By Elizabeth Dangerfield
A question of attitude
In our extraordinary full lives, we rush headlong from one event or task to another with no time to pause, think or take time out. In our modern style of living every iota of time is allocated to doing something, and everything we do has to be done to perfection. It is exhausting trying to fit everything in and on top of that is the constant stream of social media that demands our attention and input. No wonder that people are fearful of being home alone with so much time but so limited in scope. As social animals, many of us must see isolation as a terrible price to pay for slowing the spread of Covid-19. A real punishment, a denial of our very existence.
Many people have been condemned to far worse situations than being home alone for a few weeks or even months. People have been caught up in horrendous wars, been wrongly imprisoned, endured terrible natural disasters; people have lost everything and experienced deep deprivation and physical and mental trauma.
Being home alone can be a challenge but it is an incredible privilege. How often in a lifetime do we get the opportunity to take time out of our incredibly busy existence and just take one day at a time, to savour the moment, to have time to think, to not be controlled by a to-do list? Being home alone is a golden opportunity to try a different approach, to rejuvenate and evaluate. Instead of spending it watching endless re-runs of old TV series, scrolling through social media or playing online games; you can use it as an opportunity to come out of the experience better than when you went in.
Firstly though, some people are home alone because they are in quarantine; some are self-isolating to reduce their chances of picking up Covid-19, some people are working at home, some are home because they have no work to go to, and for some, the Covid-19 virus has resulted in their whole world falling apart. Not everyone has pantries overflowing with enough food and toilet paper to withstand a siege of a year and some people find being isolated very bad for their mental health. If you are in a situation in which staying home alone is likely to be stressful you need to seek help. Call upon family, friends, work colleagues, employers, governments, charities, community bodies, to provide you with the help that you need to get through this challenging period. It is not your fault that you are in this position and you have every right to ask for help.
Once you have done what you can to solve your problems then it is time to let go of what you can’t change and see how you can turn it to your advantage. While isolation may seem very restrictive you have more time available to you than you are likely to have at any time in your life. After all, you have no place to go, no one to meet, no set program to follow. If you are working at home, you may find that if you are self-disciplined you can be more productive at home because there are fewer distractions.
Do something different
It is very tempting to fill your time at home alone with more of the same things you normally do. In order to reinvigorate and rejuvenate your life during this period of confinement try doing the opposite of what you normally do. If you are an incessant talker try enjoying silence, if you are an inveterate list make try living dangerously, don’t make a list for your entire time at home alone. If you turn the TV on first thing in the morning try leaving it off for most of the day! If you constantly check social media try making set times to check, if you always cook the same food try experimenting with new recipes; if you play games on your computer all day long try doing other activities instead. Learn something new. Read books, watch documentaries, learn a language online, take up a hobby, learn a new skill, do something creative. Change your habits and prove to yourself that you are flexible, adaptable and capable of moving out of your comfort zone.
In our frantic world, very few of us have time to think about things deeply, to contemplate the issues facing our world, to reassess our values, to look back on the past or imagine the future. Our minds are often in a whirl and stress and anxiety can affect our health. Now is the time to have a break from all that striving and ceaseless activity. Meditation, breathing techniques, mindfulness activities can all help to still the mind and help us stay in the present moment rather than worrying about what we did wrong in the past, or being anxious about the future.
Being home alone also gives us the opportunity to think deeply about an issue rather than being overwhelmed by a stream of thoughts reflecting the multiple tasks and concerns that confront us on a busy day. You can use this opportunity to be introspective. To think about who are you – what are 20 labels you could apply to yourself that would capture the diversity of your interests, talents, experience, aspirations? What do you believe and why? What are your basic values and how do you apply them in your life? Given that the Covid-19 pandemic has given us an indication of how suddenly life can change what is your deepest wish for the future?
Put your life in order
During the Covid-19 crisis, we may feel that we have little control over things, but our home is our dominion and we can order it as we like. The possessions we keep tell us a lot about ourselves. They all have stories. You can go for a virtual journey around your home by considering every item in it. Where it came from, what its purpose is, how it is bound to you, and whether you still need or want it. You can decide what to keep, what to repair, what to recycle and what is too much of a burden. What better time to wade through all your paperwork, to put your legal documents in order, to make real or virtual photo books as a reminder of your life, to rummage through every drawer and cupboard; and basically, to take stock.
Strengthen your relationships
For all the extroverts in the world, being confined alone must be daunting. Of course, it is still possible to have contact with friends, relatives and acquaintances through social media, and to see them in person through Skype and Facetime. But time alone provides an opportunity to examine our relationships because we often take those closest to us for granted. It highlights, that even though we are not perfect, and our loved ones are not perfect, we need each other. While we can live separately for a while, contact with other people is very important to our well-being.
Some people who are in isolation are not home alone but sharing it with family members. Being with your partner 24/7 when you are not used to it can be quite challenging. Couples need to have some space and time to themselves, and it can be useful to agree on a daily plan. Communication is the key, talking about issues, supporting each other, thinking outside the square to do something unexpected. Practising the best of manners can be helpful too as it nourishes a sense of respect and appreciation. Listening carefully to each other and delving into topics you haven’t explored in-depth can stimulate communication and open new horizons. Have some fun together, play games, take up a hobby together, be creative.
Adding children to the mix makes it all more complex. They too need their own space at times, and they need to be reassured. You can get them to help you develop a program for the day and enjoy yourself participating in activities with them. It is a golden opportunity to get to know your children better – what they are thinking, how they are feeling, their concerns for the future, how they feel about their relationships with others, their likes and dislikes. And they can get to know you more too.
Look after yourself
Take some time to improve your sleeping habits. This is one of the best things you can do for your brain and body. Adequate sleep is essential for your health, without enough of it we do not function efficiently, we increase our susceptibility to illness and stress, befuddle the brain and drag ourselves through the day. If we are deprived of sleep, we go mad. Most Australians do not get enough sleep. Assess your bedroom and turn it into a calming, comfortable, sleep haven. Ban all electronic devices from the room, turn off any screens at least half an hour before you go to bed; shut all curtains and turn the lights down as well. Enjoy the luxury of snoozing in bed in the mornings without being rudely awakened by an alarm.
Eat without guilt
Home alone is the perfect time to improve your diet. You can take your time to prepare healthy meals and snacks. You can make your meals a leisurely, enjoyable affair by setting the table and turning off the TV. Without distractions, you can eat your meals more slowly and savour your food however simple it might be. Sometimes we are so busy we hardly taste our food.
Healthy eating will also improve your immune system so that it is better able to respond to threats like viral infections. You can’t go too wrong by eating a combination of vegetables of all colours, fruit especially berries, complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, nuts and seeds, and good fats, and avoiding food that raises your blood glucose levels too quickly, increases bad cholesterol or raises your blood pressure.
Exercise in the comfort of your own home
There is a story of an Australian woman who desperately wanted to lose weight and get fitter and yet she could not leave her home so each day she walked many times around the Hills hoist in the backyard and achieved her goal. Being home alone is the perfect time to establish an exercise regime that you can maintain without having to go to the gym or pool. You have no excuses. You can devise your own exercises using what is available at home – bottles of water and cans of food make good weights – or you can try out some of the many exercise videos on YouTube.
Above all, do things that make you feel joyous. Singing is great for the soul. Music lights up the brain. Doing something creative makes time fly. Doing something you have never done before gives a sense of accomplishment. Give yourself a pat on the back for making a sacrifice in order to help others. Hopefully, you will come out of your isolation feeling healthier, more rested, thoughtful, organised, and energetic than when you went in.
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