A great big list of things that can help you cope while practicing physical distancing and self-isolation

What is the difference between physical distancing and self-isolation?

Physical distancing (also known as social distancing) involves taking steps to limit the number of people you come into close contact with. This will help to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Self-isolation is when you have been instructed to separate yourself from others, with the purpose of preventing the spread of the virus, including those within your home. If you are ill, you should be separated from others in your household to the greatest extent possible. 

These are stressful times, and it’s safe to say that everyone is feeling some degree of anxiety right now. It’s important to know that it’s ok to be anxious.

“It would be somewhat odd not to have a certain degree of anxiety during a time of such uncertainty,” said Dr. Raj Bhatla, psychiatrist-in-chief and chief of staff at The Royal in a recent interview on TSN Radio 1200. “The anxiety piece is normal. The real question is, how do you cope with the anxiety, and how do you continue to do some of the things that help with anxiety?”

Many of the things we can do to help with our anxiety can be considered self-care. Jillian Crabbe, a social worker at The Royal,  says self-care is a powerful antidote.

“Many of us see self-care as an ‘extra’ when we should be seeing it as a prescription for our own wellness and as a tool to help us cope,” says Crabbe, who believes that if we don’t take care of ourselves, it’s very hard to take care of others.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” says Crabbe. “If you haven’t filled up your own cup you can’t give anything to anybody else.” 

During times of crisis, it’s as important as ever to take care of our physical and mental health and build a strong foundation, so we are better equipped to deal with the stresses and challenges that come our way.   

Stay informed

You’re probably already doing this, but make sure you’re getting the latest information from credible sources, such as Ottawa Public Health and primary news outlets. Keep in mind there comes a point when binging on news isn’t helpful anymore, and can even add to our feelings of anxiety. Dr. Bhatla recommends checking your favourite news source once or twice a day and then stepping away from the screen. 

Stay fit

Dr. Bhatla has a great tip: why not go for a walk around the block with a friend? As long as you stay at least two metres apart, it’s an opportunity to socialize and squeeze in a bit of fitness. (But please stay at home if you are showing any symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing, fever, and shortness of breath!) Some other ideas:

Eat well

Keep calm

Stay social (while keeping your distance of course)

  • Reach out by phone to new friends or reconnect with ones you haven’t heard from in awhile. Ask your friends and family how they are coping, and talk about how you can get through this together. 
  • Digital tools like Skype, Google Hangout, and Facetime are a great way to have face-to-face conversations while maintaining social distancing. (Remember, social distancing does not have to mean emotional distancing!)
  • If you have stamps, practice your penmanship and rediscover the art of letter writing. Cards and postcards are nice too, and there’s less pressure to fill a big space with a postcard.
  • Stay in touch with the people in your immediate area through a neighbourhood Facebook group. Many people are sharing tips, resources, and support, in these community groups.

Find a creative outlet

Learn something new  

Regardless whether you’re the type of person who enjoys a fun series of fitness videos or a Google Hangout with grandma, Dr. Bhatla recommends developing a daily routine that we enjoy to help get through the day-to-day.   

How are you dealing with life at home? Have you taken up a new hobby? Dusted off an old one? Reading more? We’d love to hear about it. Share your suggestions with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram so we can add them to our growing list.  

Man sleeping with head on pillow

Get Sleep!

Dr. Elliott Lee, the director of the Sleep Clinic at The Royal, shares these tips for a good night’s sleep:

  1. Find your sleep window. Go to bed at the right time, wake up at the right time, and keep it consistent.
  2. Avoid backlit screens at least an hour before bed time. The light from the screen can trick the brain into thinking it’s daytime, and can impair the production of melatonin, a hormone normally needed to facilitate sleep initiation and maintenance.
  3. The bedroom should be a no-phone zone. It’s best to leave it on the charger downstairs so there’s no temptation. 
  4. If you need a wake-up alarm, use an alarm clock instead. Some people might find it helpful to cover the clock or position it so they can’t see the time if they wake up in the middle of the night. 
  5. Create a relaxing pre-bed time routine or ritual to help you wind down. Reading is a good one as long as it’s not on a phone or computer. 
  6. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and cannabis, especially in the evening hours.
  7. Exercising earlier in the day could help you sleep better at night.
  8. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible. “We’re very sensitive to light,” says Dr. Lee. “Light can actually penetrate the eyelid so you will sense the light even when your eyes are closed.” If blackout curtains aren’t an option, a sleep mask is a cheap and easy intervention if you’re having trouble sleeping. 
  9. The temperature in the bedroom can affect sleep. Turn down the heat! Not only does it save on heating costs but it’s easier to sleep in a cool environment. 
  10. Invest in a good mattress and pillow. The best sleep position is on your side or back, but not on your stomach. Some people might benefit from a pillow under the knees (if you sleep on your back) or between the legs (for side sleepers).