Coronavirus: How to Protect Your Mental Health During Home Isolation

Monday April 13, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic and social distancing measures are a high stress experience that may increase the risk of PTSD in an individual already susceptible due to childhood cancer trauma. Abby White explores 11 ways we can protect our mental health through the crisis, and reduce the risk of long-term negative effects.

A woman sits alone on a couch at home.

COVID-19 has swept rapidly around the world and upended life as we know it. Entire populations are ordered to stay at home and avoid other people.  Children are taking classes over the internet or not at all, parents are working at the kitchen table, or worrying about lost or threatened jobs.  Couples, families and friends are separated at the time we need one another most.  All on top of the uncertainty created by childhood eye cancer and its lifelong impacts.

This is a truly challenging and stressful time, with significant risks to mental health and relationships.  But there are many things we can do to support our wellbeing.  Click on the nine items below to read more about each, and take care of yourself!

Disrupted routines, reduced physical activity and increased stress due to home isolation may affect when and how much you eat and drink, and the type of fluids or foods you consume.

If someone else is bringing essential food items for you, have a chat with them about the type of foods and fluids that you know support your mental and physical health.  Ask that they try to prioritize these items.

If grocery shopping causes you particular anxiety at the moment, consider asking someone else to do it for you, even if you can physically do it yourself.  Or prepare in advance with some simple breathing exercises to help calm you through the process.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking water is something we all need to do to stay physically and mentally well. But most adults and children are chronically under-hydrated.  We don’t drink enough, and what we do drink, we don’t consume steadily enough throughout the day to be of real value.

When we are dehydrated, we can feel drained and tired, have headaches, muscle aches, mood swings, and find it more difficult to manage our thoughts and emotions.  That’s an especially toxic combination of impacts in times of crisis like Rb!

Put a glass of water beside your bed, so you can drink it first thing in the morning, before you get up.  Take a few quiet moments to drink it slowly, so your brain has time to make the connection that you are drinking and reap the full benefit. Pay attention to it, and set the intention to drink regularly throughout the day.  You will be more likely to rehydrate yourself after being asleep, and you will be more aware of the need to drink water in the busy hours ahead.

Aim for at least 2 litres (8 glasses) of water per day.  Remember that caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, sports drinks, sodas etc.) dehydrate the system. Water, whether plain or flavoured, is best. You also get a lot of water from fruit and veg.

Here are some tips to help you drink more throughout the day.

Eat Well

Eating a regular, healthy diet helps keep blood sugar, energy levels and mood stable throughout the day.  Just as when we are dehydrated, when we are hungry, we become less able to think clearly and make logical decisions that protect our mental health.  During times of high stress, when appetite may change or demands may limit the time available for meals, it is especially important to eat well.

Try to keep a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, pulses and wholegrains.  Good nutrition will support everyone’s mental and physical health.

If you find yourself craving snacks, check in with your body to identify whether you need a drink. Dehydration can feel like hunger pangs, and a glass of water can settle the discomfort of endless cravings.

Prepare some healthy meals and snacks in advance, or ask relatives and friends to donate store-bought or restaurant delivered meals to ensure you and your family eat well.

During the coronavirus emergency, accepting home-cooked food from others is not recommended due to the risk of transmission by handling contaminated dishes or individual items such as cookies.  Commercial food is prepared under strict health and safety guidelines that cannot be guaranteed at home.

While most of the world’s population have been ordered to stay home to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, some are still able to take daily exercise outside, alone or with other members of the household.  Check what the rules are in your area for the general population, for vulnerable individuals, and for those living with them.

If you go out, stay at least 2 metres or 6.6ft away from other people, touch things as little as possible, use hand sanitizer, and wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you return home. Read our response to a parent’s question “should we wear masks in public?”

With a little thought, you can weave fun physical activity into your daily routine at home.  Try these tips to get going:

