At this unprecedented time, and with more countries taking more and more extreme [and necessary] measures to curb the spread of the virus, people across the world have had to stay home with their families, loved ones and flat mates. Being in such close proximity to people 24/7 can become really challenging, and I wanted to offer some advice to those who are in isolation or working from home; in order to maintain connections, keep intimacy going and basically not murder each other.
Let’s start with some basic things you could be doing each day:
Remind yourselves that this is out of your control – You’re all doing the best you can, and being compassionate to yourself and others right now is crucial. The more stressed out you get, the more your immune system is impacted. The more stressed out you get, the less you’re able to think logically and rationally. The more stressed out you get, the more likely it is to impact those around you.
Don’t forget those on their own – if you have friends or family on their own [even those living with other people like flatmates], check in on them. Arrange video calls and let them know you’re there and they are not alone. Loneliness is a really challenging experience, and at a time like this when normal social interactions mean the virus could keep spreading, it’s crucial to keep connections going. If your elderly family can’t do video calls, phone them. Daily! Make sure you’re letting them know you’re there and you wish you could be with them.
Keep a routine – it’s really easy to slip into ‘Netflix and chill’ at a time like this, but routine is crucial for our wellbeing and our productivity. If you are still working, get up at the same time you would’ve. Get dressed into clothes that are not loungewear/ PJs. Eat breakfast. Get to working at a reasonable time. It’s ok to take breaks throughout the day like you might to at work. Eat lunch away from your laptop for a change! Get some sun on your face and some fresh air if you’re able to.
Having a task/ project/ activity that gives you a sense of purpose during this time can really help psychologically. So if you’re not able to work, start a puzzle, learn a language, finish the books you’ve had going for months, or do something creative. It can be very easy to watch series all day but this can be numbing and mean that when others in your house are free (if they are working, that you might be more demanding of their free time).
Exercise and eat well – this really is crucial for your immunity and your sanity. There are wonderful at-home workouts available for free on YouTube and Instagram. If you can, go for a walk, alone or together. Set a routine to workout together with those you’re around – even doing 10 minutes of exercise can go a very, very long way. Don’t lose all motivation to stay healthy just because you cannot access the gym. Make time to cook some really delicious meals together where everyone plays a role. Learning a new skill, like cooking or baking, is brilliant for your brain.
Meditate – right now with everything going on in the world, uncertainty is guaranteed. And uncertainty is one of the main causes of anxiety. There is so much out of our control, and bringing ourselves back to right now and the present moment can help us tackle this anxiety. It’s ok to be anxious! But worrying about things that you do not have control over would not be helpful (and likely cause you more stress – see point 1). I highly recommend using apps like Headspace (they are offering a free course right now too specifically for this situation)/ Calm/ Insight Timer/ Buddhify. There are numerous free online meditations, and lots of companies are offering free live-streamed meditations. You can do this together or do this as a group! There are even meditations for kids that are brilliant.
Take time out – when you’re around loved ones or friends 24/7, it can get a little draining. Some people thrive, but others struggle. As a family/ couple/ team, agree that you will each have ‘your time’ [perhaps an hour or so] when you are not to be disturbed unless there is an emergency. This means that you get to detach from everyone else and take some much-needed space for yourself. Perhaps agree upon where you’ll do this, and then respect the time that person is taking. Everything can wait until they’ve had some time away.
Create and agree on shared responsibilities – every family member/ flatmate who is able to should be contributing to helping out at this time. Make sure everyone has a role and negotiate on things you might not love doing (my partner hates changing linen, so we’ve agreed I’ll do that but he’ll do the washing of it).
Date differently – If you’re single, why not use this time to start getting to know people you’re attracted to through pure communication? Take that swipe right to a chat, the chat to a number exchange, and then perhaps the messaging to video calling and virtual dates!
Discuss your fears and worries – holding on to distressing emotions is only going to make them worse, and make you crankier! Communicate, share and explore them with those around you. It is OK that you have these feelings (uncertainty remember), but letting them results in unhelpful behaviour isn’t. The more you share, the less you feel alone in this.
Now for couples and how to keep things interesting during social distancing and isolation:
Speak to people other than your partner – your partner cannot be your only source of connection. It’s just not fair. Reach out to friends and set up ‘dinner/ coffee dates’ via video call. As the lovely Esther Perel says, we expect our partner to give us what we used to get from a village. Do not make your partner your whole village… keep connections with friends and family going on your own too!
Use it or lose it – Whether you’re confined with your partner or you’re on your own, masturbation and sexual pleasure is crucial and guess what, good for you! It has many health benefits, including helping you sleep better, improving levels of all those lovely hormones and chemicals you need to feel good and fight off things like depression, loneliness and anxiety, and it can even boost your immune system.
Have sex when you want to, not because you have to – it’s still important to connect sexually as a couple during this time, and it even helps to manage your stress; winning! But it’s also ok if you don’t feel like sex too. Maybe as a couple you can set aside some scheduled time for sex and intimacy (Sunday morning in bed anyone?) when you know you can be present.
Parents need to prioritise their partnership – yes, the kids are home and you need to be available to them, but do not let that detract from also craving out some time for each other and intimacy. Getting it on is better than getting on each other’s nerves! Just as I mentioned earlier that groups staying together should have uninterrupted time, so should moms and dads.
Keep on flirting (you should be doing this anyway, virus aside!) – just because you are in the same house does not mean you should stop flirting and being playful with one another. Playfulness is a crucial building block for desire and arousal. So, send each other sexy messages and pics, make a ‘date’ and light candles, play music, and create a romantic scene… use your imagination… or Google.
Try something new – switch off Love is Blind and play a board or card game. Give one another a massage. Sip wine and reminisce about when you first met and what you liked about one another. Cook together. Go through old photos together and speak about memories.
Use protection – if you’re staying home together and having sex, please don’t forget that you could fall pregnant if you’re not using protection. If you don’t want to have a baby, use protection!
Do not take it personally – If you’re partner needs space and seems to be socially distancing; this is unlikely because of you, and more likely because a) they like their own space or b) there is a highly contagious viral pandemic globally. Recognise that your partner wanting space may not be a personal thing about you, but a personal thing about them. And perhaps them not being touchy-feely like usual is highly unlikely to be due to them not wanting you; they probably don’t want the virus! If you’re worried or anxious, speak to them and say “the story I’m telling myself about why you’re being distant is…”
Finally, at a time like this, taking care of yourself first and foremost is paramount. Esther Perel put it perfectly in her recent newsletter about self-love:
“It can be wonderful to be alone, to give our body a massage, to cook ourselves a delicious meal for one, but this isn’t self-love, it’s self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Self-love, on the other hand…our ability to see ourselves as a flawed individual and still hold ourselves in high regard. Self-love is the ability to not fall into a puddle of contempt even when we mess up. It’s trying new things knowing that we could fail, without thinking of ourselves, therefore, as failures. Can we take that understanding and self-compassion into our connections with others?
Self-love is less about the ability to withstand loneliness or establish independence and more about awareness and acceptance of our incompleteness. It’s about letting others love us even when we feel unlovable because their version of us is often kinder than our own.”
*A note: If one of you has symptoms, has tested positive, or has come into contact with someone who has tested positive/ had symptoms, the above is not going to apply. Social distancing is one of the best ways to stop the virus, and so this means sex is off the table – it is close contact after all. Unfortunately, if this is the case, you need to following instructions of health care professionals, have minimal social contact with one another, not share anything where possible, and if possible, be isolated to different rooms. You can find lots of articles online about this. Be responsible.