I’ve been social distancing for over a year. I have reactions to chemicals and artificial ingredients found in many fragrances and cleaners so, going out into the world where people have the fragrances from body wash, perfumes and colognes, hair spray, and more, not to mention the candle aisle, and those fake bathroom air “fresheners”, takes a toll on my physical body. It’s been necessary for me to avoid those things in order to maintain my health and have mental clarity. An unforeseen benefit of this experience has been that when the world started to implement social distancing and began to learn the ins and outs of it, I was already a pro at it. Now, that’s not to say that it’s easy because, it’s not. I’ve just had a lot more time to figure out what works and what doesn’t than most people have had.
I shared the two thoughts that make up my mindset about this and how this mindset is foundational to cultivate a thriving life while social distancing in a previous article. Now I’m going to tell you the strategies that have helped me the most in maintaining my well-being while social distancing.
The number one piece of advice I can give you is this:
Experiment until you find what works for you.
And then experiment some more.
Seriously, I could end this article with that but, I won’t. You can read twenty different articles about how to successfully self-isolate and they all might tell you something different. It’s because what works for one person may not work for another. It is incredibly important to keep this in mind as you figure out what your new normal looks like. You might try having a set routine each day only to discover that you actually hate the monotony and want to switch things up, that’s okay. Next you might try no routine at all and then discover that you’re not able to focus as well as you’d like on your work. So then you try having a routine for part of the day and free time to be spontaneous in another part.
What’s great about treating life as an experiment is that it gives you the power to keep trying until you find what works. Experiments provide you with information. You learn what works, what doesn’t work, and even what kind of works but isn’t ideal. You don’t have to stay stuck with something you don’t like. Which leads me to my next tip.
Approach everything with curiosity.
When you can approach figuring out how to navigate new situations with curiosity, you bring in an element of fun and play, a lighthearted sense of learning to your experience. Compare it to the mindset we have when we’re trying to find one solution. It can be rigid and when we focus on trying to find the right answer, everything gets put into the categories of right or wrong. It’s easy to feel frustrated when something doesn’t work out because we’ve associated that with being wrong and we want to be right. When we approach problems with curiosity, we can alleviate the disappointment and frustration that comes from being wrong. It allows us to look at the situation as an observer, to say, “Oh, that didn’t work. How interesting.” Combining curiosity with the idea of experimenting to find what works allows you to be a detective in your own life. To find what works for you. And to keep looking as time goes on, as situations change, as you grow, you can continue to try different ways of doing things to find what supports you and your needs now.
Setting boundaries becomes more important than ever when you spend the majority of your time at home. Boundaries enable you to establish ways of being with other people so you both know what to expect. When you recognize where you need to set boundaries to maintain your health (whether that’s physical, mental, emotional, or work health), things can go much easier for you.
For example, I really don’t like to be bothered in the morning. I prefer to eat my breakfast alone, meditate and pray, get dressed, and then work for a few hours without being interrupted. My family knows this so, they don’t feel hurt that I’m not spending that time with them and they know I’ll spend time with them later. Starting my day that way is important to me. Now, I know we can’t all have that much uninterrupted time in the morning but, the point is to figure out what’s important to you and see how you can set a boundary around it. No one interrupts me unless it’s an emergency and if I hadn’t clearly communicated that before well, I’d still be getting interrupted for little things every five minutes.
I know this can be hard when everyone is at home at the same time. We’re worried we’ll hurt someone’s feelings if we say we need some alone time or that it drives you nuts that your spouse is thumping the beat to their favorite song on the desk while you’re trying to concentrate. If you’re new to remote work, you may need to have a conversation and set boundaries with your boss or co-workers. They might be expecting you to be available throughout the workday while you’re trying to focus on a particular project and it’s annoying you to be interrupted for non-essential communication. Having a conversation about this and establishing guidelines that work for both sides is the ultimate goal. Boundaries will look different for everyone. It could mean not having phones at the dinner table, stopping work at a certain time, setting aside time for fun, or even a non-negotiable bed time. Whatever supports you in creating an environment that allows you to thrive could be a boundary you want to have in place and discuss with whomever you’re living with. Setting boundaries will enable you to get your needs met and reduce frustration. Communication and setting boundaries are key right now. Once you get those down, it’ll be smooth sailing. Or at least, smoother sailing.
Social distancing does not mean stop talking to people.
In the words of Kelly Clarkson, “It doesn’t mean I’m lonely when I’m alone.”
One of the amazing things that has come out of my time social distancing is discovering just how rich online experiences can be. Sure, it’s not the same as in person but, I’ve completed two certifications completely online and met amazing people from around the world whom I would not have had the pleasure of getting to know if I was only participating in in-person programs. These are people whom I’ve stayed in touch with, we check in with each other and support one another in our personal and professional endeavors. I’ve also been a part of several other online learning experiences and maintain connections within each of those groups.
While you may not be seeking a learning experience that offers this rich social group, I encourage you to keep an open mind to the heart-warming experiences that can come from online experiences. I’ve stayed connected with people I know in real life by using text, email, phone, and video calls. I know that sometimes it might be easy to think, ‘why bother?’ if you can’t see them in person but, don’t discount the benefits that can come from seeing someone on video versus not seeing them at all. It might take a little more effort to schedule a call than it did prior to this situation but, it’s worth it to continue to feel connected to the people you care about.
I’ll leave you with two other things that have been essential to my health while social distancing.
Having a coach and going outside.
Coaching is an amazing process where I can bring any issue and get help working to change it. I’ve gotten so much further with coaching than I would have been able to get on my own so, I highly recommend it to everyone. It’s basically having someone there who will help you figure out what works for you. When you get stuck and you know you want things to be different but you’re not exactly sure how to get there, a coach can help you. It’s one of the reasons I became I coach; I love the process and continue to be amazed at how people feel better after one session. I still see a coach and have been coached on everything from I’m feeling stuck to I want to reach this professional goal. Whatever it is, I leave feeling happier and empowered to create the life I want.
Going outside is incredibly important when you’re at home all day. It reminds us that there’s more to life than what’s happening in our homes and it allows us to reconnect to nature. It feels amazing to have the sun and wind on my skin, to breathe in the fresh air, and hear birds chirping and squirrels scrambling up and down trees. Now, I know not everyone has access to large parks or enjoys spending a lot of time outside. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the outdoors, before staying at home, you inevitably spent some time outside moving to and from different places. Getting out for a little bit will help bring some of this normalcy back and also give your mind a break. Let it wander as you walk around without an agenda. That alone can be incredibly refreshing.
Now, you may not want to get a coach or spend lots of time outside and that’s okay.
Remember, experiment until you find what works for you.
I know it’s frustrating to feel forced to adapt to a new situation, one that you certainly don’t want. I also know that blanket advice given by someone who doesn’t know your particular situation isn’t helpful. What is helpful is this: you are in control. You can feel sad and frustrated and angry. Then you can try something new and see if it helps you. You can experiment, get curious, or set a new boundary. If it doesn’t work, it’s okay. You learned something. You learned what didn’t work and you can keep trying until you find what works for you.
Tell me below, what’s a strategy you’ve tried or would like to try?
This article was previously published at kelliezeigler.com.