  • Schedule a daily workout, and ask fellow family members to support you by respecting that time. You may even want them to join in.
  • Prepare a specific routine, or follow an online workout video.  When you don’t have to think about what to do next, you’re more likely to complete the session and gain more from it.
  • Do PE with Joe – during the COVID-19 lockdown, Joe Wicks is live-streaming a free daily workout at 9am BST for families around the world. Past sessions are available at The Body Coach TV YouTube channel. Joe is donating all advertising revenue to the NHS Charities Together, COVID-19 Appeal.
  • Learn to dance. Step by Step Dance School are live streaming virtual dance classes that conform to social distancing guidelines, teaching steps with awareness that dancers will be unable to dance with a partner. If you’ve always wanted to learn to dance but worried about dancing with another person during classes, this is an ideal time to learn.
  • Join an online Zumba or yoga class.  If you were part of a face-to-face class before lockdown, find out if the coach has plans to continue sessions online, or what recommendations they have for other remote classes.
  • When you are watching TV, stand up and jog on the spot whenever something specific is happening on screen – for example, when a scene involves an animal or takes place outside.  Children may find this particularly fun.
  • Pace while talking on the phone.
  • Dance to music while cleaning – create your best playlist and get moving!  It’s hard to worry about germs when you’re grooving to your favourite sounds.
  • Take the family friendly Taskmaster challenge: A new task is set every Monday and Wednesday at 9am BST during the COVID-19 lockdown. 20 second video entries can be submitted by 3pm BST the following day, via Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #HomeTasking. A video montage of the best contributions will be available within 24 hours on the Taskmaster YouTube channel.

Daily fresh air and Vitamin N is very important to our mental and physical well-being. Even when isolating at home, we can bring nature into our daily lives to help soothe our body, mind and spirit.  Try some of the following:

  • Open all curtains and blinds to get as much natural light as possible.
  • Open the windows to let in fresh air and the sounds of nature.
  • Spend time sitting in the garden, if you have one, or on your balcony, porch, even your doorstep will be enough.
  • Create a comfortable seating space beside an open window, where you can clearly see the sky. Perhaps you can see trees and wildlife from this vantage point, or hear the song of nearby birds.
  • Listen to soundscapes of nature, such as birdsong, ocean waves or rainfall.  You can find recordings on services like YouTube, AmazonMusic or Spotify, or via an app like Calm or Naturespace.
  • Watch a nature documentary or natural world webcam. YouTube hosts many live stream webcams and videos from zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, marine reserves and other wildlife action spots around the world,
  • Look at photos of your favourite natural spaces. If you have a large format TV with a Home image constantly displayed, change this image to display the photo that relaxes you most.
  • If you can order bulbs or seeds online for home delivery, planting and tending the new life can be a wonderful way of bringing nature into your home.
  • If you can safely access a garden, park or other local green space, gather some natural materials for an art project or decorative feature. This may be a good activity to do with children.
  • Try a nature meditation, a very simple way to engage all your senses in the environment around you. This is possible whether you are sitting beside an open window or in the garden, walking down the street, or exercising the dog in your neighbourhood park. Pay attention to your breath, to what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel around you.  Can you identify five items for each sense? Focusing on what your senses encounter releases your mind from ongoing internal chatter, and gives more awareness to the beauty of life around and within you.
  • You don’t have to venture far to find nature, even in the city. Pay attention to the trees, plants, and wildlife you see, or the birds you hear.  Can you photograph the ones you don’t recognise to research later?  Can you download an app or recording of common birdsongs in your region to learn?

What Do You All Need?

People have different ideas about how their surrounding environment brings them peace and comfort, and what tidy means to them.  It may be helpful to have a family meeting when everyone is relaxed, to discuss how the home environment brings each person calm, and how everyone can help one another through isolation by keeping the home tidy.  By asking each person to think about how they are affected by things like levels of cleanliness and clutter, you give one another the opportunity to empathise, think about consequences, and take responsibility.

Be a Germ-busting Team

This family meeting can also be a valuable opportunity to reinforce the importance of cleaning to stop germs spreading.  Recognize that people who are not used to cleaning may need to be shown how it is done, and will be more likely to act if they are confident in the process.  Demonstrate the steps for everyone with patience and empathy. Remind family members of where cleaning products are stored, and reinforce any child safety points to be followed.

Share Space Well

As you are all home together for an extended time, it may be helpful to discuss how you will all use the shared spaces.  What are each person’s school, work and recreation needs?  What do you need individually and collectively to feel comfortable?  Consider developing a rota for using shared spaces, so you can all enjoy them well.

Create a Quarantine Plan

Use this time also to discuss how you will manage home quarantine if someone in your family develops symptoms of COVID-19.  The UK Government provides useful detailed advice about managing home-quarantine.  If shared space will be used as part of your quarantine plan, it will be valuable to prepare a contingency plan for any activities that usually take place in that space, such as schooling, recreation or work commitments. This may help maintain an element of continuity for children.

Creating a plan in advance can help ease the stress of uncertainty because you know more about what will happen, what needs to be done to prepare, and what you may need to let go of to reduce stress during quarantine.  You have more control over the situation, and more opportunity to prepare your children for the possible experience.

