Well-being, Adapting and Thriving in Lockdown / Isolation / Quarantine
(Coronavirus/COVID-19)

This is a page to help you be well, adapt, and ultimately thrive if you’re currently in isolation / quarantine / lockdown / social distancing (I’ll use these terms interchangeably). 

The first step is taking control of your well-being (part 1). If you've felt 'cabin feverish', you can begin changing that here. Part 1 is about getting more calmness, clear-thinking, and to start feeling better emotionally and physically. 

Then we can begin adapting to this situation, so that we can thrive in it (part 2 onwards). Lockdown offers many opportunities for creating better lives & better versions of ourselves.

This is the info that I most want to share with you at this time, speaking as a mental health & well-being professional.

Note: This is a live page I’ll be improving over time as we all move forward together. Currently it's a lot of text; I'll make it more 'bitesize' and good-looking soon 🙂 . You can send me content requests or suggestions here.

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About Me
I’m James Cormack, a therapist
specialised in anxiety & stress.
More about me


Part 1: Take Control of your Well-Being

Start by Meeting Your Basic Needs (Start 'Curing' Cabin Fever Here)

Let’s start with a shortlist of basic needs to be well in isolation. Consider how well you’re meeting these at the moment, and how you can improve on them in coming days and weeks.

You don’t need to perfectly meet all of these - your aim is to meet them as well as you can for now. We can only do our best, one day at a time. 

In coming days and weeks you’ll get better and better at meeting these needs, until you’re thriving.

  • Nutrition
    Stay hydrated and keep eating as well as you can. Appetite sometimes diminishes in anxious times, but keep eating best you can to keep up your nutrition.

    Vitamin D supplements could be helpful if you’re unable to get outside.

    List of UK Supermarket restrictions (vulnerable customer hours; shopping times; delivery restrictions etc)

    More info will come in the near future.

  • Rest
    Get the best rest you can. Sleep fluctuates, but any downtime or rest at all is good for you. The added time due to not having to commute can mean more hours in bed.

    More info will come in the near future.
  • Movement and Physical Exercise
    Without movement and exercise, we feel the consequences in mind and body. Lack of movement can manifest in physical restlessness as well as other, seemingly unrelated ways: Emotional ups and downs, anxiety, behavioural issues and in my experience, can contribute to ‘cabin fever’.

    If you’ve suddenly switched to working from home, be aware that your commute which used to offer some movement (even just a few thousands steps) has now been removed. You’ll need to replace that with some other movement.

    First, work on getting a minimum threshold of movement for your mental and physical wellbeing.

    Over time, you can develop an actual exercise regime that provides a proper aerobic (ie cardio) and anaerobic (strength, endurance, speed and power) exercise.

    I’ll be adding much more info on physical exercise in isolation in the near future. For now, here are a few key points and links:

  • Social Contact
    Human social contact and connection is core to our well-being. Just a little goes a long way.

    This will largely be online or by phone rather than in-person for now: But connection is about empathy, rapport, and shared experiences; these are things which can flourish through any medium.

    This is an opportunity to give someone a message or a call simply to ask - how are you? We're all going through the same shared experience at the moment.
    New services for this will appear in the near future. For example HelpHub is quickly appearing to offer chats with therapists.

    (Note: If you’re in emotional crisis or distress and want to talk to someone urgently, Samaritans are great here in the UK - and here’s an international alternative. Here’s a list of other organisations who can help with particular mental health issues.)

    I’ll add more suggestions re social contact in coming days and weeks.
  • Downtime
    Turning off the news for a while, chat with friends, watch something funny, listen to good music, play some games... Whatever helps you recharge.

    More info will come in the near future.
  • Being Mentally Active
    Some kind of mental activity or challenge is important for well-being. For many people working from home will be the most obvious source of that challenge, but this also encompasses many other activities, for work or pleasure.

    More info will come in the near future.

As you go on through the rest of this page, bear in my you need to keep meeting these basic needs as best you can.

Going forward, you’ll be adapting your lifestyle so that you can meet these needs better and better, and so that you can go on to thrive in isolation.

