Good morning fellow isolators … after last night’s announcement, it looks like we really are in it all together now.
I’ve pretty much been in self-isolation since Sport Relief eleven days ago, not because of symptoms but because by then, having read so much about the virus and how it was operating in different parts of the world, I was pretty sure we were going to end up roughly where we are anyway. Added to which, a history of respiratory illness in the family, and my lifelong asthma, led me to think I should.
I am not great at any kind of isolation to be frank. I don’t mind my own company, but I enjoy it best when I am travelling, working in new environments, doing new things. There is not much of that available within your own four walls, and with every speaking engagement in my diary between now and June cancelled. I also have a bit of tendency to hyperactive periods (he writes, at 455a.m) and that too is not conducive to this new life.
But I also have a lot of experience of depression and its flipside, anxiety, which the current crisis, and its consequences, are unlikely to help in those who have it, and likely to encourage in many who don’t.
So my last blog having been 20 tips for Boris Johnson to improve his press conferences, today I am going to try 20 tips to help ward off depression and anxiety.
My experience of depression does not make me an expert in the illness; it just makes me an expert in mine. Everyone will be different, so some of these ideas may not work for everyone. But I hope that within them, there is something for all.
- Try to stay active. When your mood is low, your energy is low. The temptation to do nothing is strong. Try to resist it.
- Exercise. This is going to be more important, and for many more difficult, than ever. It is so easy to think ‘ah well I can’t go out, so I’ll sit and watch telly all day, and raid the fridge and the cupboard every half hour.’ There is so much capacity for exercise in the home. Walking/running up and down stairs. Press ups, squats, star jumps and running on the spot don’t require lots of space. Watch out for the explosion in online exercise classes. Think about joining.
- Watch your diet. See the ‘raid the fridge’ point in 2. Shopping trips are going to be rare. Make the most of them, and try to eat as healthily as possible. For many people, boredom = eat. Dislocation = eat. Loneliness = eat. It’s important to be aware of it, maybe keep a food diary, in which you record what you eat, and share it with someone doing the same thing, swap ideas.
- Watch the booze. Someone tweeted the other day ‘this is like Christmas without the fun!’ I think we all know what he means. And most know the temptation to drink more at Christmas, or on holiday. Best to resist. Especially important for people used to drinking a lot in pubs and restaurants. Try to drink less than you were, not more, at home.
- Sleep. So, so important. I know I am not practising what I preach here as it is not even light and the whole area seems to be asleep apart from me. But it is partly because I occasionally do have insomniac nights that I am so focused on the need to sleep well. An early night is a good night, and let’s be honest, we have lots of opportunity for early nights in the coming weeks and months. Use them!
- Read books not newspapers. Of course I read papers from time to time (especially The New European). But I think it is important not to overconsume media at a time like this. Books that have nothing to do with the current crisis, fiction or non fiction, can be such a wonderful release.
- Cut down on social media. Again, there is so much happening, things are moving so fast, and it is natural to want to try to stay on top of events. But endlessly scrolling through social media feeds is not the best way to do it.
- Listen to music regularly. So much better for you than the radio or the telly!
- Even better – make music! I should alert the neighbours that my regular bagpipe playing is going to become a lot more regular, and I will be trying out new tunes.
- ‘Think in ink.’ I bet you can’t guess who said that. It was Marilyn Monroe. And it is one of my life rules. That’s obvious you might think, since I am an author and journalist. But thinking in ink can help us all, whether you plan to publish what you write or not. Why are lists so helpful/common? Because we think in ink. Why do so many people write diaries and journals? Because there is a therapeutic benefit to committing thoughts to paper. Oh, and I should warn my agent and publisher I am close to finishing another book, even as we decide whether to proceed with mid-May publication of the last one.
- (OK, I guess Number 1 ought to be the most important one, but actually this one is.) Really look after the people closest to you. Be as nice and as kind as you can possibly be. I am very lucky in that if I was only allowed one person to be locked away with 24 hours a day (and most of the time she feels the same), it would be my partner Fiona. But I dread to think what it would be like to be going through this with a partner or a family you don’t want to be with, let alone a relationship of abuse and violence. I am trying to do something, each day, that I don’t normally do, to make sure she knows I know how lucky I am. That can be anything from telling her that I know how lucky I am to – wait for it, kids – unloading the dishwasher in the morning. Yes, I did, at 445a.m.
