Keeping the spirits up during lockdown: How to be happy in isolation according to experts

Photo by Trent Szmolnik on Unsplash

These are tough times for everyone. If you live in the UK, you'll be experiencing your fourth week of lockdown in a bid to combat coronavirus and save lives.

Although restrictions are like nothing we've seen before, they aren't as severe as some other countries where people aren't even allowed to leave their homes. That might change for us, too. And we don't know how long this will continue.

But rather than feel disheartened, we're all rallying together to adapt and make the best of things. Some of us are finding it easier than others, however. So I've taken the time to delve into wisdom from those who are familiar with isolation. Who are happy to be alone.

Aside from using technology to stay connected to family and friends, taking daily exercise and avoiding alcohol, the following expert advice will offer some additional comfort and support.

Accept the "new normal" and pivot

Ok, so we're not in control of what's happening. We might be stuck indoors for some time, and there's nothing we can do about it. Our lives have changed radically, but what we can control is ourselves and how we adapt.

According to Samantha Brook, founder of the Happiness Club, everything comes down to a choice between love and fear. "It's important to focus on what we want, rather than on what we don't want, as what we focus on is what we get. As with anything in life, we can't control what happens to us, but we can choose how we react."

In a recent article for The Guardian, a former journalist turned sailor, Susan Smillie wrote: "The fear beforehand is always the worst bit – once we're in crisis, we cope, recover and learn. Those who have experienced grief will remember this feeling of waking up already in the knowledge that something big is wrong. But pay attention – this is an extraordinary time. Normality is suspended; life has slowed. We are alert. We see clearly what's important and we disregard irrelevance. There is much to despair over, but we will also surprise ourselves at what we can face, with grace, courage, humour – with each other."

Susan recommends limiting internet use, something she can't rely on at sea anyway: "Increasingly I'm turning to nourishing things that can't fail – books, cloudspotting, writing, growing herbs. And exercise – if I can manage some stretching positions in the 2x1 metres of flat space I have, anyone can."

Enjoy the slower pace and the prospect of a better life

We lead such busy lives. The pandemic has thrown us into a slower, more minimal lifestyle, and many of us are realising what's important. It's putting things in perspective. Some of us have seen what life can be like without being on a treadmill.

Joshua Fields Millburn, one of the founders of The Minimalists believes we finally understand that "an economy predicated on exponential growth isn't a healthy economy – it's a vulnerable one. If an economy collapses when people buy only their essentials, then it was never as strong as we pretended."

And when it comes to today's forced "simple living", he says the most recent minimalist movement gained popularity following the 2008 global economic crash. And it could be happening again. "People were yearning for a solution to their newly discovered problem of debt and overconsumption," he writes. "Unfortunately, over the past dozen years, we've once again grown too comfortable. But the enemy isn't only consumerism now; it's overindulgence, both material and not."

He thinks we're now asking that question again, what is essential? "Let us not waste this opportunity to reevaluate everything, to let go, to start anew. The best time to simplify was during the past decade. The second best time is now."

Practice meditation every day

"Meditation isn't magic, but it is a medicine for uncertainty and anxiety," says Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. He believes meditation is crucial during times of "heightened change, disruption, uncertainty, fear, anxiety".

How do you meditate? "Pick a time. Set a reminder. When you're ready to meditate, pick a comfortable spot, and set a timer for just two minutes to start with. Yes, that's very short, but it's a great way to start a new habit — start very small, so it's easier to stick to. You can increase it by a couple of minutes every seven days," adds Leo.

"Just pay attention to your breath. It's a simple thing to put your attention on – turn your mind's attention to the breath, and leave it there for the two minutes. When (not if) your mind wanders from the breath to thoughts...simply notice, and bring the mind back to the breath. Don't worry about getting distracted; it happens to everyone. Just keep coming back to the breath. When the timer goes off, thank yourself. A little gratitude helps to stick to any habit. Thank yourself for making an effort, and notice what good this small practice has brought you."

Surround yourself with positivity

"It's good to stay informed but keep watching the news to a minimum. Avoid negative social media posts. I suggest unfollowing friends if they continually post bad news stories or negativity on their walls," says Samantha Brook, founder of the Happiness Club.

Samantha recommends we embrace "good" news. Might we recommend Five Happy Links to get you started? It's a weekly dose of happy links to "make you smile and feel good". There's also the excellent Positive News to lift your spirits. And the Good News Network, too.

And we have to give a special mention to the actor John Krasinski for his fun Some Good News. A heartwarming, pretend news show that he began "while we are all self-isolating at home to stop COVID-19".

Take it each day at a time

A former Nasa astronaut, Jay Buckey, has launched an online self-help toolkit aimed at replicating the kind of training designed to help astronauts cope with confinement in small spaces for extended periods. Called the Dartmouth Path Program, it is already being tested in extreme environments such as research stations in Antarctica, but since social distancing began it has been made freely available to the public, too.

Scientists on Antarctic missions have struggled with isolation, according to Buckey. He brings our attention to the notes of Jean Rivolier, a French psychologist and chief doctor on several Antarctic expeditions, describing the dismal morale of one party in the 1990s: "One subject returned early to Sydney on psychological grounds, because he was homesick for his family and he became progressively more depressed. When the others returned they were humourless, tired, despondent and resentful. None had found the Antarctic experience to be enjoyable, not so much from any rigours of the climate, terrain or personal hardships as from inconsiderate and selfish behaviour."

Point being, the crew may have focused on the uncertain length of their missions, wondering when the endpoint was in sight. According to The Guardian, Pete Davis, an oceanographer at the British Antarctic Survey, said the "worst thing to do" was focus on when isolation would end. "The best thing to avoid is what’s going to happen in three months time when you’ve only just started," he said. "All you can control is what’s going to happen today or tomorrow."