How to stay sane if you're self-isolating

Follow these top tips and keep yourself entertained while you’re home alone

Self isolation
(Image credit: Lewis Parsons on Unsplash)

So you’re back from holiday or a work trip abroad, and you feel absolutely fine. But you’ve been advised to stay home and self-isolate for a couple of weeks. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right?

You might, though, find the reality a little more troublesome. Humans weren’t designed to be caged, and as cabin fever sets in, and the walls start to close in on you, it can all start to get overwhelming. Not to mention that the slightest sign of a headache or tickle in the back of your throat, and you’ll be fast on the road to hypochondrial hell. 

With that in mind, we’ve put together some top tips below to help protect your mental and physical health during self-isolation. But first, what exactly does self-isolation involve?

What is self-isolation?

According to Public Health England, self-isolation means staying at home for 14 days. During this time, you should not go to work and should stay away from public places and transport. You should stay in a well-ventilated room, separate from any other people in your home, with the door closed, but with a window to the outside that can be opened. 

You should ask friends, family members or delivery services to carry out errands for you, such as getting groceries, medicines or other shopping. However, you should not have any visitors in your own. You can find the full list of government advice here.

1. Watch some brilliant TV

Self-isolation tips: Characters from the Mandalorian riding in the desert

Binge-watch shows like The Mandalorian, and the days will just fly by

(Image credit: Disney)

Self-isolation means you’ll be spending a lot more time in front of the TV than usual. And this can go one of two ways. If you restrict yourself to free-to-air, you’ll probably watch a lot of bad shows, constantly interrupted by commercials, and end up in a bad mood and with a terrible headache. Alternatively, throw a small amount of money at one of the big streaming services, and you could be discovering a new world of high-quality content, ad-free.

Take Disney+. With a cavernous library of classic animations, Marvel movies, everything Star Wars, including new TV series The Mandalorian, and plenty more besides, you’ll be absolutely spoiled for entertainment choice. Find out what’s on offer and how to get it by reading our latest Disney Plus UK update.

An equally good option is Netflix, winner of our best streaming service award. It’s jam-packed with great TV shows and movies, many funded of them by Netflix itself and streamed exclusively on the platform, such as the latest Scorcese movie The Irishman and the Oscar-winning tear-jerker Roma. Or you could just binge-watch classic shows like Breaking Bad, Lost, Friends or The Big Bang Theory.

Most new televisions already have apps for connecting to the internet and streaming content, but if yours is a little older, you’ll need to invest a small amount of money in a media streaming device. Check out our guide to the best media streamers 2020 for everything you need to know about that. 

This might all seem like a faff, and you may resent having to pay for TV when you’re used to having it for free. But genuinely, once you discover the depth of quality content on streaming services, and the ability to watch it wherever and whenever you like, you’ll never look back.

2. Stop freaking out about hand sanitizer

Hand washing steps: Closeup on person washing their hands

Ignore the hand santizer panic: just use soap and water

(Image credit: Future)

We’re hearing continuous reports in the news about hand sanitizer selling out in stores, and a lot of people are panicking. But read our lips: this is nothing to worry about. Official advice says that using soap and water is preferable to using hand sanitizer anyway, whether we’re talking about coronavirus or any other kind of infection. So there’s absolutely no reason to freak out.

So stay calm and brush up on the correct hand-washing steps. And it's probably also worth checking out our round-up of Coronavirus cleaning products, from disinfectant wipes to multi-surface cleaners.

3. Beat the system with a VPN

Self-isolation tips: Man sat on beanbag using laptop

Don’t let your location prevent you from accessing the content you want

(Image credit: Pexels)

If you’re in self-isolation abroad, you might not be able to access your own home content via your local Netflix or Amazon connection. Alternatively, if you’re self-isolating at home you might want to catch up on that TV show you started watching on holiday, but never finished... and now can’t access because it’s been blocked in your territory.

For both these use-cases and more (such as accessing locally censored content, or viewing websites as they appear in other countries), you’ll want to get set up a VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network. That might sound complicated and techie, but it’s actually as easy as downloading and using an app like Facebook or Instagram. For guidance, follow our guides to the best VPNs of 2020 and the best free VPNs of 2020.

4. Phone your mum

Self-isolation tips: Smiling woman sat on the sofa and talking on the phone

... or whoever else will might want to chat

(Image credit: Pexels)

Once you self-isolate, all those little conversations that pepper your day, from buying your bus ticket in the morning to meeting friends after work, suddenly disappear. And that can quickly have a negative impact on your mental health. 