- Keep in touch with the people you would normally be in touch with.
- Get in touch with someone you’ve lost contact with.
- Do something good for someone else every day. Right now, put NHS and other public services staff top of the list. And think about how we can help charities and foodbanks, many of which are going to be devastated, but which are going to be needed more than ever.
- If you are finding it hard to do difficult things, try a few easier ones first. When I am depressed, and I know my mood and energy is going to be low, I make a big deal in my mind of little things. I challenge myself to brush my teeth and when I have done it, I tell myself how well I did. I tell myself that shaving is a hard thing to do, and when I’ve done it, I feel better. If I can turn the radio on, I can turn my mind on.
- Stay curious. This is related to points 6, 8 and 10. This really is a time to expand knowledge and try new things. Here is where the internet is a joy.
- Enjoy nature, in or out. I watched Blue Planet for the first time at the weekend. Wonderful. If you follow me on social media you will know by now I have been posting Tree of the Day photos. I cannot tell you how much pleasure I have got on our morning walk with the dog deciding which tree to pick. It is especially wonderful right now as the birds are starting to sing more, and the absence of aircraft in the sky (though a problem in other ways of course) means the birdsong is more noticeable and appears to be louder.
- Remember that all crises end eventually. All good things come to an end, and so do all bad things. Clearly, by the time this one is over, there will have been a lot of death, a lot of grief, a lot of suffering. But it will end, and most of the world will still be here. That is not a bad thought to cling to. So …
- Keep things in perspective. Don’t panic. And finally …
- See an opportunity in every setback. The whole world is going to have to take that approach when this is all over, but we can all do it in our own lives now.
‘This is a nightmare that we are locked down like this’ = ‘You and I can spend more time together.’
‘There is nothing to do’ = ‘Shall we tidy out the cellar?’
‘I wish I had more time to do a course or learn a new language or a musical instrument’ = ‘you’ve got time.’
‘Christ, is this ever going to end?’ = ‘When this is all over, we will have learned so much about ourselves.’
Have a nice day.
Thank you for this. Accidentally rated it 2 not 5 and can’t change it!
Good practical, sensible advice. I love a list format. Please publish your book if you can – needed more than ever.
Two other tips might be 1) avoid online shopping – addictive & bad for the planet 2) deep breathing/meditation to calm thoughts
Really helpful, thank you. I am in an at risk group because of a respiratory condition and I am using this time to listen to a lot of wonderful podcasts (shout out here for “In Our Time”) and some wonderful documentaries on the BBC, as well as reading all those books creeping up the stairs at home. Plus there is the garden – nature is a wonderful help at a time like this. Just a walk round the garden, looking, really looking at the plants, every single day – at different times – is both very calming and inspirational.
Very inspiring – my opinion of Alistair Campbell has totally changed, he seems to have become a really kind person! Or maybe he’s always been that way?
He has always been that way, he has just been given a bad press by those puppets of Corbyn who want to discredit the fantastic contribution to the country he and Tony Blair made.
Love the picture of the tree. Seems a bit like life, rough spots, arms reaching to the sky for new and exciting ideas, broken limbs, but above all a strong healthy trunk regenerating it’s life at every chance, and interesting textures.
If you are looking for something to inspire you and read, go to the SRF webpage, it will change your life for the better.
Keeping you in our prayers
Great This guy rocks.
I have depression and anxiety this will be of great benefit to many.
Thank you for sharing these tips.
I am not one of your Political philosophy admirers. However, I found some of these Pointers to be interesting and useful. I shall forward your List to many of my friends who are older and live alone. I am lucky in that I do not mind being alone and quite like my own company. Luckily, I do not tend to suffer from loneliness, and I have many diverse interests, including Classical music and Ballet. I used to be a self-confessed BBC Parliament ‘Nerd’. However, now that the UK is Independent once again, Parliament has returned to being a quieter Place once more. It is, dare I say, almost ‘Dull’ nowadays!