Do I have 'cabin fever?' What it is, how to 'cure' it

'Cabin fever' is "a range of negative emotions... related to restricted movement".

All of the guidance on this page goes towards treating cabin fever, specifically including: Adapting your mindset (part 2); Establishing a routine; Creating and varying your environment; Staying physically and mentally active; Connecting with others; as well as finding private time (more info coming soon on all of those).

To treat cabin fever, first ensure you're meeting your basic needs above. Getting enough physical movement/exercise tends to slip when people first switch to living and working from home, but all of those needs are relevant in treating cabin fever. Then go on through the rest of this page, which will address mindset, environment, routines and lots more.

Learn more: Do I have 'cabin fever?' What it is, how to 'cure' it

Uncertainty and what to do about it

What is the best thing to do in times of uncertainty? We can’t just ‘stop the uncertainty’, so what now?

  1. Find the best, most productive, most growth-orientated thing(s) you can do - for you; then for the people around you and your community.
  2. Get busy doing them.

Doing this has several benefits.

  1. Instead of our mind focusing on uncertainty and the unknown, now our mind is focusing on something more concrete, more tangible. Instead of focusing on what we cannot control, it’s focusing on what we can control.

    The mind can only focus on a handful of things in any given moment. By making that ‘handful’ more often about concrete, actionable, certain stuff, our mind and body remain calmer and in a healthy and useful challenge response state (more on that in future). Mentally and physically, that state is better for our performance and well-being.
  2. By looking after ourselves, we will not only feel better mentally and physically; we’ll also be in a better position to support others around us where possible.
  3. To whatever extent we can support the people around us and our community, this creates a sense of meaning. Human beings thrive off meaning, which is the pursuit of something bigger than ourselves. Pursuit of meaning is often challenging and often hard work, and not always ‘pleasant’ or ‘enjoyable’. But it is deeply satisfying. Meaning provides the kind of drive and motivation that keeps us going long term, through all the ups and downs of life.
  4. Getting busy gives an outlet for our overall “energy”, a word we can use as an umbrella term for all sorts of mental and physical phenomena within us. Put simply: We can put most of our energy into worrying, or we can put most of it into being productive. It’s natural and okay to worry sometimes, but putting more energy into taking action where possible will serve you and the people around you well.

 

If you follow any of the guidance on this page, you’ll naturally achieve those two steps - (1) finding the best, most productive and growth-oriented things we can do, and (2) getting on with them.

For some people, the best and most productive things they can do will be high-profile and perhaps obvious: If you’re a vaccine research scientist right now, you might have an obvious role in developing a vaccine.

But for most of us, what we do won’t be so high profile, and it may not be immediately obvious. None the less you will be able to find it, and it will be important, helpful and meaningful, on whatever scale.

Only you can figure out what the best action is for you to take. This page offers ideas that can help you do that.

Accepting Our Emotions

This situation is new for all of us; this is new and unchartered territory. Therefore we’re all experiencing uncertainty right now.

It’s natural for the current uncertainty to generate emotions and feelings like apprehension, nerves, anxiousness, fear, or other emotions. 

Emotions like these may come and go, perhaps rotating through a series of different stages. Moving through stability and instability, acceptance and denial, and so on.

You, I, and everyone else will experience those emotions and feelings - though they may manifest in different ways for different people; and we’ll each have different ways of responding to them.

The most important thing to know about all those emotions is that they’re natural and okay. Our emotions (comfortable or not) are our in-built guidance system. Our emotions are there to try to help us.

The more we learn to accept our emotions, hold a space for them, listen to them and allow them; the more they can express themselves, run their natural course, and diminish over time. As psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden wrote: “Often, when we fully experience and accept negative feelings, we are able to let go of them; they have been allowed to have their say and they relinquish center stage.”

Crucially, we can come to understand that we are not our emotions. We can accept our emotions and allow them to come and go like the weather - meanwhile coming to understand, deep down, that we are okay... Whatever our emotions are currently doing.

I’ll add more on how to handle emotions in the near future, but that’s the most important understanding about emotions for now.

Go Forward Together

You don’t need to do this on your own! We can all benefit from letting others help us, and helping others.

