30 Ways to Self-Isolate Better
If you're going through all the trouble to self-isolate, you might as well do it exactly right. Don't let all your hard work be undone by a potentially fatal mistake. We asked the experts for their professional insight into all the ways you are self-isolating wrong, and what they have to say could save your life.
You're Misusing Your Bed
Just because you are home all day doesn't give you an excuse to stay in bed. Christina Pierpaoli-Parker, Ph.D. student of clinical health psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and featured behavioral medicine expert for Psychology Today points out that many people tend to use their bed incorrectly for things other than sleeping—like working, binge-watching television, and other behaviors that can deregulate sleep. She suggests using the bed for three things and three things only—the three S's: sleep, sex, and sickness. "Everything else—watching television about COVID-19, reading about COVID-19, anxiously scrolling through your phone, tablet, or laptop about COVID-19—needs to happen outside of it," she instructs.
You're Keeping the Windows Closed
Having a properly ventilated space is crucial. "Like many respiratory viruses, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, fares worse (and its host humans do better) in well-ventilated spaces," explains Jaimie Meyer, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist. "Best practice is to close your door (to protect your housemates, see above) and open a window." Adds the CDC: "Make sure that shared spaces in the home have good air flow, such as by an air conditioner or an opened window, weather permitting."
You're Not Washing Linens and Clothes Thoroughly
If you are sick, try and do your laundry yourself to avoid contaminating others. The CDC offers the following instructions on how to properly launder potentially contaminated linens.
- First, immediately remove and wash clothes or bedding that have blood, stool, or body fluids on them. Always wear disposable gloves while handling soiled items and keep soiled items away from your body.
- "Clean your hands (with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) immediately after removing your gloves," they explain.
- "Read and follow directions on labels of laundry or clothing items and detergent. In general, using a normal laundry detergent according to washing machine instructions and dry thoroughly using the warmest temperatures recommended on the clothing label."
- Lastly, place all your used disposable protective gear in a linen trash can.
You're Not Maintaining Enough Humidity in Your Room
Air quality can be key if there is someone who is sick with coronavirus in your home. "The baseline infectivity of this coronavirus is quite high and sick people can shed high amounts, or volume, of the virus. Nevertheless, how widely the coronavirus spreads in a family or co-living situation really depends on your indoor environment," explains Stephanie Taylor, MD, M. Arch, CIC, of Harvard Medical School.
Her research has shown that dry indoor air—where the relative humidity is less than 40%—promotes the spread of germs in the air, including the coronavirus. The good news? "This is something you can actively manage," she explains. By increasing the amount of water vapor, known as humidity, in your home you can effectively reduce the risk of spread and help your body's immune system fight the virus. She suggests keeping the humidity level around 50 percent in your home. If you don't have a system installed, she suggests purchasing a humidifier at the pharmacy or ordering one on Amazon.
You're Making Contact with an Infected Person
Don't assume that because your roommate, family member, or significant other has been exposed to coronavirus, that you are going to get it anyway and use that as an excuse to make contact with them. "If you're isolating with someone who suspects they have the virus, to reduce risk of infection you should try and avoid contact," instructs Dr. Taylor.
You're Keeping Your Space Too Hot
Blasting the heat isn't going to help your illness or keep others in your house from becoming sick. "One misconception when it comes to viruses is that people believe that low temperatures are the driver of wintertime illnesses. This is incorrect," Dr. Taylor explains. Again, the actual driver of winter-time seasonal illnesses is dry indoor air.
With all the food many of us have stockpiled in our homes and all the time in the world to eat it, overeating can become a common practice in self-isolation. However, according to Bethesda, MD, internist Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP it is probably one of the biggest problems. "Many people, especially those who are overweight, are stress eaters, and there is certainly a lot of stress currently," he points out.
You're "Boredom Eating"
Another health hazard many people are engaging in during self-isolating is eating when they aren't even hungry. "A factor that leads to excess eating is boredom, which can be a problem if you are stuck at home," Dr. Mintz points out.
You're Eating Unhealthy Food
Many of us have stocked our freezers and pantries with non-perishable goods. Unfortunately, a lot of these items aren't exactly healthy. "With both limited trips to the grocery store and some shortages of healthier foods, this can lead to eating more unhealthy foods like chips and sweets," Dr. Mintz points out. He explains that the trifecta of emotional eating, boredom, and less than healthy food can put people into trouble. "There is no magic solution here other than mindset," he continues. "Even if you are stuck at home, you have to have the mindset that to the best of your ability, you will conduct 'business as usual,' which not only applies to your work, but also your eating habits."
You're Staying Indoors
One misconception about social distancing or self-isolation is that you aren't allowed to leave the house, points out Dr. Mintz. "Unless you are actually sick with COVID-19, it is safe to go outdoors," he explains. The only catch? You need to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others and touch nothing else but nature. "However, a walk or run outside is not only safe but also encouraged."