I usually have two completely deaf Cavaliers and two very loving Burmese cats to keep me company and to keep me busy. I talk to them all day long (often using sign language). However, on 23/3/20 my GP insisted that I should be picked up by the Paramedics and taken to the CWH Coronavirus A+E , (completely different from a normal A+E). I spent about six hours there being superbly looked after by Jean-Pierre and Brian, the Paramedics, and then Dr Yulia and her wonderful UN Team of Nurses, Phlebotomists Radiologists and Healthcare assistants, etc, There was an amazing sense of calm, professionalism and true ‘caring’. Luckily, my two sets of X-Rays and Ultra-sound showed that I did not have the dreaded Covid-19 virus at that moment. However, the Medical staff were concerned about my vomiting of blood, diarrhoea and ongoing Pain, which I have had for 10 months now, since almost dyeing of Sepsis.
My amazing friends and Neighbours have already made SO many genuine offers to help. Luckily, there had been time to give the cats to another older person, who was also under the 12-week ‘Purdah’. I also was able to take the dogs to a close-by Neighbour, who also happen to have an elderly, completely deaf Cavalier, and two enchanting children.
I have been home for about 30 hours now, having arrived back very hungry and tired (by taxi and in a mask) by about 2130. I felt SO tired all of yesterday that I did not contact my Neighbours. With their children’s permission, I will try and ‘borrow back’ Sweetheart and Darling. It will be nice to be able to take them out for a long walk once per day, although, for some reason, the Council have locked off our large Park. It was virtually empty on the lovely Sunday before it was locked off.
I have been a member of Twitter since 2013. However, I have virtually never used it, except to post the Occasional ‘Like’. Since I returned home from San Diego on Friday, the 13th March, I have been self-isolating and Social-Distancing. I suppose the new word is ‘Shielding’, although I have not received a ‘Letter’ yet.
I have now taken to Tweating. I am a real beginner and will, no doubt, get myself into trouble, due to my inexperience with Social Media. A few months ago, I apparently received vitriolic abuse after telephoning James O’Brien on LBC (for the very first time). However, I did not waste my time reading it. Recently, I appeared as one of three patients in Episode Ten of Channel 4’s “24 hours in A+E”. I have received some abuse, but, for the most part, I have received mainly supportive comments.
Like all over 70’s (I am 73, and have been immuno-compromised for 20 years due to Lupus) I am now in ‘Purdah’ for 12 weeks. When I actually THINK about that period of time, it seems like an eternity. Since my brush with death last 3rd May, my whole attitude to life has changed. If, theoretically, I could be dead again within 30 minutes, I MUST enjoy EVERY half second of life! There are an awful lot of half seconds in 12 weeks! I will not waste my time calculating exactly how many seconds.
Like, everybody we WILL get through this. And God willing (Inshala!), Life WILL go on. It HAS to! As you will have guessed, I have only averaged one or two hours of sleep (if I am lucky) during the last 10 months. I occasionally find myself out gardening in my tiny garden at 0400. Now, I Tweat and telephone friends and relatives, and watch the TV, mainly the News. Sadly, my relatively new Q Box is not working, and so I cannot access Sky, my usual TV viewing. It is a shame as it would be nice to watch some of the many programmes which I have recorded. Sky tried to fix it remotely, but unsuccessfully. I NEED a completely new Q Box. However, with the country-wide Lockdown, I will have to wait 12 weeks to be able to have one delivered and installed. Still, at least I can access normal TV.
Thank you for attempting to assist people in isolation with your excellent suggestions
Forgive my old-age ignorance, but what is SRF?
Very good – thanks for sharing.
Impressed that he took the time and cared enough to bother. Wish there was more advice for people like me. I am a widow and have always hated living alone. I filled my life with lots of things…volunteering, theatregoing, visiting friends, travelling . Now that I am “in solitary confinement “it’s all much harder to deal with. It’s awful to admit but I m just not happy in my own company.
Really good advice, and very timely for me at the moment: I’m on day 4 of a low mood… I’ve been coping fine during the lockdown, doing all of the above; early walks with the dogs, running, gardening, cooking up a storm. But then it came out of nowhere as it sometimes does… I know it will pass. It’s just a bit shit while it’s here… Item 15 on the list is the most relevant for me, I’m going to apply that to everything from now on and see if it helps. Thanks x
I saw your slightly amended article in the Guardian where you say that you play the bagpipes every day and try to look on the bright side of life…..I manage to combine the two at the same time – I play “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” on my Pipes.
If you want to check out how it sounds checkout my FB page….I stay in Hamilton…..
Great advice. As someone mentioned earlier, also learn how to control breath , and consciously relax your body. It’s not hippy dippy, not that hard. Just takes time and focus.