Structure, helping others and doing a jigsaw will all help right now!

Theraputic, time-consuming and challenging - a jigsaw puzzle is perfect for these times of isolation

Theraputic, time-consuming and challenging - a jigsaw puzzle is perfect for these times of isolation, says Christine Webber - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Well you’ve survived a weekend of staying inside. But what now? Christine Webber offers some tips for how to get through this week

What times we’re having.

It’s been a huge shock hasn’t it? Until recently, compared with previous generations, many of us have had a charmed life. And we’ve mostly assumed that world-wide, rampant infections were a thing of the past, and consigned to the history books.

Turns out we’re not as impervious to harm as we thought. So how can we cope?

The two essentials, I think, are to keep a sense of perspective, and to look after our mental health.

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So, let’s remember that our ancestors dealt with far worse infections than we’re experiencing. The human race is tough, resilient, and adaptable.

We should take on board too that though quarantine is a massive drag, it’s nothing new. In Shakespeare’s time, theatres were always closing for some plague or other. So, what did the Bard of Avon do? He scribbled away in Stratford and penned King Lear!

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Another proactive figure who used quarantine to good effect was Sir Isaac Newton who did much of his ground-breaking work on gravity and calculus during infection outbreaks.

In more recent times, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison, much of it in isolation. Imagine what that must have been like. By contrast, we’ll have to put up with this for a few months at most, and we have the benefits of TV, radio, the internet, and our loved ones at the end of a phone.

That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? So, perhaps we can keep mentally buoyant by finding silver linings in the way we’re having to live. I note that lots of individuals are using the time to tackle those jobs we all put off. One friend said to me that he now knows what the bottom of the laundry basket looks like! Others have taken to making jam or doing that long overdue clear-out of the cupboard under the stairs.

As for me – and feel free to laugh at this because it’s utterly pathetic – I’ve finally learned to use Skype. I can hardly say it presented a challenge as it couldn’t have been easier. And yesterday, I had the best time connecting with my niece and her baby daughter, whose happy gurgling while she attempted to get to me through the screen were a tonic.

What is going to be a challenge for many of us is the shutting down of so many places we enjoy, and the prospect of prolonged isolation. It’s a scary thought. And I do sympathise with you if you’re panicking, particularly if you’re single. This crisis has certainly made me realise that I need to work doubly hard to keep myself optimistic now that I don’t have Lovely Husband to say: “Come on, cheer up, let’s have a cup of tea.”

So, if you’re alone, take extra care of yourself and keep in contact with as many people as you can by phone or, dare I suggest it, Skype! If we can’t actually meet with friends and family, we can at least console ourselves with the sound of their voices. Emails are all very well but talking is better.

I also suggest that we schedule our days so that they don’t just drift hopelessly one into another. Good mental health is easier to sustain if we spend our time productively.

One way of doing this is to write out a daily timetable.

Lots of individuals are doing this already, of course. I was amused yesterday to read Anglia TV news presenter Becky Jago’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek schedule which she’s drawn up for her family while they’re self-isolating. She’s a very organised mummy!

But if you need a bit of help yourself to get started, try some of these ideas:

Plan your meals and eat properly

Take exercise in or out of the house

Do one domestic chore that’s been hanging over you for ages

Spend an hour learning something online – like playing the guitar, tackling a new language, or taking a virtual tour round one of the world’s famous museums

Do something creative with your hands, such as woodwork, drawing, knitting or tapestry

Do that huge jigsaw someone gave you for Christmas, or tackle a sudoku or crossword

Have a couple of phone conversations with friends

Spend an hour cleaning or gardening

Read one of those books you’ve bought but never opened

Finally, give thought to doing something useful for someone else. Research shows that we feel better about ourselves when we look after others. So, if you’re mobile and allowed out, why not offer to shop for neighbours who are not? And if you’re housebound, perhaps consider how you could help in other ways. Could you bake for someone else? Or donate goods or money to a food bank? They’re going to need all the support they can get as more and more families find it tough to make ends meet.

Keeping yourself structured and busy through the day should make the nights easier too and give you a good chance of sleeping like a log – which is probably the best medicine for mental health that there is.

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