You're Not Exercising
Self-isolation is not an excuse to be sedentary. "In addition to getting exercise, this allows you to interact with others in ways that don't involve screens," Dr. Mintz points out.
You're Avoiding Friends and Family
Self-isolation does not mean you can't physically see your friends and family. It just means you need to keep your distance. "Driveway visits to family and neighbors are fine, as long as all parties stay six feet apart and stay outside," Dr. Mintz points out.
You're Misusing Social Media
Social media can be a great tool during self-isolation if you are using it to connect with people. However, if you start using it to compare, you might be doing a disservice to your mental health. "During social distancing, social media becomes our main source of human interaction," points out Viktor Sander, B.Sc, B.S., Counselor at SocialPro. "It can make us feel fulfilled—or miserable—depending on how we use it."
He suggests using social media to stay in touch with friends and improve your real-world relationships, which "helps you connect with others." Avoid using social media to compare yourself to others—for example by looking at models and influencers on Instagram. "This has been shown to make us feel worse about ourselves and more isolated."
You're Reading Sensationalist News
The 24-hour news cycle can be overwhelming, especially if you are filling your feed with sensationalist news stories. "News can make us feel informed or overwhelmed, depending on what type of news we consume," Dr. Sander explains. He suggests looking for summaries such as the New York Times' free email newsletter, or information from trustworthy organizations such as the WHO and the CDC, while avoiding tabloids or news that are being distributed on, for example, Facebook. "They are often designed to get clicks rather than helping the reader get a nuanced picture."
You're Failing to Set up a "Disinfection Table"
Preparation can be key when it comes to keeping your family healthy. Patrick Hardy, a disaster preparedness expert who created the app Disaster Hawk, suggests that everyone set up a specific area in their home designated for disinfecting purposes. "Families are not setting up appropriate areas to disinfect items prior to their introduction into their homes, allowing potentially infected items to pass through," he explains. "They need to create an adequate Disinfection Table."
You're Not Setting a Daily Coronavirus Routine
Just because your family is off of their daily routine, that is no excuse not to implement a new one, incorporating the new coronavirus normal. "Every morning, each family should go through the exact same routine of disinfecting their homes, checking updated COVID-19 information, and evaluating their responses to the crisis," Hardy encourages.
Keep in mind that the coronavirus health pandemic is not a zombie apocalypse—so you don't need to shop like it is the end of the world. "FEMA and other government agencies have advised families over and over that purchasing a 30-Day supply is unnecessary," Hardy points out. "They advise going to the grocery store on a weekly basis because the strain on distribution networks has created artificial shortages on shelves."
You're Avoiding Stores Entirely
While you should keep your shopping trips to a minimum, you don't have to avoid going altogether as long as you are not sick. "Continue to adhere to what public health experts are recommending and what state officials are restricting, but you will still need to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy," Dana Hawkinson, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Kansas Health System explains. "With the added caution about going out in public, stores are less likely to be busy, and you should be able to maintain distance between yourself and other patrons and practice healthy behaviors, like washing your hands and using cleansing wipes on shopping carts."
You're Watching the Wrong Kind of Television
Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, MD points out that many people are keeping their television on 24/7, watching news about the coronavirus. "They are scaring themselves to death because of all the sensationalized news that makes people believe 'we're all gonna die!'" she points out. Instead, she suggests limiting TV viewing of news to brief check-ins once or twice a day, and instead, "watching shows that make you laugh instead of news that makes you cry!"
You're Drinking Too Much Alcohol
Similar to stuffing themselves with comfort food, some people are drinking too much alcohol to try to escape from being aware of reality, claims Dr. Lieberman. "At the end of isolation, they may not have coronavirus, but they will have become alcoholics," she explains. "There is really no need for alcohol during isolation, which takes enough of a toll on the body and mind." To avoid overindulging in booze, she suggests keeping it out of the house altogether.
You're Improperly Washing/Sanitizing Produce
With the goal of disinfecting everything, you may be doing more harm than good, explains Akua Woolbright, Ph.D., the national nutrition director for Whole Cities Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Whole Foods. "Some people are washing their produce with harsh soaps and household cleaning agents that are putting them at risk. Washing produce in a cleaning product like bleach can leave behind a residue that is harmful for people to ingest," Dr. Woolbright explains.
For fresh produce, you will want to spray or soak these items in one cup of water and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or baking soda for five minutes. Firm produce can be washed in warm or hot water, while delicate produce should be cleaned in cold or tepid water. After washing your produce, rinse and dry well.
You're Not Getting Sleep
Don't treat self-isolation like a long weekend. Make sure to get enough sleep. "Being in isolation/at home, we can end staying up later than we want and that further causes the circadian rhythm to be off," says Tsao-Lin Moy, acupuncturist and Chinese medicine specialist based in New York City. "The circadian rhythm is what helps our body know when to rest and when to wake up." When this is thrown off, the whole body and mind system get disrupted.