Now is the time to team up with your flatmates, friends, family, colleagues.

Professional help is also available in isolation: Therapists and Coaches like me have been working online for years, and more will switch to online in coming weeks and months. I find it to be just as effective as working in-person. 

Before I became a therapist, the most powerful programme of therapy I received for anxiety and stress was 100% online from start to finish.

Beyond Taking Control of your Well-Being

As you gain control of your well-being, you’ll regain more calmness and more stability. 

In coming days and weeks the situation we’re in will stabilise, and we’ll transition into a ‘new normal’. 

As that happens, a lot of the uncertainty will diminish, and so will many of the emotions it’s been causing. Emotions will settle, minds will clear.

What we can do is begin adapting to that new normal. By adapting to it, we can thrive in it. That’s what the rest of this page is about.

In the process of adapting and then thriving in isolation, you will naturally be doing the best thing you can in uncertain times: (1) Finding the best, most productive and growth-oriented things you can do, and (2) getting on with it.

As you go on, take some time out to hold a space for your emotions, which are there to help you. And remember - it’s okay to ask for help, which can serve both you and the people around you.


Part 2: Adapt your Mindset to Thrive in Isolation

Human beings like you and I are designed to adapt to different situations - that’s how we’ve thrived over thousands of years, through situations which make coronavirus isolation/quarantine look like a piece of cake. 

This is just the latest step in our colourful history of adapting and thriving.

Arguably the most important first step is to adapt your mindset. This section is about helping you adapt your mindset into one which will help you be well, adapt and thrive in isolation.

Your ‘Towards’ Motivation

In order to achieve our full potential, remain in personal growth and maintain great mental wellbeing, we need be moving towards something - a person we want to become, a life we want to create. 

This was always true. The difference now is that isolation can make this even more noticeable. Without something to move towards in isolation, it will be easier to slip into boredom, inactivity (mentally and physically), and feel the consequences. In contrast, establishing our towards will have an even more obvious and noticeable benefit than ever before - feeling and doing better in every way.

Isolation offers some powerful opportunities for creating better lives and better versions of ourselves, for anyone who chooses to look for them. Those who identify these opportunities and get busy acting on them will reap the rewards.

Isaac Newton achieved his “year of wonders” in quarantine during the plague of 1665, making breakthroughs in calculus, optics and gravity1. You may not intend on changing the world like Isaac - but what about becoming a new and better you? What about creating a new and better lifestyle, or achieving new direction and success in your career or hobbies?

Pausing Some Opportunities - Starting Some New Ones

Some of the opportunities you were pursuing before may need to be paused during quarantine - but where one door closes, another one always opens. You now have a chance to explore other opportunities which you perhaps hadn’t explored before.

Finding Your Opportunities in Quarantine

Some of the opportunities quarantine offers will be actionable during quarantine. Others are opportunities to invest in ourselves, which can pay off after quarantine. And others still are a combination of both.

Below is a growing list of opportunities I’m compiling as inspiration for your own brainstorming - because ultimately only you can identify your opportunities in quarantine. I’ve listed some more general opportunities first, followed by more specific examples.

General Opportunities

Here are a few more general opportunities quarantine offers. These can support and enhance a number of the more specific opportunities available in quarantine (see next section).

  • More TIME - the most valuable resource in the world. If you no longer have a commute to work or other responsibilities, you now have more time to do the best things you can do. And time is the most valuable resource in the world.

  • Community and relationships.
    A sense of community is important for all of us. Everyone in the world - across all borders, races and religions - suddenly has a common goal, a common challenge, a shared situation.Look at the community outreach that’s already happening. I’ve seen neighbours talking for the first time, people doing their best to help their communities to a level I’ve never seen before.Challenging times bring people together. How much closer can families, friends, and communities become now? What new relationships will be forged, which will last long after quarantine is over?How might this increased time together with your children foster and strengthen your parent-child relationship? How might home schooling broaden their minds and develop their self-sufficiency?A lot of this will be done online or at a distance, but human connection has always been about empathy, rapport, shared experiences. Those things transcend whether you’re speaking in-person or online.
  • Personal Development.
    We often view challenges and obstacles in life as something to avoid, but in fact, obstacles are often exactly what we are supposed to go through. “The Obstacle is the Way”.

