A Dozen Things to Do When You’re Self-Isolating

Stuck inside with nothing but your freaked-out thoughts to keep you company? Try these strategies instead.

Congratulations! You’ve survived the first week of COVID-19 social distancing, or self-quarantine, or shelter-in-place, or whatever we’re calling this new normal where you work from home with one officemate, a.k.a. your cat. Cabin fever is, unsurprisingly, on the rise. Since we don’t want you to turn into Jack Torrance from The Shining, we’ve rounded up the best ways to make isolation as awesome as possible. Read on. Actually, wash your hands first.

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1. Learn something new every day.

You don’t have commit to an Ivy League college course (though you could—there are 450 free online ones listed at this Quartz link). As a grown-ass lady who still uses the bunny-ear method to tie my sneakers, I’ll be aiming a bit lower: finally learning to tie a proper square knot that won’t come undone. The wonderful world of YouTube tutorials can help you nail any basic skill you haven’t yet mastered—how to French braid your hair, tie a half-windsor, carve hand fruit into adorable animals, or speak Cockney rhyming slang.

2. Do your taxes early.

The Treasury Department and the IRS did us a solid by extending the deadline from April 15 to July 15, 2020, for individual returns. That’s cool, but as the old saying goes, “The early bird gets the tax refund check.” Tax prep isn’t anybody’s idea of a good time, but unless you like giving the government an interest-free loan, get your W-2s and 1099s together, fire up one of these free tax filing options, and get some money in your pocket sooner.

3. Activate the Nic Cage rule.

You’re trying to Netflix and chill, but a person could spend forever scrolling through movie options. That’s why author Rob Hart and his wife invented the Nic Cage rule to end Netflix paralysis forever. If you spend more than 15 minutes without deciding on a movie, you’ve got to watch the first Nic Cage film you see. Either it motivates you to choose quickly or it leads to a Nic Cage Film Festival at your place. It’s win-win.

4. Get some action.

Have sex. Lots of it! Sex is natural and sex is fun (miss you, George Michael) and it counts as self-care, with health benefits like stress relief, better mood, and a short-term boost to your immune system (definitely key right now). Plus, you can technically count sex as exercise. A caveat: This advice only applies to people who are COVID-19-free and already living with their partner. For those who don’t fall under that umbrella, there’s sexting and video-chatting, or, you know, self-entertainment. According to the NYC Health Department, who released their own timely guide to pandemic sex here, “You are your safest sex partner.”

5. Break out your library card.

“Most public libraries provide digital content at no cost to their patrons,” says Lauren Bradley, the reference librarian at LIM College in New York City. These subscriptions vary from library to library, but some common ones are: Overdrive/Libby for e-book and e-audiobook lending to your device, Hoopla for streaming movies and music, Lynda for software training, and Mango Languages for learning over 70 languages. There’s also content specifically for children such as ABC Mouse and TumbleBooks. To keep you sane during these trying times, your library may also offer free access to newspapers and magazines that usually are behind a paywall (i.e. The Wall Street Journal).

6. Call your Nonna.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, a phone call from you would have totally made her day. Keep it quick and cordial or use this opportunity to ask questions only she can answer about family history, favorite casserole recipes, or what your parents did to get grounded when they were kids. Take some time to pass on your own useful info—teach her how to FaceTime or Skype with her phone or tablet, how to order groceries online, or how to download an eBook.

7. Try a retro exercise routine.

Murder She Wrote star Angela Lansbury has always been a proponent of fitness at every age. (When her character J.B. Fletcher wasn’t solving murders, you may recall her jogging, gardening, or riding her bicycle around the small fishing community of Cabot Cove, ME.) It’s fitting that she waited until she was 63 to release her self-devised wellness plan in a 1988 fitness video called Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves. It includes gentle stretches, some floor-based Pilates moves, and “on-land swimming” exercises; there’s also a mini-massage with body lotion, and a languorous bubble bath. Yes, really. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, there’s always the classic Jane Fonda’s Advanced Workout, or for something very old-school, check out black-and-white episodes of The Jack LaLanne Show.

8. Practice handshake alternatives.

Now that hand hygiene is on everyone’s mind, the handshake is officially cancelled. As a society, we need to consider the options and come to a consensus on our new greeting. Practice them so you know where you stand: World leaders have used the fist bump, the elbow bump, and the “namaste” prayer hands. Other options? Jazz hands, the Vulcan salute, the Wakanda salute, and finger guns.

Handshakes are Definitely Cancelled. What About the Other Stuff You've Heard?
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9. Embrace the unexpected.

We know. Nothing makes sense anymore. The current state of sustained global absurdity is the ideal time to view the film adaptation of the musical Cats. It’s available for streaming on iTunes and Amazon. There are a lot of very famous people dressed up like cats in tight bodysuits, and for some inexplicable reason, they are holding a cat talent show. It’s legit therapeutic. Your brain is so bewildered by what’s happening onscreen that it’s impossible to focus on anything else.

10. Find your inner peace.

If everyone keeps telling you to meditate but you can’t relax enough to get your ohm on, you’re not alone. Sometimes, “it’s impossible to meditate if we don't calm our nervous system,” says Paula Tursi, founder of Reflections Center for Conscious Living and Yoga in New York City. “Alternate nostril breathing, also called Nadi Shodhana, uses slow breaths so it’s calming by design.” Your cheat sheet (or a video, if that’s easier):

  • Make a light fist with the right hand and extend the pinky, ring finger, and thumb; fold the other fingers back.

  • Place the ring finger and pinky on the left nostril, so no air can escape.

  • Place the thumb on the right nostril and exhale completely.

  • Release the thumb slightly and inhale through the right nostril. (Hold to the count of four.)

  • Replace the thumb, release the pinky slightly and exhale through the left nostril (to the count of four).

  • Repeat on the other side: inhale through left nostril. (Hold to the count of four.)

  • Exhale and inhale through the right nostril. Make sure to exhale through both nostrils to complete your practice.

  • Always end on the same side you started with. The entire sequence can be repeated as needed to still the mind.

11. Prepare to die (eventually).

No one wants to think about their end-of-life details, but if you don’t take care of them in the middle of a global pandemic, when will you? There’s a ventilator shortage, you haven’t seen a handwipe in weeks, and you’re stuck at home for the next god knows how long. There is literally no better time to write a will (which says who gets custody of your kids, property, and assets), an advance directive (a.k.a. living will, which says what end-of-life medical treatments you do or don’t want), a healthcare proxy (a.k.a. medical power of attorney, which says who will make medical decisions for you if you can’t speak for yourself), and power of attorney (which says who will make financial and legal decisions for you if you are incapacitated).

12. Sleep in.

We know, we know, it’s WFH not sleep-til-noon. But seriously. Give or take a conference call or two, would your boss really know if you grabbed a few extra winks on the clock? Here’s the deal: Sleep makes you think faster, react quicker, feel calmer, and be more productive. It also improves your free-throw capabilities by 9% according to researchers at Stanford University, but that’s unlikely to improve your work performance, unless you happen to play for the NBA. Anyway. Sleep a little longer and remind yourself this (thank goodness) won’t last forever. You might as well take advantage of the weirdness of it, when and where you can, while it does.

Meirav Devash and Erin L. Boyle
Meet Our Writer
Meirav Devash and Erin L. Boyle

Meirav Devash is a writer, editor, content strategist and consultant, and beauty & wellness expert, reporting on everything from cannabis trends and goth fitness to eyeball makeovers. She’s written for the New York Times, Allure, Women’s Health, InStyle, Self, Goop, New York Observer, CNN, and more.