How to stay sane during social distancing
I used to think I liked routine.
The same morning gym class. Waking to buy bread on a Saturday. Even knowing the bins would definitely be cleared every Thursday by six o'clock gave me a sad sense of satisfaction. But when you are stuck inside and moving from room to room as though inspecting a place you'd never fully taken in before, routine, it turns out, can become a prison.
All around the world we are retreating from restaurants, museums and offices; social distancing from each other in order to stop the spread of Coronavirus. Staying inside might not be hard, exactly, but it can be incredibly boring to stare at the same four walls day in and day out.
The recommended advice is to stick to a daily routine that echoes your life when not under lockdown. But with limited activities available, and no weekend freedom to mark the end of the working week, the same schedule every day (wake up up, check news, make the same slice of toast with a paranoid scrape of butter lest it runs out, shuffle around the park at lunch like an in-mate allowed out for their daily stretch, stare at your emails, repeat) can make the weeks blur. As in Bill Murray's classic film Groundhog Day, you're facing the same 24 hours every time you wake up.
Perhaps you're aren't as miserable as me about your routine, but if you're struggling to remember if it's Monday or Friday today, adding some variety to your new normal will help.
In a tweet thread giving advice to those finding self-isolation lonely, ex-Navy robot submarine driver Jon Bailey recommended having themed nights of meals, to give the week some structure. He suggested Steak Saturdays or pizza nights, which might be a challenge to stick to as food becomes harder to get regularly, but even making a batch of soup on a Sunday afternoon is a nice, regular way to mark the end of the weekend.
Exercise is so important at this time that the government are still letting you leave your house to do it. Create a plan which you can stick to week-by-week and mix up a park jog with an online yoga session; a walking route you haven't done before with a meditation class that someone called Stefan is streaming from Hamburg. Having a weekly exercise schedule will improve long-term results as well as varying your day-to-day.
It already feels as though the honeymoon period with Zoom and HouseParty is wearing off as the buffering grows increasingly irksome and we realise its social limitations – even if it is enormously satisfying to be able to shut your laptop and go upstairs to get home after a 'night out'. Connecting with people is important but vary how you do it: you wouldn't go to the same pub and do the same quiz with different friends seven nights in a row, so don't do it online.
Instead, write cards or a letter to catch up with people, FaceTime family while you're on a walk, or try making dinner at the same time as a friend and talking while you eat, as though you're out for a meal. Do remember to give yourself breaks from contacting people to avoid Zoom burnout – sometimes being on video calls with people you can't see can remind you of what you're missing out on in a way that a great spy film or compelling book probably won't.
There is no getting around the fact that weekends are hard when you're not allowed to leave the house or see anyone. Try to avoid keeping busy with work; though it will give you something to do, it further blurs the line between weekdays and weekends. Use that burning energy to do something for yourself, whether that's an oil painting of a fruit bowl or removing the hairs from the nozzle on your hoover.
There's a lot of pressure to be your most productive self right now, but rest assured that if you used to spend Friday night watching three series of Peep Show and eating a whole rotisserie chicken on the sofa, nobody will call the police.
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