
  • If you have never dealt with depression before, read up on what it is and how it works. I mean “depression” the clinical term, not “depression” the colloquial exaggeration for “I feel sad.” It is not unlikely that many people who haven’t dealt with depression before will experience it for the first time, seeing as social isolation can cause depression. Those of us in minority groups know this well.
  • See the social health section below. Meeting your social needs as best you can will definitely support your mental health.

Social Health

This is the one everyone is buzzing about on social media right now. How do we meet our needs for connection when we can’t leave the house or touch people when we do? The answer is: It’s time to get creative. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Group or one on one video chat is available via a variety of free systems and apps, for both computer browsers and smart phones.
  • Good old fashioned phone calls can be amazing when you haven’t heard someone’s voice in ages.
  • Use texting and messaging apps to connect if you wish to avoid social media.
  • Swap snail mail letters.
  • Group audio chat on a free system such as Discord allows you to hang out with your friends while doing other things.
  • Play video games or tabletop RPGs together via free services such as Discord or Roll 20.
  • Hold a virtual tea party via group video chat (funny hats recommended but not required).
  • Simultaneously watch the same show or movie while keeping a chat window open to chat about the show (there are multiple software options for simultaneous streaming).
  • Use the above strategy to hold a virtual Bob Ross paint-along.
  • Cook “together” by video chatting while cooking (extra cuteness points for making the same meal).
  • Hold an art swap with your friends. This works like a Secret Santa except after you draw names, you make and send art, either digitally or via snail mail as you and your group prefer. Here is a site that conducts the name draw for you for free, and has a variety of options for how to send the drawn names.
  • Play Pass the Cookie Jar with your friends. The first person makes and mails cookies to the second person, who makes and mails cookies to the next person, and so on until the last person makes and sends cookies back to the first person.
  • Record a song “together” by singing/playing it separately in your own homes, then digitally editing the tracks together.
  • Work together to write some fun fiction using Google Docs or other software that allows all participants to have the same file open at the same time.
  • Hold a virtual dance party via group video chat. This can also help with the exercise issue mentioned above.
  • Build something together by designing it together digitally, and having each person make a component that is meant to be combined with everyone else’s. When all this blows over, you can come together to build the final piece.

It’s going to be so much easier to use these strategies now that everyone else is also isolated and seeking them out. Remember this experience next time one of your disabled and/or chronically ill friends reaches out to you for digital connection. It may be the most socialization they get in weeks.

1 thought on “Tips for Surviving Social Isolation, from a Chronically Ill Person

  1. Pingback: To the Historians of the Future | The Blunt Rose

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