Self-Isolation – The Greatest Social Experiment of our Time


Testing times are revealing times.

They have a way of shining a spotlight on how we handle certain situations, forcing us to acknowledge whether we are the people we thought we were.

The recent and somewhat unprecedented global shut-down in response to Covid 19 has thrown us all into the unknown, and we’re being tested in ways that we could never have predicted.

We’re being forced to live with uncertainty in its many forms.

The rational majority can accept that this global suspension-of-time is temporary and that the world will return to some kind of normality at some point.

But what that new normal looks like, we can’t yet be sure.

Perhaps there won’t be a whole lot of newness about it at all once the initial elation of ‘being released’ wears off.

Economic impact aside, the way in which we make our return to everyday life – whenever that may be – will be largely influenced by how we cope over the next few weeks and months, both as individuals and as a nation.

And things are beginning to look concerning…

Stay at home, you say?!

Interestingly, panic in relation to contracting the disease (and possible death) seems to have been superseded by the unabated fear of self-isolation.

Hysteria has become the pervasive theme of WhatsApp in the form of contact pleas: “How are we going to do this?”

Televised and social media has become obsessed with offering coping strategies for staying home. Coping strategies?

I’ve witnessed such horrors as ’14 days of Corona’ videos, featuring otherwise sane professionals doing star jumps and pledging to help themselves and others ‘cope’ with being home.

Hang on, Carole…

Haven’t you long lamented your daily commute, begrudged your monotonous job and resented the managers who don’t appreciate you?

Weren’t you saying just last week how you wished you had time to take up that hobby, learn that new skill or read that book you bought 8 months ago?

And don’t even get me started on the life admin you never have time for or the exercise routine you wish you could slot into your overbooked life.

Well guess what… your out of office plans have been cancelled.

You’ve gained hours in your day that would have been spent on public transport or in a car travelling to work or between meetings.

Sorry Carole… but you’ve just hit the free-time jackpot.

Do we love to complain, or is it deeper than that?

Am I alone in thinking that a couple of weeks of ‘isolation’ is manageable? Surely we shouldn’t need to develop coping strategies to survive what is essentially enforced sick leave?

I’m referring purely to healthy, low risk individuals here, and the concept of isolation – of being told to stay home.

I’m of course not referring to anyone with mental health issues, those directly impacted by the virus or those with serious financial concerns.

I am simply saying that the majority of us healthy, low risk individuals should be able to self-isolate and stay positive – all by ourselves.

But the complaints and concerns are coming in thick and fast.

Whilst some are likely chronic complainers, others may just enjoy venting – possibly because they’re seeking some kind of attention or validation.

Unfortunately, complainers of both types often find themselves in a cycle of negativity, where complaining just makes them feel worse and more likely to strike again.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, self-isolation is a test for even the most positive of people, and will challenge us all in some way over the coming weeks as we adjust to these changes.

But is it really all that bad?

Perhaps by attempting to understand why we find self-isolation so daunting we can begin to develop and adjust to what seems to be a fairly manageable request.

Why do we struggle with self-isolation?

Lack of external stimulus

Many of us depend heavily on a full diary. We thrive on having to attend multiple social events (even if we do moan about how busy we are at the time) and probably don’t realise how comfortable we feel being in-demand.

If you work in a city, you’ll probably struggle even more with the transition from a bustling life full of external stimulus to being ‘trapped’ in the same place, quiet and solitary.

Being alone with your thoughts

Mental health is no joke, and at a time like this poses a serious concern. If you have mental health issues, please seek support.

However, for all of us, being alone with our thoughts can be challenging if we’re not used to it.

We all have demons. That little voice of self-doubt that tries to drag us down. And some of us have gotten pretty good at silencing those negativities by drowning them out.

But now things have gotten quiet, drowning them out has become a little more difficult.

Lack of imposed routine

Your everyday routine has been turned upside down. You probably find yourself without a routine at all.

This lack of structure can be really unnerving for someone who’s so used to relying on it.

Having to be alone or locked in with a partner / family

It’s no joke being stuck at home alone if you’re not used to it. Or, for that matter, being stuck with a roommate or even your partner full time if it’s not something you’re used to.

A leading divorce lawyer has said that the coronavirus outbreak is “very likely” to lead to an increase in marriage break-ups because couples are being kept in self-isolation together.

Ultimately, self-isolation is likely to bring simmering tensions to the surface.

Struggling to find ways to fill your free time

Do you rely on others to keep you entertained and fill your free time?

Self-isolation requires you to get creative with how you fill your time and some of us are better at doing this than others.

Whether that is reading a book you’ve had on your list for a while, taking an online course, gardening, painting, decorating or fixing those niggling DIY bits that have needed doing for a lifetime, now is the time to get creative with your evenings and weekends.

The fact is that all of these struggles are manageable; we simply need to address the root cause of each challenge and attempt to identify why we find our own company and/or our own four walls so daunting.

What better time?

Ask yourself why you don’t want to be alone with your thoughts and why you rely so heavily on a busy social calendar. Seek help in the form of books and forums; reach out to friends, family or professionals.

Now could be a great time to work on yourself.

Develop a new routine. Start your day with exercise or catching up on current affairs. Break up the afternoon with a virtual hangout between old friends. Take up a new hobby. Address any issues you may have with the people you live with.

See this as an opportunity to develop and to do all of the things you’ve been making excuses not to do.

By reframing all of this time at home as a positive opportunity rather than something to fear, you’ll likely see an instant improvement in your mood.

The vast majority of us aren’t truly isolated

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you aren’t being kept in a dark room with zero human contact of the literal or virtual variety.

How fortunate we are in this day and age to be able to connect with family, friends and followers across the globe at the touch of a button on social platforms.

To be able to access resources online to entertain us or educate us. To order a book or a game and receive it the same, or next day. To watch the latest films at the launch of an app.

The fact is that the vast majority of us aren’t truly isolated.

In fact, the panic surrounding this two week ‘isolation’ should serve as a stark reminder that we are over stimulated and over engaged as a nation.

We rely so heavily on stimulus that we are incapable of sitting still and just being present in the moment.

Add ‘The Power of Now’ to your reading list if you want to learn more about the benefits that come with living in the present moment. No equipment or devices required – just a quiet room and your own company.

You can do it.

It’s about time we put a positive and lighthearted spin on this whole ‘coping culture’ that has emerged as a result of the government’s request for us to essentially put our feet up at home for a while.

Yes, the uncertainties surrounding Covid 19 are unsettling and we can all be rightfully nervous about the future with regard to the health and wellbeing of ourselves, and those we love.

But we shouldn’t be wasting our worry on coping with self-isolation.

If healthy, young professionals lack the ability to be positive and productive during this time rather than ‘bored’ and ‘losing the will’ – especially when so many people are suffering for genuine reasons – then we’re a generation that’s in deep trouble.

Unless you have a genuine reason to be concerned about self-isolation (mental or physical health concerns), get over your boredom and get creative.

Only boring people get bored.

Either way, the next few weeks will separate the men from the boys; the wheat from the chaff; the social survivors from the socially inept.

It will test us all and I’m hoping some positive will come from this. I’m hoping that more of us will discover more about ourselves; about who we are.

The hardest part is underway; the spell has been broken. The robots have been interrupted from going about their daily routines, detached from the reality of life in its simplest form.

Time to think. Time to feel. Time to stop and take stock.

Who knows… this could be the making of us.

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