Support Your Body’s Natural Rhythms

Sleep is cued by biological, environmental and social factors. From the light we absorb and the timing of our meals to when we are active and interact with other people.  Being homebound for many days can disrupt routines and these important sleep cues.  When natural sleep rhythms are disrupted, daily routines become even more threatened, further damaging the sleep-wake cycle.

Follow these tips to promote restorative sleep during home isolation.

Get up at the same time every day. This routine anchors your body’s day-night routine, and the sleep-wake cycle. When you get up at the same time, you’ll find other daily routines easier to manage, and sleep will come more naturally at night.

Get daylight early in the morning and throughout the day: Specialised retinal cells in the eye send information to the brain about the quality and quantity of ambient light. This process triggers the body clock (circadian rhythm) when we wake, throughout the day, and as we prepare for sleep. So taking in bright light when we get up in the morning signals the body to wake up and move into action. Bright light also helps us feel more alert quickly.

  • Open curtains to let in direct sunlight;
  • If you don’t have access to natural light, turn on bright indoor lights
  • Lights with a white/blue hue are better for morning light.
  • Use a Sunrise setting with smart bulbs to turn on lights at the same time daily and gently increase the intensity of lighting to a daylight hue.

Schedule your first social interaction at the same time: In regular life, we’d likely have our first conversations at around the same time each morning – over the morning routine with our partner, outside the school gates, in the queue for our favourite coffee fix, commuting, when arriving at work… Those interactions are all signals to the body that the day is progressing, but isolation changes everything.  Try to plan a phone or video call with family or friends every morning at around the same time you would usually chat with someone in regular life.  The other person will likely value the conversation too.

Eat breakfast and other meals at the same time: The act of eating updates our body clock throughout the day. Maintaining a regular meal schedule helps regulate biological systems throughout the body, which underpins good sleep.

Get some quality exercise each day: Avoid long periods of sitting as this can slow metabolism and other biological systems, and disrupt sleep later.

  • Morning: Exercise early in the morning may result in longer, deeper sleep at night, by kick-starting the body’s biological clock for the day.
  • Afternoon: The body is 1-2 degrees warmer by the afternoon, so muscles are more capable of engaging through complex movements. As a result, we’re less likely to experience aches, strains and other injuries than with morning or evening exercise. Exercise raises the body’s core temperature for 4-5 hours, before gradually returning to normal.  So afternoon exercise also helps prepare the body for a good night’s sleep.
  • Evening: Vigorous exercise too late in the evening may disrupt sleep by over-stimulating the body for too long into the night. Try gentle stretching exercise like yoga in the evening, as this helps calm both body and mind.

Separate day from night: During the day, fill your living spaces with light and activity. From cooking and cleaning to exercise, crafting, and learning. As evening draws in, dim the lights, and tone down the activities. For example, reading, playing board games, watching TV.  Choose your music carefully to reflect the energy you want to feel at each time of day to support good sleep.

Block blue light before bed: Blue light stimulates the body’s wake cycle, and blocks production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Limit your exposure to blue during the 1-2 hours before retiring to bed, to improve your sleep.  Use light bulbs or smart-bulb settings with a warm hue. Turn off electronic devices, or set the screen brightness to the lowest possible option, and use built-in systems like Night Shift for IOS. Download and app like lux to manage your screen’s night lighting.

Stop a Broken Sleep Spiral

During stressful times when familiar routines are disrupted, we can expect to have nights of disrupted sleep.  Follow the tips below to avoid one night of elusive sleep cascading into a drawn out battle with insomnia.

When You Cannot Sleep

Don’t focus on Sleep: When we worry, our body becomes tense and our mind becomes over-stimulated. Tossing and turning with a racing mind will only leave you feeling more frazzled and stressed about the lack of sleep. Stop focusing on the effort to sleep, so your body can relax and allow sleep to come naturally.

Remove clock faces: When you can’t sleep, it can be tempting to keep checking the time, but it will increase anxiety about not being asleep. Removing visible clock faces from your bedside to prevent this disruptive habit.

Do Not use watch TV or use devices: even low levels of blue light during the night can stimulate the brain to greater wakefulness. If you think you may be tempted to use your device during a wakeful night, store it in another room at night.  Another option is to learn to use your device with screenreading accessibility settings (Voiceover for IOS and TalkBack for Android), so the screen can be completely turned off at night.

