YESTERDAY I FaceTimed a tearful friend who had sought solace from her housemates in the local park. Decamping on a bench with her laptop and a flask of tea, it was the only place she could think of to escape the booming music one flatmate seemed intent upon listening to while ‘working from home’ and another person’s total refusal to turn off panic-inducing 24-hour news. ‘I love these guys normally but at the moment they feel suffocating,’ she explained.
Perhaps you feel the same. Right now, there are few ‘emergency cords’ to pull when other people get too much. Cinemas, art galleries and communal gathering spaces are mostly closed. Many of us have no offices to go to. Taking public transport to visit people is risky. Many coffee shops and cafés are takeaway only. Contact with other people is at opposite ends of the spectrum — you’re either squashed into a confined space with them or painfully aware of their absence. And when you do talk to people, there’s quite often only one topic of conversation — and it ends with the word virus. Being a couple isn’t a guaranteed salve to this problem either.
‘It’s natural that we might find the people we live with annoying at times over the next few weeks,’ says Audrey Stephenson, a psychotherapist and couples counsellor. ‘That is OK in these extraordinary times. It doesn’t make you a bad person or mean you are doomed for divorce. And being realistic, this whole thing isn’t going to be back to “normal” — whatever that means — in a couple of weeks.
‘We all need to think about how we are going to cope with this long term. We’re probably talking about a few months of upheaval here. Coronavirus has created an incredible potential for “drift”, which can make people feel depressed.’
To save your sanity, Stephenson has one big piece of advice.
‘Scheduling can help massively,’ she says. ‘It’s imperative to carve out your own office space. Do not share it with your spouse or anyone you are also living with 24 hours a day. If there’s one room set up for working in the house, take it on different days or at different times of the day. By all means have breakfast together, lunch together, take scheduled breaks together — but for the majority of the day maintain your boundaries and distance.’
Stephenson believes coming up with projects to do with your housemates or partner could also offer a boon.
‘These will be home-related, in all likelihood,’ she says. ‘People will come out of this with cleaner houses and more organised closets.’
If you’ve decided to decamp to escape a city or shared house and find yourself back with your parents, or if you usually live with them but are now going to be in a lot more, these may become especially challenging days. Of course, anyone with a parent over the age of 65 is going to be concerned about their wellbeing but your own mental health needs to be thought about too.
‘For people who suddenly find themselves living with their parents, the first thing is to recognise that this may suck,’ says Stephenson. ‘You are going to feel like a kid again. To combat this, it’s imperative to create boundaries. If you have one of those relationships where your parent does everything for you, it can’t be like that now. Do your own washing, make your own meals. To have a functioning relationship, ensure you establish yourself as an adult.’
Living on your own isn’t a walk in the park either. This week, US actress and Girls creator Lena Dunham issued advice to solo dwellers dealing with the corona crackdown, which is useful for the rest of us too. She recommended FaceTiming friends, reading long-form articles you haven’t had time for, organising your wardrobe and keeping a quarantine diary as just some of the things to do.
‘Download something like Zoom, which is brilliant for video conferencing,’ says Stephenson. ‘Meet on there with some friends, grab a glass of wine or some food and just hang out. A semblance of normality is important. There are also social volunteering programmes starting up for the vulnerable or the elderly — much of which can be done from home — which takes you away from the monotony of our current daily routines.’
This is a time when tech networking and social media will come into its own too. Stephenson recommends taking a leaf out of actor Ben Platt’s book and getting creative.
‘The Dear Evan Hansen actor threw a “Quarantunes” dance party live on Instagram, sharing a playlist in advance and telling people to “dance away the nerves together”,’ she says. ‘There will be plenty of stuff like that. People will get creative on tech and look for different ways to really connect.
‘If that’s not your thing, download a new podcast or audiobook, or read a real book. It will give you your own headspace and something to talk about when you do come together with someone again.’
Lena Dunham’s Insta tips for self-isolation
■ FaceTime your friends who you don’t get to talk to enough when your life is going full force. Ask them questions you don’t know the answer to, like ‘who is your favourite Golden Girl?’
■ Read. Books are great but what about all the long-form articles you’ve always wanted to read but didn’t have the time for? I’m currently enjoying every piece Lost Girls author Robert Kolker has ever written.
■ Organise your to-watch list on every app. Start a themed film club with your other isolated friends and discuss them as a group on Zoom! My current genre is ‘movies that are actually amazing’.
■ Organise your clothing into piles and plan to take what you don’t need to a shelter when we are all back up and running. It’s good to have a kindly deed in the works!
■ Challenge yourself to paint or draw a series of five pictures in a day. It allows you to be loose and get out of a perfectionist mindset (my father is my art teacher and does this a lot to excellent effect).
■ Try keeping a quarantine diary — your future kids/students will be very interested in this very specific and complex time, and in how you dealt with your anxiety and the disruption to daily life.
■ Your dog is bored too. Do a tutorial with them on YouTube and teach them a new trick you can show off when you’re back at the park.
■ A lot of people hate the word meditation but what about 20 minutes of reflection a day? It’s a great time to focus on where you’ve been and where you’re headed.
■ Take one of those showers where you attend to every part of your body — literally wash behind your ears. Another tip: try sitting down in the shower. It’s heaven.
■ Finally, learn the dance from the Miley Cyrus Black Mirror episode.