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How to be a good shut-in

Things are escalating quickly throughout the world, and we are being asked to make sacrifices. As the meme goes: Our grandparents were called to war. We are being called to the couch.

We joke, but social distancing is going to be a challenge for many of us. Setting aside work and childcare and all the other logistics we must figure out, the mere act of not going out, of not being social, is stressful on its own. Therefore, we asked an experienced shut-in to give us some advice on how to live in an increasingly home-bound world.

First off, are you really a shut-in?

Well, not completely. I do occasionally eat out and visit friends. I go on long walks. I go to the gym. So no, I’m not actually a shut-in. But I do spend about 160 out of 168 hours a week inside my home. We are taking a bit of dramatic license calling me a shut-in, but just slightly.

What are your best tips for people who are used to spending most of their waking lives outside of their homes?

You must find a routine. Don’t get caught up on maintaining the same or a similar routine – that’ll just frustrate you. I think it’s a great time to do a values exercise and figure out what you truly value. It’s easy to lose touch with what makes us tick and live a life completely out of alignment with who we want to be in the world. This time of social isolation or distancing is an opportunity to reconnect with what matters most to us and build a routine around that. For instance, we might say we value health and creativity, but if we aren’t doing actions to bring that into our lives, we aren’t aligning with those values.

In terms of a typical day, then, what does this look like?

Once you are clear on what you value, I think you have the best chance of feeling satisfied if you build your daily routine around that. I value health, humour, and learning. Of course, there are things I must do every day that don’t directly relate to these values. However, I make sure that I divide my days into blocks and that each day, I get at least one block of time – at least 15 minutes – to dedicate to each. I work for a bit, then I go for a walk. I clean for a bit, then I spend time learning a new language. I work for a bit more, and then I joke around with a friend on messenger. I make a good meal. I exercise. I take a free online course. I play with my dog. All these things might just seem like small tasks, but they make up a satisfying life when they line up with who you are.

How do you make sure you don’t feel lonely?

For me, the biggest aspect of not feeling lonely is enjoying your own company. You must like yourself an awful lot to be happy being alone this much. I think a lot of people are going to come to a crisis of identity in this time, and it might be a good time to explore online therapy. But the work will be so worth it. Everything will be easier and richer once things return to some degree of normalcy if you enjoy your own company.

Beyond that, I stay in regular contact with friends through social media and messaging services. I have friends I talk to every day. We talk about our fears and our neuroses. We also make each other laugh. I feel like I am filled with more joy than most people, and I think it’s because I spend so much time laughing. I watch funny things, I read funny things, and I think funny things. This probably takes practice for some people but finding what makes you laugh is one of the most critical components to feeling connected.

It’s just as important to feel sad when you feel sad and to feel mad when you feel mad. Learning to become okay with things coming a little unraveled is going to be necessary in this crisis. Start now by accepting and exploring your feelings. Let yourself be a bit of a mess. Nobody is watching.

Doesn’t it get tiring being in the same space every day?

First, you want your home to be comforting to you. If it isn’t, now is a great time to change that. Keep it organized and clean and maybe even spend some time re-organizing. Frame some favourite pictures. Fill it with meaningful books.

Second, it isn’t the same space every day. Go outside. There’s something new to see every day if you go for a walk (just give other walkers a wide berth). The landscape changes all the time. If you pay attention and really tune in, everything is always changing, just on a different scale than you are used to. It’s like good food – the best food is simple, and you must pay attention to the nuances. Throwing the greatest ingredients in the world together doesn’t make a compelling meal; the true joy of food is its subtleties. So too with your environment.

Lastly, your pictures, your memories, books, movies – these are all ways to transport yourself. We are so fortunate that we can explore the world from our homes. There truly has never been a better time for people to be stuck in their houses.

Any final bits of advice for people who find staying home a challenge?

I guess I would just say: let it be a challenge. I am an introvert who needs excessive amounts of time alone, and I had to figure out how to be an extrovert when I owned my own store-front business. You can learn this. You can find the part of yourself that can thrive in this space, if you treat it as a challenge and not a calamity. We all have parts of ourselves we haven’t yet been asked to access. This is an opportunity for many people to access their inner shut-in. Join