Take a break from chasing sleep: If you find yourself awake for more than 15 minutes, get up, wrap up warm to keep your core temperature stable, and go into a different room. Keep the lights dim, and do a calming activity such as reading, listening to an audiobook or relaxing music, a meditation or a very gentle yoga routine.  Try an app like Calm or Headspace.  Avoid anything stimulating.  Return to your bed when you begin to feel sleepy again.  The aim of the reset break is to calm your body and mind, and avoid your brain learning to associate your bed with being wakeful at night.

After a Night of Poor Sleep

Get up at your usual time: Although you may feel really tired in the morning, sleeping in to “catch up” on lost sleep will confuse your body clock, slowing many biological systems and making sleep even harder the next night. When we get up as usual, the body actually catches up with lost sleep naturally by sleeping more deeply the following night.

Go to bed at or after your usual time the next night: Do not go to bed too early because you feel more tired than usual. Going to bed too early could make it harder to drift off.  You’re also more likely to have broken sleep during the night, and wake too early in the morning.  During the day, before you feel over-tired, identify a quiet activity you can do in the evening to avoid falling asleep too early.

Stay active and avoid naps: Plan your activities for the day so you are less likely to sit down and mindlessly nap. Try to select low-stress, enjoyable activities as difficult emotions are always harder to manage when we are tired. If you are so tired that you must nap, set your alarm for 20 minutes only.  Any longer will risk the quality of night-time sleep. You may also be woken during deep-phase or REM sleep, which will leave you feeling even more sluggish.

Acknowledge that worrying about sleep won’t help: Uncertainty magnifies our emotions and worries. We can often emerge from a wakeful night filled with the desperate need to sleep, and concern for the night ahead. But fixating on the failure and need to sleep only makes the situation worse.  Instead of raising your anxiety about sleep, actively say something like “Sleep is a natural system, and I trust my body. Worrying will only disrupt it. So I will focus on the things I know I can do to reduce my stress and support good sleep.” 

When we feel anxious, our thoughts can spiral out of control. Imagination often goes into overdrive as we construct the worst case scenarios in our mind.  We are worried for family and friends from whom we have been separated, the remnants of fact, story and speculation seep into our consciousness like drops of acid, and gossip thrives in the changing communication space between us.  Every day brings new human drama from across the country and around the globe, stoking the twitch to check for updates and consume more.

In times of crisis like this, staying in touch with current news helps ensure we have all relevant information to stay safe and follow any community guidelines.  But too much news can become overwhelming.  While the pandemic is a rapidly evolving global situation, it doesn’t change much hour by hour. Frequently reading repetitive content will only raise fear and anxiety.

What Are You Consuming?

Pay attention to what you read, listen to or watch when you first wake, throughout the day, and before you go to bed.  How much coronavirus news does it contain? What is the tone of the content, and how does it make you feel?  If it doesn’t add positively to your day, and especially if it depletes energy or disrupts your sleep, stop consuming it.  Replace it with something uplifting instead.

Plan Your Daily News Check-In

Limit the number of times you check the news throughout the day.  Identify a specific time in the morning and evening when you will check in with one news app or website, and for how long – for example, checking in with the News app for 15 minutes at 9am and 6pm. Or limit yourself to a specific TV or radio news bulletin, and proactively avoid all internet based news media.

Chose Your Sources Carefully

Carefully select the news sources you visit to ensure you are consuming clear fact rather than opinion and potential misinformation that may feed your fear and anxiety.  Consider signing up to updates from government and health agency websites, rather than visiting news outlets where content is designed to grab attention.

Protect Your Anchor Hour and Sleeping Mind

The first hour when you wake up becomes the psychological anchor for your day. You can choose what to expose yourself to during that time, and influence how you feel for the rest of the day.  The same is true of the last hour as you wind down for the night.  Reading the news just before bed is more likely to fill your mind with anxiety-inducing thoughts that disrupt restorative sleep.

Changing what you listen to, watch, or read is an act of self-care. This won’t magic away the reality, but it will build up a store of emotional energy that equips us to respond with less anxiety and more hope. Every day of this global emergency brings new challenges, so it’s important we top up that internal store every day.

Here’s a great little talk on why taking a break from news consumption is a sensible decision for personal wellbeing.

These days, when we feel overwhelmed, our first instinct is often to turn to our devices for comfort. But excessive connectivity also creates unnecessary stress.  Social content can shift our focus away from what we identify as important and within our capacity or control, amplifying our fears and insecurities.

Scrolling newsfeeds create a false sense of urgency, and a constant undercurrent of anxiety.  Sleep is disrupted when we seek connection late at night, and our thoughts may become consumed by the latest shared COVID-19 reports, false information, and negative comments we read.  The cumulative effect can be very harmful to our psychological and physical wellbeing.

