As our days spent in quarantine stretch into weeks and months, it’s easy to feel like there’s no end to the pandemic in sight — meaning there’s no end to our cabin fever, either. Anyone who lives by themselves and works from home probably experienced this kind of antsiness at some point in the pre-COVID-19 days. But, now that you can’t even visit your favorite café to work or hang out with friends on the weekends, you may be downright itching for a break in the monotony.
Feeling isolated in your work and personal life is never pleasant, but there are resources and strategies to help you cope. Marla W. Deibler, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and executive director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, shows you how to navigate social isolation when your home is also your workplace.
Remember that you’re not actually alone.
“People are social beings,” Dr. Deibler says, explaining that human interaction helps promote our overall well-being. Being deprived of social support can lead to distress and struggles with mental health, she says. Reach out to colleagues or fellow freelancers during the workday, preferably via real-time forms of communication. “The ‘meetings that could have been an email’ joke is not necessarily applicable at this time,” Dr. Deibler says. Maintaining a sense of cohesion with teammates and collaborators may take a little extra effort right now. “Video-conference staff meetings can be particularly important at this time to maintain that sense of interpersonal connection at work,” she adds. “And that may have a positive impact on individuals’ mood and productivity.” You can apply the same logic to your friend group and set up a weekly video call for a virtual game night. It won’t be exactly the same, but it will be the closest thing you can get to decompressing from work on a Friday night.
Finally, Dr. Deibler mentions that plenty of therapists are working via telehealth right now if you think speaking with a professional would be helpful. Talkspace, BetterHelp, and Psychology Today are all great starting points for finding the right therapist for you.
Create a routine — and stick to it.
Living alone and working from your couch can set the stage for unending workdays, where you keep your email open into the night “just in case” or go for hours without taking a snack break because you can always relax later. When the world feels so unstable, it’s important to impose a little structure, for the sake of our physical and mental health. Do your best to maintain a regular waking time, mealtimes and proper nutrition, exercise, and a reasonable bedtime, Dr. Deibler says. Following a routine during the week will help imbue your quarantine with a sense of normalcy and keep you from burning out.
Explore your passions.
Keep up with your hobbies from before the quarantine as much as you can, or give a new at-home project a try. Whether you set up a home gym or pick up needlepoint, find ways to maintain and nurture your interests outside of your work. It will help you pass the time and feel less like you’re living in your office. The vast array of online resources have been made available–often for free–since stay-at-home guidelines went into effect, from workout classes to virtual museum tours to music lessons. There’s never been a better time to try something new.
Protect your free time.
It’s hard to ignore the noise about productivity on social media right now (if one more person mentions King Lear, we just might scream). If you’ve been feeling especially creative or prolific lately, that’s great, but don’t put undue pressure on yourself to churn out work if you don’t have the energy. This doesn’t mean you should ghost your clients or push back deadlines unnecessarily, but it does mean you shouldn’t overextend yourself due a perceived excess amount of free time.
Don’t let others pressure you to do more than you feel comfortable doing right now, either. Just because you live by yourself doesn’t mean you have all the time in the world to Skype with your aunt or take on additional assignments at the 11th hour. A little alone time can be restorative, and it’s important to establish boundaries with your friends, family, and coworkers so that they understand when and how to give you your space. “Don’t be afraid to set limits, decline an offer, say thank you, but no thank you,” Dr. Deibler says. “Setting boundaries will help to ensure that you are feeling good and look forward to these opportunities when they do fit your schedule.”
Focus on what you can control.
This is an extremely uncertain time for freelancers specifically (and for everyone generally). If you feel particularly anxious right now, Dr. Deibler says to concentrate on what’s within your power, rather than ruminate on what might happen. Follow official safety and hygiene guidelines for your area and, when you feel your worries start to pile up, do something pleasant that distracts you or puts your mind at ease (Dr. Deibler recommends keeping a list of enjoyable activities handy). Even if a bout of anxious thoughts shows up in the middle of a workday, taking a quick walk around the block or reading a few pages of a book will help you blow off some steam and return work feeling more grounded and less scattered.
Reaching out to someone, be it your therapist or friend, can help immensely. “We’ve all had moments of needing to talk about the pandemic or of worrying about what this means or what is going to happen,” Dr. Deibler says. And by calling up a pal to vent, you could end up providing them with a much-needed outlet. “Talking about this will likely come as a relief to them as well.”