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Social Distancing for Beginners

A Guide to Pandemics, Plagues, and the Zombie Apocalypse

Crystal Jackson
Mar 13 · 7 min read
Photo by Alexandru Zdrobău on Unsplash

I’ll be honest and just say, for the record, that this would have been so much easier when I thought I was an introvert. Recent evidence, however, has so thoroughly refuted my previous assumption that I can no longer own that label. Even though I know I’m not an introvert (I’m owning “ambivert” until further notice), the idea of forced social isolation — distancing is the word that’s being volleyed around — is daunting.

I’m a single mother. More, I’m a full-time, working single mother. Luckily for me, I work from home. Unluckily for me, I have to manage that work while taking care of and entertaining extremely active children. My usual child wrangling-while-working technique of taking them to an indoor play area while I work on the sidelines won’t exactly fly when social distancing is the theme.

So I, like many of you, will be stuck at home. While I love my home, the thought of staying there for a solid week brings to mind instant cabin fever. But when we’re dealing with pandemics, plagues, or a zombie apocalypse, containing and preventing infection becomes more important than anything else.

With this in mind, I decided we might need a guide to social distancing.

Make a plan

This is when we tap into our inner resourcefulness. Whether we have a family or don’t, we need to be prepared for that amount of time at home. But that plan needs to be about preparation, not panic.

We don’t need to buy out all the hand sanitizer or toilet paper. We don’t need to stock up for six months of isolation. We just need to get what we think we’ll need for a reasonable amount of time. When we react from panic and start hoarding, not only are we shorting other families who need these supplies, we’re also handicapping medical personnel and service workers who actually need face masks, gloves, and sanitizers so that they can do their jobs.

Let’s all have a moment of silent gratitude for all the streaming services. If you don’t have any, it could be time for a free trial. We might as well get caught up on those shows we never have time to watch. But we need to think bigger than binge-watching. We can get caught up on our reading — on Medium and with whatever reading pile waits for us to find the time. We now have the time.

We can only do so much watching TV, playing video games, and reading. It might be time to break out coloring books and board games and to figure out creative ways to spend time in our homes. We could also turn home projects and crafting. We just need to make a plan for what we’ll do with our time.

We’re stuck inside, and all regularly scheduled programming in our lives has been canceled. Stores are closing, sports events are being canceled, and mayhem reigns supreme at local grocery stores and pharmacies. Might as well learn something. Podcasts, YouTube tutorials, online classes, and even learning apps all offer opportunities to broaden our horizons. Travel enthusiasts can watch travel programs or learn about a desired future destination. Whatever subject has long captured our interest can be indulged with this extra time available to do it. Granted, many of us are still working for home, but we can turn a little of our leisure time toward learning.

We still need exercise. We just need to do more of it in isolation. Luckily, there are plenty of free workout videos. My favorite is Yoga with Adriene. It could be a great time to start a new, healthy habit by choosing an exercise program for ourselves and our families. Staying active, even when sequestered, can be a great habit for all the days we can’t make it to the gym, to a fitness class, or outdoors for exercise.

Adjust our Attitude

This is a big one for me. I was bemoaning the idea of working with my kids at home underfoot, but I’m also understandably stressed about current world events. When school was canceled, I had a moment to vent and complain, and then I adjusted my attitude.

Most of us have to work. I’m not the only one being forced into social isolation. We’re really all in this together. You know, separately. We all have work to do and bills to pay. It’s not going to be easy for any of us. Once I looked a it from that point of view, I was able to change my perspective and start to prepare. Realizing we’re in this together can also help us put a stop to the panic that contributes to hoarding and a “me first” mentality.

You know all those days when you woke up and wanted nothing more than to stay home? Your wish has been granted! Stay home, sleep in, wear pajamas all day, and relax. Turn social distancing into a staycation. Turn to Pinterest or Google and figure out how to make a face mask with ingredients from your kitchen. Take long baths. Have a movie night. Get cozy and actually enjoy a break — even if it’s not the kind of break you really wanted.

A big part of adjusting our attitude requires that we take our news from trusted sources and not allow the media to freak us out. We can keep abreast of the latest CDC advisories, and we can follow all the standard recommendations. Wash our hands. Don’t touch people. Keep our hands away from our faces. If coughing or running a fever, self-isolate and wear a mask. If care-taking for a sick person, wear a mask. Stay home. Staying informed can help us take reasonable precautions without panicking. Be proactive, not reactive.

Spring Cleaning

While we’re stuck in our homes, it would be a good time to spring clean. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of a good time, you’re not alone. But while we’re waiting out the latest national or global crisis, it’s a good time to get our houses in order.

I’m not just talking about the physical ones either. We can use this time to evaluate our lives and to decide if what we do each day aligns with the way we want to live. While we’re cleaning out closets and scrubbing baseboards, we can consider what bad habits need to be addressed and what better habits can take their place.

If that still doesn’t sound like fun, turn on some music. Make it a game. Reward yourself after with a sweet treat or glass of wine. Whatever you do, add this to the list. After all, keeping things clean helps prevent the spread of infection, too. It’s not just about washing our hands and not touching our faces. We need to sanitize our environments.

Get Social

Getting social doesn’t sound like a good plan for social distancing, am I right? But we still need our support systems. Our romantic relationships shouldn’t be our only support. Neither should our families. We need a stronger network, and being isolated in our homes can actually be a great time to reach out and invest in our friendships.

Texting. Email. Instant messages. Phone calls. It’s time to reach out — without ever touching anyone. Just because we’re stuck in our homes doesn’t mean we can’t hang out with our friends. We just might have to do it via video chat. A coffee morning, a wine evening — we can see a friendly face and spend some time without ever leaving our homes.

With the limitations that come with social distancing, this might be a good time to return to giving others our undivided attention. Whether we’re on a phone call or interacting with our children, we can use this space to figure out how to be better at tuning in.

But maybe this can extend beyond other people. We can tune in to what we’re doing. Rather than endlessly scrolling social media while watching a movie, we can actually watch it. Multitasking can shift into single-minded attention to what we’re doing.

And we can tune in to ourselves. What’s going on with us. How we feel. When social distancing is recommended, we can really get back in touch with ourselves — who we are, what we want, the way we want to live.

You know which thing. It’s the thing you want to say but haven’t said. For many of us, it’s the “I love you” we don’t always speak, but for others, it may be something else. An “I forgive you” or even “I’m angry about what you did.” It could be telling a good friend that they broke your trust or hurt your feelings. If doing this when isolated sounds like a bad idea, when is there going to be a better time? When the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket and panic reigns supreme, we may need to say the words while we’ve got the time to say them.

At the end of the day, none of us want to participate in involuntary social isolation. Unless you’re an introvert. We all want to be able to live our lives without worrying about our work or our bills or what we’re supposed to do with all this time indoors. But we really are all in this together, and with a little creativity and resourcefulness, I think we’re all going to be just fine.

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MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else…

Crystal Jackson

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Former therapist. Author of Left on Main & Right on Walton (Heart of Madison series) Subscribe to emails

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else in between together.

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