Actively thinking about how social media makes you feel can help you take steps to create a more enjoyable experience that protects your mental health online.

Think About What You Consume

If you notice your enjoyment of social media waning, or that using it stokes negative thoughts and emotions, make an active choice to ignore the content. Try the following tips:

  • Don’t click on coronavirus related hashtags.
  • Mute key words that you find triggering.
  • Unfollow or mute posts, groups, or accounts if you find them overwhelming.
  • If necessary, stop checking your newsfeed, and instead directly visit the feeds of friends, groups and pages you wish to interact with.
  • Take a complete social media break to create more substantial breathing space.

For some people, a digital detox might mean unfollowing certain news outlets, brands, or “friends”.  For others it may mean mindfully stepping away from all digital devices for short periods several times each day to feel more focused and centred when plugging back in.   For others, hibernating their own accounts for a few weeks or longer may be the best way create healthy personal space.

Think About What You Share

The mood of social media is created and amplified not only by what we consume, but also by what we post, interact with and share.  We can support our friends and the wider community through the coronavirus crisis by paying attention to the content we put out and pass on.

Think about how the content you create and share makes you feel, and how others will feel receiving it.  What are you sharing it for? Will it help lift up humanity in some way through this difficult time? If it doesn’t support your mental health or the wider community in some way, is it really worth sharing?  Treat the newsfeeds of the people you are about as you wish your own to be treated.

This talk offers some thoughtful, practical tips for living more mindfully with social media, without turning it off completely.

Our entire world is in a super-charged state of fear and uncertainty just now. Everyday life has completely changed and thinking about it for too long can be pretty overwhelming. When we focus in on the cause of our fear, we become unable to think rationally and make quality decisions. Fear amplifies anxiety, depression and stress, corrodes relationships and blocks positive energy, so we become less productive and less able to sleep well.

Fear and the emotions we feel in response to it are not Fact.  Nor is courage the absence of fear. Courage is the ability to acknowledge that we fear something, to recognize the emotions we feel in response, and to consciously steer our thoughts through the experience in a way that supports well-being.  To choose that the mind will be in charge, not the thoughts that pass through it.

Follow these steps to help manage strong emotions during isolation.

Continue Existing Therapy

Continue taking any anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication as prescribed. Talk with your doctor if you have any concerns or need to adjust the dose for any reason. Where possible, order repeat prescriptions from your doctor online or by phone, rather than calling into your doctor’s office.

Manage Strong Emotions

Small fears and anxieties can compound into marauding emotions if we don’t learn to properly manage them.  Though we can take steps to reduce the risks of COVID-19, we can’t make the uncertainty of this situation go away.  But we can work from within to manage our emotions and feel less overwhelmed by it.  Try this simple ABCDEF approach: Acknowledge, Breathe, Counsel, Defuse, Exchange, Feelings.

Acknowledge: Bring your awareness to the feelings of anxiety and accept that they are there. So often we allow thoughts to sit in our mind without paying good attention to what they really are, or we simply push away uncomfortable feelings. Try naming your emotions and the sensations your body feels in response – for example, “I feel anxious because I don’t know what will happen. My shoulders are tense and my heart is racing.”  Strong emotions control us when we don’t give them close attention.  Actively focusing on them, and how they make you think and feel, reduces their power.

Breathe: Give your emotions space by taking some calming deep breaths. Sit or stand up straight, drop your shoulders to help release physical tension throughout your body.  Breathe in for at least a count of 3, then hold and breathe out for another count of 3.  There’s no need to modify your thoughts or feelings, just continue to acknowledge them for what they are, without any judgement.

Counsel: Remind yourself that your thoughts and feelings are the voice of fear, that craving and endlessly seeking impossible certainty is unhelpful, and that fear is not a statement of fact. Remember the FEAR acronym: False Evidence Appearing Real.

Defuse: Emotions are not who we are. Think of them as waves of experience we can choose to surf. When we consciously release it, the troubling thought or feeling flows away.  When you notice an emotion or thought process pulling you down, disrupt it by saying something like “this is making me unhappy. I am not doing this anymore. I deserve to treat myself more kindly”.

Exchange: How can you view the situation more positively and relieve your tension in this moment? Take active steps to replace the negative emotion with positive ones.  For example, using gratitude, or a deep breathing exercise, listening to a happy playlist, or a funny recording of your children.  Laughter, smiles and singing aloud create some of the best emotional healing.  Do you have to continue with the task at hand, or can you take a brief mental reset break, and return later with a clearer, calmer mind?