Dr. Moy suggests regulating your schedule to block time for sleep at least 7-8 hours. "Turn off electronics and stop looking at the news, avoid caffeine or alcohol, and late-night eating." Also you can try adding some essential oils, like jatamansi, a flowering plant known for its calming effects, anti-depression, and for insomnia.
You're Not Creating a Separate Space for Work
Even if you live in a studio apartment, it is crucial to create a separate workspace. "If you live in an apartment and work from home, work and personal life are now getting mixed. Literally you can feel like you are at work 24/7 and this creates blurred boundaries and stress," explains Dr. Moy.
She suggests incorporating Feng Shui, the art and science of placement and the flow of energy, into your space. "If work is invading your home this can create negative energy in your home and affect your health," she explains. "This requires getting organized, deciding a zone even if it is on your dining table or coffee table that can be a temporary workspace. Personal items removed. When you are done with your work time, move the work items to a corner or on a shelf so that they have a place."
You're Disconnecting from Friends and Family
Completely disconnecting from friends and family will likely lead you to a dark place. Instead, utilize technology to connect to your loved ones and fully incorporate them into your life. "This is a time to really utilize all of the technology we have," says Brittany Modell, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Brittany Modell Nutrition and Wellness. She suggests a bunch of ways to do this. "Set up weekly Facetime or phone calls with friends or family. Set up an hour to play virtual games, drink for a virtual happy hour, or cook a meal with loved ones over Facetime." Or set up a book club, group workouts over Facetimes, or create a Zoom group to start a new hobby together. "This will allow you to stay connected to a friend or loved one while also learning a new hobby or skill," she says.
You're Not Showering
Do not let your personal hygiene suffer as a result of self-isolation. Rumble trainer Dale Santiago suggests starting and ending your day with a shower. "It can be easy to climb out of bed and spend the day in your pajamas," he points out. "Start your day with a shower, put on some clean clothes, or end your day with a shower and hop into bed nice and clean. The morning should give you some time to clear your mind and set an intention, while the end of the day should help you relax and unwind. Plus, it's incredibly important to stay clean during these times."
You're Neglecting Your Mental Health
The biggest mistake that people are making while self-isolating is not getting the proper support in managing their anxiety and depression symptoms, explains Haley Neidich, LCSW. "Folks who are having trouble caring for themselves, are not sleeping, or are having an excessive amount of panic should be in regular communication with a therapist," she explains. The good news? Most therapists have moved their practices online in order to provide direct and immediate treatment during the quarantine. "If someone is struggling, they deserve support now!"
You're Failing to Isolate Yourself When Sick
The most important part of self-isolation is separating yourself from others if you are sick, as the novel coronavirus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person who are in close contact (within six feet) of one another via respiratory droplets. "As much as possible, stay in a specific room and away from other people in your home," urges the CDC. "Also, you should use a separate bathroom, if available. If you need to be around other people in or outside of the home, wear a facemask." While this may not be possible for everyone in every living arrangement, Dr. Mayer urges you to try your hardest. "Do the best you can to keep the places you eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom separate or, if there are shared spaces, to clean and disinfect between uses," she suggests.
You're Not Cleaning Your Own Sick Space
You might not feel like cleaning if you are sick, but unless you want to infect others, you should make it a priority. "Clean high-touch surfaces in your isolation area ('sick room' and bathroom) every day," urges the CDC, "let a caregiver clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces in other areas of the home." If you are so sick that you can't possibly clean, make sure your caregiver wears a mask and gloves to clean.
You're Caring for Your Pet if You are Sick
It may be tempting to cuddle with your furry friend if you are sick, but the CDC strongly discourages it. "You should restrict contact with pets and other animals while you are sick with COVID-19, just like you would around other people," they explain. "Although it does seem that pets do not get as ill with COVID-19 even if infected, we don't want people to test that theory out on little Fido," points out Dr. Meyer. "When possible, have another member of your household care for your animals while you are sick. If you are sick with COVID-19, avoid contact with your pet, including petting, snuggling, being kissed or licked, and sharing food. If you must care for your pet or be around animals while you are sick, wash your hands before and after you interact with pets." That goes for tigers, too.
You're Failing to Call Ahead Before Going to Get Medical Help
In order to stop the spread of COVID-19, it is absolutely crucial to avoid exposing others. Walking into a doctor's office or hospital if you are sick isn't proper protocol. Instead, call ahead first. "Many medical visits for routine care are being postponed or done by phone or telemedicine," explain the CDC. "If you have a medical appointment that cannot be postponed, call your doctor's office, and tell them you have or may have COVID-19. This will help the office protect themselves and other patients."
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.