    We don’t develop as a person by reading books or daydreaming. We do it by going through challenges, rising to them and overcoming them. Adapting to and thriving in quarantine is just another challenge for us to rise to, and reap the rewards from doing so.

    Rising to the challenge and going through this will serve us individually and as a society in countless ways.

    • Mental resilience or toughness.
      By going through obstacles and challenges instead of trying to avoid them, we learn; we improve; we go through ups and downs; and we develop greater mental resilience or toughness.
    • Time to ourselves is a birthplace for personal development. With more time in general, you have the opportunity to reflect, introspect, enhance your understanding of yourself and clarify what matters to you most. (If you need to quiet your 'inner chatterbox'; if negative thinking is an issue for you; I'll post more info about that soon.)
    • Opportunity for self care. As I’ve mentioned a few times throughout this page, quarantine will make the benefits of good habits, good lifestyle choices, and establishing a ‘towards’ to work from more obvious than ever. Therefore, it provides an opportunity to become better at caring for ourselves.
    • Appreciation of things once taken for granted. If coming out of quarantine leads you to appreciate things you once took for granted, how much richer could your experience of life in future become? What new values and priorities might you form as a result of going through quarantine, that helps you lead your best life in future?
    • Habit building: Habits are the compound interest of personal development, shaping our long term personal development - and they can work for or against us. This was always true and important to understand, but quarantine may now make this more obvious than before. More to come - I recommend James Clear's work to learn more.

Specific Opportunities

Here are a few specific opportunities available to us in quarantine, in no particular order. These include specific 'indoor hobbies' which are totally compatible with isolation.

Work Opportunities

Here are a few new work opportunities that are appearing here in the United Kingdom:

  • Fruit picking Farmers call for 'land army' to sustain UK food production during coronavirus crisis
  • English teaching online - anecdotally this may be growing now, as more people around the world have free time and become open to working online.
  • Similarly, other Online businesses may be able to grow now. The world is switching to working, learning and socialising online - and even after quarantine ends, this change will remain in society. Now you can do that and show how effective your online service or product can be.
  • Location independence. You might not dream of becoming a full time digital nomad - you might just value the ability to stay with friends or family more often if you wish. Either way, as more people discover online services, products and workforces are mature (and have been for some time), this opportunity will boom. Now is your opportunity to develop a location independent way of life. 

Volunteering Opportunities

People have always thrived off meaning, which is the pursuit of something bigger than ourselves. Pursuit of meaning is often challenging and often hard work, and not always ‘pleasant’ or ‘enjoyable’. But it is deeply satisfying. Meaning provides the kind of drive and motivation that keeps us going long term, through all the ups and downs of life.

Meaning isn't necessarily fast and easy to come by, but coronavirus has produced many new opportunities to bring more meaning into our lives. Here are a few voluntary opportunities here in the UK for your consideration:

Learning, Hobbies and Interests

  • Language learning. Online language teaching has been available for years - now it’s boom time. You can study and converse with people in any country in the world. Or maybe you want to teach a language? My good friend Tom is experiencing a surge in his online English teaching business.
  • Music: Online music lessons, online communities, and more time to do them.
  • New Skills (for Hobbies or new Careers). Programming, design, woodwork, writing, vlogging, online qualifications. Whether it’s for fun or for a new career direction, online learning is available to you.
  • Learning. For enjoyment or for work, education has been moving online for years and that shift has just accelerated. You can learn from the top universities in the world, to the best TED videos, to online courses and books written by leaders of any field.
  • Art. Painting, drawing, writing, woodwork, pottery, etc etc etc. What new artistic opportunities are open to you?
  • Sex and sexuality. Now you have more time at home, psychologist and sex therapist Ari Tuckman has ideas for you 🙂
  • Cookery and Baking. Bread Ahead, a bakery school in Borough Market London, is running free baking tutorials every day at 2pm on Instagram.
  • Homebrewing Beer, honey mead, wine and liquor can all be made at home.
  • Money. Reducing your expenditure on travel, gym memberships, etc, that’s money in the bank for the future. What could that saved money pay for now, in the medium and long term?
  • Drama school is now available online.
  • Fitness: Proponents of calisthenics (bodyweight exercises) argue it can develop some of the most useful, athletic, balanced, safe and long-lasting physical fitness. Calisthenics can provide both aerobic and anaerobic exercise. There’s space to do calisthenics in a 6x9 prison cell, an apartment, a garden.
    Or there’s yoga, pilates, and other practices you can do at home - with videos or coaching available online.
    Or exercise bikes, or kits to convert a bicycle to an exercise bike.
    Some physiotherapists offer online support too, so even supervised rehab for injuries can be done at home.
    People leave prison in better shape than they went in - so you or I can leave quarantine in better shape than we went in. If you’re already in shape, quarantine might provide an opportunity to develop a different dimension of your fitness, which can diversify your athleticism and support other aspects of your fitness when quarantine’s over.
    More on physical exercise coming soon.
  • Literature. Centuries of literature await - you have access to more than you could read in a thousand lifetimes, fiction or non-fiction. The beauty of life and the universe, brought alive by the greatest writers in history, is available to you in any environment. How much could reading more improve you and your life - in ways you perhaps didn’t even anticipate?
  • Film and TV. There’s obviously no shortage of film and TV from around the world to immerse ourselves into.
    Coronavirus: 9 shows to help you through self-isolation - BBC 20th March 2020
  • Gaming. Gaming has matured into a diverse range of experiences that are open to anyone with an adventurous side. There’s something for all ages and interests. Games also offer social, shared multiplayer experiences which would be impossible in real life. You now have an opportunity to explore or deepen your appreciation of this interactive entertainment, especially if you’re previously considered yourself a technophobe or not having time for it.
  • Gardening. For those who have a garden, you now have more time to invest your love into it!
  • Meditation and related practices. Here we have an opportunity to discover, rediscover or deepen our understanding of this ancient practice.

What can you do now which you perhaps couldn't (or just didn’t) do before quarantine?

A Seductive Alternative

An alternative to finding the opportunities quarantine offers would be victim thinking, and I personally know how easy it is to slip into it. I know the temptation of “coronavirus has stopped everything; I may as well just give up” - I know myself that victim thinking can be seductive

But victim thinking leads to inactivity, lack of meaning, and dissatisfaction. It feels comfortable in the short term, but in the medium and long term it’s a trap. 

Once again, this was always true - but quarantine may make the disadvantages of victim thinking, versus the advantages of moving towards new opportunities, even more obvious.

Finding Your Opportunities in Quarantine

Perhaps the list of opportunities above has helped you to begin noticing the opportunities that you have in quarantine.

How might you become a better person, or create a better life, over the coming weeks and months?

More Resources on Well-being, Adapting and Thriving in Lockdown / Isolation / Quarantine

Coming up in the next few days and weeks:

  • Black and white thinking, emotional hijacking, and returning to clear-headedness
  • More on emotions
  • Create Your Best Environment to Thrive in Quarantine
  • Why Habits and Routines Were Always Awesome - And In Quarantine Even Moreso
  • More on Movement and Physical Exercise

And more.

About Me

Hi I’m James Cormack, a therapist and coach specialised in anxiety & stress, with experience and an interest in in adapting mentally and physically to various new environments, lifestyles, and unexpected twists and turns - some of which had a lot in common with quarantine!

  • I’ve experienced an anxiety disorder, stress and chronic pain that threatened my career; then overcame them and went on to create my ideal life. 
  • I’ve had dreams built up then shattered; recovered and adapted; then gone on to discover my true calling. What seemed like disaster became one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.
  • I’ve lived in foreign countries without local friends, language, and sometimes very little money. I’ve also become self-employed and made more or less every mistake possible along the way (it’s the best way to learn). As a result I’ve experienced physical inactivity, mental resignation, social isolation and boredom and more at various times. By learning, improving and adapting, I’m now more resilient, happy and healthy than ever before in my life. 

If you want to ask me something one to one contact me here: https://james-cormack.com/contact-me/

My main website is http://james-cormack.com.