Feelings: What are you thinking and saying to yourself now? How do you feel, physically and emotionally?  Name those sensations and feelings, for example “I am calm”, “my muscles feel relaxed”. Paying close attention will reinforce the value of this approach, and help you adjust your action responses as you go along, to discover what works best for you.

You will need to practice over and over again before managing your emotions in this way becomes natural, but doing so will be worthwhile.

COVID-19, lockdown and social distancing create new challenges – and opportunities – for family relationships, especially between partners.  Whether you are together or apart just now, we hope some of these tips will help in these difficult times.

Acknowledge Your Partner’s Strong Emotions

Many people are dealing with a melange of strong emotions just now, with fewer support structures and opportunities to defuse stress.

  • Take lots of deep breaths. Remain gentle, patient and open with yourself and one another. Remember that strong emotions are fears talking, not facts manifesting.
  • Be a witness for your partner – let them know that you see them and what they are feeling. Let them know it’s Okay to feel strong emotions, and that you are available to listen if they want to talk.
  • It may be helpful to share the ABCDEF method described above for managing fear and anxiety.
  • Use open ended questions to promote conversation and create opportunities for you partner to express what they think and feel. Open ended questions can’t be answered with a short response like “yes”, “no” or a short statement of fact. They usually begin “why”, “how”, “what if”, or “tell me about”.

Be Patient

If your partner has previously worked away from home and is now isolating with your family, this will be a huge adjustment, mentally and physically. Especially so if your partner’s job has been furloughed or cut due to social distancing restrictions.  The daily commute will have been a transition or even a mental retreat between two lives, and the work environment will have been very different from home life.  It will take your partner time to understand the rhythm of your day and their place within it, and for both of you to find balance with one another in that space.

Give One Another Space

Recognise that you both need a safe space to go to within your home, a place of retreat that will be respected while you cannot go to your usual places of sanctuary and emotional restoration away from home.

  • Identify a specific space for each of you, and for anyone else in your household who does not have their own private bedroom.
  • The space might range from a designated chair in the family room, or the corner of a room created as a den, to an entire room kitted out for the purpose.
  • Identify a few activities that bring the person calm and restoration, and provide a stock of appropriate materials ready for use. Visit our list of 45 ways to Reduce Your Stress for some ideas.
  • Ensure all adults and children know about the retreats, how they will be used, and how to approach the person when they are retreating. For example, knock on the door or wall before interacting with the person.

Identify Tasks and Responsibilities

 Children are homeschooling, parents are homeworking, partners are adjusting to life without a day job – even if that is only a temporary circumstance…  The puzzle board of life has been thrown up into the air, everyone is trying to figure out where they fit as the pieces fall back to earth.  It can be valuable to make a list of all the daily and weekly household chores, childcare needs and outstanding DIY jobs, and divide up responsibilities.  This will help ensure everyone is contributing positively to the home and family each day, and avoid two people doing the same task twice.

Show Gratitude

This chaotic, uncertain time also creates opportunity to focus on the things you value in your partner, to show them tenderness, respect, love, and appreciation.  Gestures of reassurance and love go a long way in uncertain times.

  • Make a conscious effort to recognise when your partner does or says something that eases your day and makes you feel good, and show your gratitude.
  • If this is challenging to do in the busyness of the day, take time in the evening to share at least one thing that was appreciated during the day.
  • Perhaps ask your partner what you can do tomorrow to support them and help them feel loved, and share one thing that could help you.
  • If spoken word isn’t easy, consider placing a bedtime gratitude note on your partner’s pillow – those notes may become precious keepsakes.

Create a Treasure Box for Your Partner

Decorate and fill a box with mementos of your life together – photos, letters, souvenirs – anything that has special meaning for you about your partner.  Prepare a special time for only you and your partner when you are both relaxed, perhaps after a meal, and share the treasure box.  Ask them if they would like to look through the contents together now, or on their own later – respect their choice. The goal of the box is not to spend time looking through the objects together, but to convey to your partner how much they are treasured, especially at this time.

Go Dating

Just because you are confined to home or separated during lockdown doesn’t mean you can’t have a fun, romantic date together.  Try one of the following, or create your own ideas:

  • Take a nature trail scavenger hunt together around your garden or neighbourhood. Create a list of items and see who can find them all first.
  • Take turns cooking, perhaps teach one another your favourite recipes, or cook a meal together. If you’re isolating separately, buy the same ingredients, connect digitally, follow the recipe together in real time and share the meal together.
  • Dress up for your shared meal. Set the table like a smart restaurant, and don your finest outfits for the occasion.  You could even go dancing afterwards.  If the cuisine is from a particular country or time in history, consider dressing to reflect that.  Or celebrate a special event with fancy dress.