Once you’ve gone a few days without meaningful conversation, it’s natural to want to phone or FaceTime a friend and get stuff off your chest. This might turn out great, but equally might be a dispiriting experience, because you’re seeped in totally different mindsets. For example, you may be starved of conversation and eager to chat; but they might have had a hard day at work and just want to zone out in front of bad TV. 

At times like this, it’s good to know that there’s a family member, usually someone from an older generation, who loves nothing than a good chinwag, and has seemingly endless time to spare. That might be your mum, your nan, or barmy Uncle Kevin, and you probably haven’t spoken to them in ages. They’re really keen to tell you about the issues they’ve been having with their neighbour’s hedge. So go on, give them a call.

5. Start a fitness routine

Self-isolation tips: Woman wearing gym wear doing stretches

A regular workout can keep your mind and body healthy

(Image credit: Pexels)

If you’re a regular gym bunny, you’ll soon start missing your regular endorphin hit once you’re confined to your home. Conversely, if you’re a coach potato, then forgoing the small amount of exercise you regularly have - walking to and from the bus stop or train station, and wandering around the shops at lunchtime, say - will have an equally drastic impact on your level of physical fitness. 

In short, whatever your normal attitude to exercise, even just a few days of kicking your heels at home will soon start to take its toll. But there’s no real reason that should happen. There are plenty of workouts you can do, with zero gear required, in the safety and comfort of your own home. 

We’ve collected together five great ones in our guide to the best bodyweight workout for beginners at home. Meanwhile, if you fancy losing some weight as well (during a time when you won’t be walking past McDonald’s every day), follow our burn fat fast workout. But whatever workout you follow, the main thing is to do it regularly, and establish a routine. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

6. Get into yoga

Self-isolation tips: Man in leggings stretching on a mat

Yoga is the perfect way to de-stress during self-isolation

(Image credit: Pexels)

Life can be stressful at the best of times, and feeling trapped at home while news reports get more and more hysterical about Coronavirus might start making you feel anxious and tense. Well, there’s an easy solution that we’ve known about for hundreds of years, and which again requires absolutely no equipment to practise. 

Yoga can build strength, improve flexibility and encourage inner calm, and it’s not just about the end results. Unlike a rigorous gym workout (which, let’s face it, can be sweaty and unpleasant), yoga is actually a fun and relaxing activity in itself. If you’re new to it, follow our yoga workout for beginners, and also check out our selection of the best yoga apps.

7. Discover some new sounds 

Self-isolation tips: Woman listening to music on headphone with a serene expression on her face

You can’t leave the house, but music can still take you on a journey

(Image credit: Pexels)

Remember when you were younger, and thought nothing of spending hours on end listening to the latest tunes? Now it seems like forever ago since you listened an album from start to finish, or knew which song was at number one in the charts. 

Well, you’ve got some time on your hands now, so why not start catching up? It’s free to sign up to streaming music services like Spotify and Google Play Music, so there’s nothing to stop you getting reacquainted with your favourite artists: they’ve probably put out an album or two since you last looked. 

It’s also a good time to discover some new bands to listen to: easy-to-use services like Gnoosic can recommend new bands to listen to based on the ones you already like. And something else that’s really fun is making playlists. Spend a couple of hours choosing songs for a ‘morning commute’ playlist, a ‘deadline motivation’ playlist, a ‘songs to cheer me up when I’m feeling down’ playlist, and so on. You’ll soon be feeling like a teenager again.

8. Turn your wardrobe into a palace of joy

Self-isolation tips: Men’s clothes hanging on clothes hangers

It’s a great time to sort out that cluttered closet

(Image credit: pexels)

Got time on your hands? Then take advantage of the opportunity to clear out that cluttered and depressing wardrobe. Go through each individual item and ask yourself: when did I last wear this? If the answer is either “More than a year ago”, “I can’t remember” or “I have never worn this”, then why are you keeping it? 

Best-selling Japanese author Marie Kondo lives by the mantra that if something doesn’t bring you joy, you should get rid of it. That might be a little extreme: we wouldn’t want you to go naked if there’s nothing in your cupboard fitting that description. But you get the idea. 

So fill a binbag with the clothes you don’t love, destined for the charity shop once you get the all-clear, and you’ll feel good about doing something positive for others. Plus your wardrobe will be uncluttered and only filled with only your most loved clothes, so you’ll feel good about that too. You’ll find more tips on decluttering in our guide: How to spring clean your wardrobe.

Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and author of the book, Great Ted Talks: Creativity. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella.