Recently, I had the not-so-thrilling experience of quarantining on my own for two weeks. No pets, no roommates—just me, a new apartment, and an unfortunate amount of jet lag.
It did not go well. Cut to me crying on FaceTime with my parents, sleeping on and off but never at the right times, choosing at the absolute wrong time to overhaul my finances, and worrying about things that in retrospect made no sense whatsoever. Throw in no Wi-Fi and sky-high expectations about what I would accomplish during that time, and you have the quarantine experience of your stress dreams.
But, thankfully, I learned some lessons. By the end of my two weeks, I was—if not thriving—at least surviving in isolation with a minimum amount of discomfort. Whether we’ve had a COVID diagnosis or are taking on some long-term travel, many of us will find ourselves self-quarantining for two weeks at some point. Even if you aren’t quarantining officially, these tips will help you maintain sanity in any stressful time—whether in or out of a pandemic!
01. Let go of your expectations
If you do nothing else, do this. These two weeks are not the time to learn French, master the guitar, or start teaching online sewing classes. You will not repair all your relationships with long-lost relatives by writing heartfelt letters. You will not become the next contestant on the Great British Baking Show or write a volume of poetry. Especially at the beginning of COVID, many people thought that this time at home would lead to unprecedented productivity, but hopefully many of us have learned better now.
If it’s taken you, like me, longer to learn this, just keep in mind the reality that this isn’t two weeks of free time that you can spend however you please. It’s two weeks of living—and, often, working—on your own without the patterns of normal activity, and while it doesn’t have to be painful, your regular productivity rhythms will be interrupted. If it helps, think of yourself as actually being sick with a two-week illness like flu, whether or not you have symptoms. It can help calibrate what you’re thinking is realistic.
And don’t forget work expectations: if you’re seriously quarantining, try to see whether some allowances can be made at your workplace. Talk to your boss to set expectations for quarantine time, and maybe try to get ahead on a few projects in advance. It may sound nice to have something to do, but nothing will add to quarantine stress like a looming deadline.
02. Wake up anyway
Sleeping in can be fun, but most of the time, try to wake up at a reasonable hour every day. It’s best to wake up at a regular time (even if you had a rough night of sleep or didn’t go to bed until 2 a.m.) in order to help calibrate your body to be tired when evening comes. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a vicious cycle. If you get sleep-deprived, you can always nap!
Even (especially) if you don’t have a dog that needs walking every day, think about yourself as an animal that needs walking every day (because you do!) Walking is a great way to get the cobwebs out of your head and have some light exercise without pushing yourself so hard you won’t want to do it again. Focus on what you can see in the world outside your house, and maybe pick up a pretty leaf or interesting rock to bring the outside in.
If you can’t take walks, I’d recommend spending some time looking out the window instead (open the window, if you can). It’s tempting to think of exercise as the main point of walking and therefore substitute an indoor workout—which is great, if you have the energy—but it’s important not to forget time for fresh air and getting out of your head.
04. Pick a favorite YouTube channel
I watched a lot of Kalyn Nicholson during my time in quarantine. Especially if you can find a chatty vlogger that you enjoy listening to, a consistent YouTuber can feel like a virtual “friend” to keep you company while you eat or play games (I’ll get to that.) Long-term healthy? Absolutely not. But this isn’t forever, it’s two weeks.
Scented, unscented, large, small—just make sure there are plenty of them, and don’t be stingy about lighting them. A candle can make the difference between a sad pizza and a dinner party for one.
06. Play a video game
This is a good time to find a video, computer, or phone game you can really pour your time into. Find something ridiculously addictive, like Egg, Inc, Fortnite, or Stardew Valley. (As a note, try to find games that are pay-ahead or forever free rather than in-app purchases; when you’re playing a game a lot, it’s frustrating to always be trying to decide whether to drop another $2.99.) It can be as juvenile as you like; no one ever needs to even know you played it. Games with long storylines are a great option for right now. If you remember wasting way too much time on a game in the past, now’s your moment to pick it back up. Keep in mind that you now have all that “buffer” time—usually spent chatting with friends, commuting, waiting in lines—and you need something to fill in those cracks. A video game can be a great stopgap.
07. Set a routine
Don’t make this a difficult routine. Just pick one thing—for example, I had a daily video call—to anchor your day. Add on one or two things, like a quick daily tidy or a regular walking time, and you’re set. It doesn’t take much to give you a little more stability.
01. Go outside whenever you think of it
This was something that made a big difference during my time in quarantine. Whenever it occurred to me to step outside, I didn’t let myself give it a second thought—I threw on my slippers and just stood out on my porch for a few deep breaths, rain or shine. It really helps ground you in the moment.
02. Do something on Fridays
For me, it was baking a frozen pizza and making a blanket fort (see above about juvenile), then watching a movie rather than my usual show. It gives you something to look forward to and helps landmark where you are in self-isolation time.
03. Order things online
It’s a thrill to receive a package in the mail while quarantining. You get a hit of feeling productive, and/or something to enjoy while at home. A side note: set a budget beforehand (generous, if you can), and then don’t give it a second thought during quarantine. It’s no fun to be considering and reconsidering whether you can get delivery for the fourth time this week (it’s okay).
04. Pick up a novel or (auto)biography that’s engrossing but not depressing
Novels have a way of feeling like companionship. You can get enthralled by the characters and drawn into their world, and a good biography or autobiography can do the same. Just make sure the novel isn’t depressing, because that can definitely make things worse! A novel can be a nice “default activity” to have on hand next to your favorite show and video game, and feels more virtuous.
You can’t have too many, and they can’t be too fluffy. Plan ahead. Try heated blankets. I hear weighted blankets are good, too. A variation on the theme: fluffy robes.
06. Binge-watch Downton Abbey
I realize that people do like shows other than Downton Abbey, but I’m highly recommending that you find a show with its characteristics: a lovable cast of characters, an assortment of melodramatic storylines so you can cry daily if you want to, beautiful costumes, and a glorious soundtrack—not to mention tons of episodes. I’m sure sitcoms like The Office or Psych would have their own advantages, as well.
07. Pick one goal per day, and give yourself full credit when it’s accomplished
It’s frustrating to feel like you’re not doing anything in quarantine, and you may need to continue working from home. Even if you’re not working, there are always a few tasks—calling the doctor, paying down the credit card—that will necessarily fall within this period. Try to restrict yourself to one to three tasks per day, write them down, and check them off when they’re done. It helps to do this in the morning; it’s amazing how that sense of accomplishment stays with you throughout the day. And over the whole period of quarantine, that adds up to 14 tasks—nothing to sneeze at!
Two weeks in quarantine may not sound like a fun prospect, but with the right tools in hand, it can be more than bearable. Before you know it, you’ll be out in the beautiful world once again.