Human connection is the best way through difficult times, and we are responsible for seeking out the best support network for ourselves.

Ask for What You Need

People want to help but often aren’t aware their help is needed, or they don’t know how to offer or give help effectively.  So reach out and ask for what you need.  Don’t worry that people will be too busy or unable to assist. They may be, but let them decide.  Just explain honestly what you are feeling, specifically what you need, and how it will help.  That first small ask is always the hardest step.

Choose Your Supporters Carefully

Share your worries about COVID-19 and home isolation with someone you trust.  It can be especially valuable to share with someone who understands your experience of retinoblastoma and how the pandemic may impact your family.  Several minds working together usually find solutions faster to overcome challenges and ease stress.

But recognise that worry, gossip and catastrophizing from other people may amplify your own fears.  Choose your support system carefully so it builds you up and gives you hope.

Stay Well Connected

Check that your contacts list is up-to-date with phone numbers, social links, emails and postal addresses for family members, neighbours, friends, and other people you care about. Find out how people prefer to connect and record that information.  For example, some people are not comfortable with video chats, but welcome internet audio calls. Plan regular check-ins with one another, but leave space for spontaneity too.

Support One Another

Remember that the people you communicate with will be relying on connection with you for support just now, as much as you rely on them.  Surprise one another, be creative with your communication, have fun.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Plan with friends to watch a film or TV show, or read a book separately at the same time, so you can discuss it together on a group call or video meet-up.
  • Set up a tandem baking session with your child and their grandmother (or other significant person), in which you all follow the same recipe, connected by a video call.
  • With your friends, listen to the same positive radio show, and chat back and forth about its features. Note one thing you’d all like to follow up on that arose from the program or your conversation.  A breakfast show is ideal as they are usually 3-4 hours long with multiple features and upbeat music, and even opportunities to interact with the show – perhaps you could message in with a greeting to your friend or relative who is listening along with you.
  • Send voice memos to one another. The audio recording of our voice brings us closer to one another.  You can also enliven the memo further with singing, music, or several members of your family on the same recording.
  • Send surprise items in the mail.  Perhaps you have a collection of postcards from past holidays, or gifted writing sets you thought you’d ever use in this digital age. Now may be just the time to dust them off, show them some love and send them out with a smile.  Receiving an unexpected handwritten letter or card in the post is always a delight, just now more than ever.

Create a Specific Work Space

With everyone working and schooling from home, it may be difficult to identify an appropriate work space you can settle into for the duration of lockdown.

  • Make an inventory of who needs space for what purposes, and with what requirements (e.g. computer, table, close to electricity points).
  • Identify what spaces are available.
  • Can additional space be freed up by decluttering or moving furniture around?
  • It a large workspace will be shared, such as a large dining table, consider marking it off into zones so each person can keep items out for the duration.
  • If a small workspaces will be shared, plan a clear rota for who will use it at set times, to avoid confusion and angst. For each person who will use this space, place a box beside it, with their name clearly displayed. The person can store items in this box rather than having to pack them away elsewhere in the home each day, freeing up the workspace for other family members.

Dress for Work

You don’t have to wear a suit to the new kitchen table office suite, But changing out of PJs, showering and wearing something neat and comfortable signals to your brain that you are in a responsible, professional work mode.  You are more likely to have higher levels of energy and concentration, greater productivity and more satisfaction.  Dress the way you want to feel.

Transition Between “Home” and “Work”

Moving directly from laid back family life into a highly focused work mode can be tough. Stepping stones from one to the other may help to ease the process.

Begin with a low key activity like answering simple emails, filing papers from the day before, or reading a work-related article.  Your attention will gradually tune out from home life and reconnect with work, readying you to focus on projects that demand more intense concentration.

Similarly, you could transition out of your work day by checking email (though be careful this does not pull you back into another few hours of work), reading a chapter of a work-related book, or tidying up your workspace,

Maintain a Healthy Work/Life Balance

When working from home, working hours can easily expand into personal time, with fewer breaks spaced throughout the day. Set clear boundaries with agreed working hours, and use reminders on your phone to ensure you take breaks and clock out as planned.

