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Sheltering in Place Is Hard. 7 Tips that Helped Me in My Year of Isolation

Last year, a traumatic experience at work left me gutted. Everything that I believed in, everything that I had worked for, was pulled out from under me. Very suddenly, my life changed dramatically. Sound familiar?

I was scared, uncertain, anxious, depressed—all in equal measure. I couldn’t sleep or eat, and I also couldn’t picture myself on the other side of things. I didn’t have a clear picture of what that would look like.

I ended up sheltering in place. At first, I had to because, per my employer’s directive, I was not allowed to talk to other people. Then, I did because I was scared to be with other people. And finally, I chose to because I needed time to heal.

When I do something, I do it really well. I was an all-star. I only left my house when someone made me, and even then, I would only go at times when I was least likely to see other people.

Here I am, over a year later. I’m stronger, and I’m saner (though my family may disagree). I have had to let some things go, and that was and still is painful. But I’ve also been fortunate enough to move on.

My life is different, but it’s still a good life.

I realize that the circumstances vary. Last year, I chose to distance myself. And this year, a pandemic is choosing that for me and all of us. It’s crazy; I never thought I’d say this, but I learned some valuable lessons about sheltering in place that are helping me help my own college-age kids:

Shelter In Place Tips For Coronavirus Quarantine

1. Walk it out.

Whenever I started to feel overwhelmed, I started moving. Sometimes, I walked in circles around my house. Sometimes, I walked for miles outside. Sometimes, I walked for miles on the treadmill. Those walks never failed to help me regain (some) composure.

2. Pet your dog.

Don’t underestimate a four-legged friend who doesn’t know what’s going on and who doesn’t care. Our lovable lab didn’t leave my side, accompanying me on many of those walks (see #1) and sitting on my feet wherever I landed. I’m not a cat person, but I’ve been told that felines also provide comfort. And maybe even a hamster would do the trick.

3. Start small.

At first, I could barely get out of my bed, and even when I did, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I convinced myself to do one thing: make the bed. And it sounds weird, but I felt proud of myself. Doing that one thing was enough. Even when I found myself still in my pajamas at dinnertime, I didn’t care (and I still don’t).

4. Appreciate your friends and family.

Even at my lowest moments, there were times when I was amazed by how kind and supportive my friends and family members were. They were so steady and consistent with their calls and cards and trinkets. This time around, I am determined to be that person for others.

5. Find some meaning.

I knew I’d never get my old life back, but I still wanted a purposeful existence. And slowly but surely, I built one that combines volunteering with organizations that are near and dear to me as well as some freelance work where I can use my skills and talents to help others.

6. Hold on to the now.

This part was hard, and it still is. For so long, all I could think about was the past and what happened or the future and what it might be like. What I needed to do most was lean into the present. The jigsaw puzzle on the table. The board game with my kids. Binging on West Wing.

7. Ask for help if you need it.

Another difficult thing for me to do, but one that proved necessary. Whether it is talking with clergy or getting some professional support or asking a friend to run an errand, there is no shame in letting others lighten our load. And most of the time, they are happy to be able to.

I’ve always maintained that if I could go back to the way things were, I’d do it in a heartbeat. But that wasn’t an option for me then, just as that isn’t a choice for any of us now. I ultimately came out of my first shelter-in-place experience weirdly grateful. The relationships I have are more meaningful, the things I choose to do are more purposeful, and the small stuff just doesn’t matter anymore. And that I can say with certainty.

Jody Podl

Jody has spent her life around teens, as a teacher and as a parent of three.

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