How To Keep Your Mind At Ease During 'Social Distancing'
Suddenly everything—stranger's mouths, handrails, used tissues—feel very close. Would we have started noticing these things without the churn of Coronavirus news providing an hourly shot of cortisol into our brain? Most likely not, but it is how we react to stress, not whether or not we feel it, that will make a difference in the coming weeks.
As the number of COVID-19 cases rise across Europe and America, governments are recommending self-isolation for those who are ill, and moving toward recommending 'social distancing' even for those who are not unwell.
Social distancing helps prevent the spread of the virus by limiting "close, sustained contact" which "typically means spending more than 15 minutes within two metres of an infected person."
This means everything from working from home, to not going to the gym or seeing friends, and only venturing into public when necessary. Though most of the world isn't there yet, it's helpful to be prepared for when social distancing might come into effect. As you might have noticed from the toilet roll aisle in your local supermarket this means stocking up on essentials should you be housebound, but it also means affording your brain some bubblewrap from the onslaught of worrying.
While buying soap and sacks of penne is an easy way to be proactive with your panic, easing yourself out of the cyclone of bad news and putting your brain to better use is more difficult.
In her compelling 2019 book How to do Nothing, Jenny Odell writes that "nothing is harder to do than nothing" adding that our productivity-driven world means that, "a certain nervous feeling, of being overstimulated and unable to sustain a train of thought, lingers."
Odell was writing long before the outbreak of COVID-19, but her chapter on 'The Impossibility of Retreat' gives an important reminder that by stepping away from our devices, they can cease from being, "a portal to a thousand other places, a machine charged with dread and potentiality".
Of course, it is one thing trying to switch off or digitally detox from the carousel of friend's holiday images that are giving you FOMO, it's another to try and ignore the raging fire outside your house, or give up your communication to the outside world during such a crisis.
It's unlikely you'll be able to forgo your phone entirely, but given how, as Jia Tolentino wrote in her 2019 book, Trick Mirror, there is, "no limit to the amount of misfortune a person can take in via the internet", this feels like a prudent time to limit your usage.
Use the time to read something that might transport you so far away that you lose a couple of hours, the way that you often only can if you're lying on a sun lounger with ice melting in the drink by your side. Cooking is another way to therapeutically switch off, just don't obsess about ration portioning for the coming apocalypse, and in doing so redirect everything back to your anxieties.
Exercise is uniquely powerful at quieting an overactive mind, even if you can't leave the house or don't have a Peloton bike in your orangery. There's plenty of free tutorials offering HIIT, pilates and yoga classes online, or even meditation and breathing exercises if you want something more calming.
Whether your aspirations are as lofty as writing some poetry, or as mundane as sorting out your sock drawer, the important thing is staying busy enough not to be sucked into the panic. Don't crowdsource your news. Try to distract yourself. Breathe.
Put down your phone.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by Esquiremag.ph editors.