Discuss working times with your family, so everyone knows when one another will be working or schooling, and how you will signal to one another if visits are welcome or not. For example, family members may enter if you leave the door open, but you would prefer that questions and conversation wait when the door is closed.  Teach everyone that when the door to a designated workspace is closed, a visitor must knock and wait to be invited in.

Protect Your Mental Reset Breaks

If you would normally drive between team meetings or client consultations, take those breaks at home too. Don’t fill the time with other tasks or back-to-back zoom calls just because you are available.

That alone time on the road may be valuable mental reset space you’ve never been aware of before. Recognise it as important to your wellbeing, your performance and productivity, and keep it safe.  If you lose too much of it, working from home may become oppressive.  Now more than ever, that breathing space is precious.

Use Tech Wisely

As with everything, use digital communication and teamwork systems in moderation.  During lockdown, these tools are replacing face-to-face conversation. Using a variety to stay connected will reduce the risk of excessive strain on your shoulders, wrists and hands from typing, or your neck and eyes from the screen.

Move between email, group messaging tools, video and audio calls, and use the 20:20:20 rule to protect your eyes – for every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, focus on something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Balance Work and Childcare

Discuss childcare plans with your partner, any other adults living in your home, and responsible older children.  Review the commitments for each person working from home, and try to prepare a childcare rota that allows each person dedicated child-free hours every workday to “go to work”.

Identify activities you know your children most enjoy that the carer is familiar and comfortable with.  Visit our list of 40 suggested activities for isolating children if need some inspiration.

Identify any needs, such as flexible or reduced hours, and discuss them with your manager and HR department.  Ask how they can help you balance work with parenting responsibilities during lockdown.  It can help to clearly state:

  • the number and ages of children for whom you are responsible
  • the number of adults present in the home during your work hour
  • each person’s work responsibilities and availability to supervise children
  • Any relevant space limitations – for example, if you will share the same workspace with school-age children.

Be Patient With Others

Everyone is figuring out how this new system of homeworking is best done. Managers have to factor in the needs of families and children in ways they have never faced before, while also implementing new communication tools and collaboration platforms.  They will be figuring out how to support staff and their own family through this crisis, with similar coronavirus anxieties.

Recognise the stress your manager will be experiencing.  Give helpful, constructive feedback about what is and is not working for you – especially if you have unmet accessibility needs. Clearly explain what would help you work more effectively, and what will support your wellbeing.

Be Patient With Yourself

Do what you can, and don’t feel badly if or when you need to stop.  We are in an unprecedented situation, with great practical challenges and human emotion.  Everyone and everything has its limits.

Sometimes breaking boundaries is valuable progress, but pushing too hard can cause great harm.  Be kind to yourself, know and respect your limits, and advocate for yourself so others will be more likely to respect them too.

Create a Wellness Action Plan

Home isolation is a potentially stressful experience that may increase the risk of PTSD in an already at-risk individual.  Working from home while caring for children increases the challenges.

A Wellness Action Plan may be particularly valuable just now.  This is a practical tool you complete independently to identify the things that positively or negatively impact your wellbeing at work, and the actions you can take to support your mental health.  The document can facilitate conversation with your manager, and helps them understand and identify the best ways to support you.  Ask your manager or HR department if the company has a WAP tool, or use this simple free Wellness Action Plan guide and template from MIND UK.

Our lives and entire world have been disrupted by coronavirus in ways that we have barely begun to understand.  But uncertainty also offers possibility. This disrupted life is a valuable opportunity to step back and find new, healthier, ways of being.

That doesn’t mean we have to be eternally positive.  The pandemic is life-threatening and potentially life-changing for everyone, and acknowledging how we feel about this situation will support our mental health. But we can experience those authentic painful emotions while also growing through them, choosing to take more care of ourselves and those we love.

We can make space to eat, drink, exercise and sleep well.  We can make active choices about the information we consume and share.  We can fully process our thoughts and feelings, and be truly present with the people in our lives.  We can find a way through this experience that respects out own needs today, and strengthens us for tomorrow.

Take care of you! Stay home, be safe, go well ♥

About the Author

Abby’s father was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma in Kenya in 1946. Abby was also born with cancer in both eyes. She has an artificial eye and limited vision in her left eye that is now failing due to late effects of radiotherapy in infancy.

Abby studied geography at university, with emphasis on development in sub-Saharan Africa. She co-founded WE C Hope with Brenda Gallie, responding to the needs of one child and the desire to help many in developing countries.  After receiving many requests for help from American families and adult survivors, she co-founded the US chapter to bring hope and encourage action across the country.

Abby enjoys listening to audio books, creative writing, open water swimming and long country walks.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *