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8 Things to Do While Self-Isolating With COVID (Because the Pandemic Is Not Over, People)

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I’m on day seven of isolation due to COVID and I must admit that I’m starting to get some serious. cabin fever. I managed to avoid getting COVID for two and a half years. I got my vaccinations and boosters, wore my mask, and rarely went out. A week and a half ago I went to a trivia night thinking infection rates are low and I should be safe. Well, that was a mistake. Myself, my friend, and her husband all came away from that event with COVID.

While I’m lucky that my symptoms haven’t been awful (thank you, Pfizer), my mental health has taken a beating, partly because of the isolation, partly because of the hyper-vigilance of not wanting my husband to get sick, and very likely due to COVID itself, which has been linked to an increase in mental health-related symptoms, particularly in individuals who already struggle with mental illness. Fortunately, I have managed to keep myself largely occupied, engaging in various activities depending on how I was feeling and how much brain fog I was experiencing. In no particular order, here are my top eight favorite activities that have helped me pass the minutes, hours, and days of being alone.

1. Watch television and movies.

Yes, we all have gotten really good at bingeing Netflix or other streaming services over the past couple of years. But more specifically, I have been re-watching the same shows and movies I’ve seen many, many times. There is actual sound psychology behind this. Those who tend to be anxious crave predictability, order, and repetition. It helps us to feel safe when we are otherwise feeling emotionally dysregulated. For me, it’s a form of escapism and it helps to tap into the safe place that I have established in therapy. Aside from starting “Schitt’s Creek” all over again, I’ve watched the unofficial Céline Dion biopic “Aline” five times. It’s like a two-hour-long hug for my nervous system and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

2. Play games.

While I’m not a video gamer, I do enjoy playing a handful of games on my phone. They don’t require much thought and they pass the time. I know that for many, video games can provide a similar kind of escapism to television and movies. There is also some science that suggests playing video games, particularly ones where you are interacting with other people online, can help build a sense of emotional connection and resilience, which of course is extremely important while in isolation. And role-playing games in particular can help process traumatic memories, enabling us to take control of the outcome and in essence empowering us where we once felt disempowered. The key is not to overdo it. Setting time limits on play can help keep that in check.

3. Channel your inner student.

I’m one of those people who, if given the opportunity, would gladly go to school for the rest of my life if they’d pay me to do it. I love learning new things. It’s probably why I tend to stick to reading non-fiction and watching a lot of documentaries. There are a ton of great apps that you can use to learn something new. My favorites include Duolingo (I managed to break into the top tier of French language learners this week), Blinkist (which is like Cliff Notes for educational books and podcasts), and Khan Academy (which offers thousands of interactive media on practically any subject you can imagine). The bonus: learning something new every day is good for your mental health. It bolsters your confidence by empowering you and giving you a sense of accomplishment and mastery. And depending upon what you are studying, some activities can actually help your brain become more resilient against the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

4. and 5. Assemble a jigsaw puzzle while listening to music or a podcast.

This one is a twofer. I’m on my second 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle in a week. Aside from passing the time, I find it challenging and stimulating. And talk about a good hit of dopamine when you finally complete it! It also is something I can do while listening to music or a podcast. I have been catching up on some of my favorite podcasts including “A Little Bit Culty” and “Ask Kati Anything,” both of which have longer episodes that I usually don’t have time to commit to.

6. So much reading to catch up on!

I have a confession — I’m a book hoarder. At any given time, I have 10 books sitting on my end table and on my phone. I often read three or four at a time and it takes me forever to finish them because my time is limited and my attention span is stretched too thin. I’ve finished three books I had in various stages of completion already and just started a new one called “Emotional Inheritance” by Galit Atlas, Ph.D. No interruptions, quiet and endless hours of free time make isolation the perfect opportunity to catch up on all of those stockpiled books. And, just like with re-watching familiar shows and movies, re-reading old favorite books can be just as good for your mental health.

7. Get crafty!

I admit that I’m not much of a craft person, but I do enjoy drawing and coloring. I spent some time on my “Schitt’s Creek” coloring book while watching the show and worked on a calligraphy project. If you love to knit, sew, crochet, bedazzle, paint, or whatever cool crafty thing that I’m super untalented at… this is the time to channel your inner child and play! And thanks to Amazon Prime, you can even have a craft kit shipped to you overnight and discover a whole new passion you never knew you needed in your life. The possibilities are literally endless!

8. Cozy up with your furbaby.

While I was a tiny bit concerned about getting my elderly cat sick with my COVID germs, I cannot imagine having endured this past week plus without him. I have been careful not to get too close to his face, but he has been curled up next to me keeping me calm every night and it’s been most welcome. There’s nothing quite like the warmth of a purring feline to soothe your soul.  And knowing I needed to keep him fed, watered, and his litter box clean gave me at least some kind of sense of purpose to make my days feel less like I wasn’t accomplishing anything useful, something that my perfectionist overachieving people-pleaser self struggles with at the best of times.

COVID sucks. I don’t recommend it. But if you do happen to catch it and find yourself holed up for a while, I hope that this list of things to do will help you pass the time splendidly. And don’t forget to get plenty of rest, take your meds, drink lots of fluid, wash your hands, and nourish your body. Get well soon!

Originally published: July 12, 2022
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