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How to survive social isolation

Fall will pass like summer did before it: distanced, uncertain and offering good reason (if not an order) to stay home. While stuck in quarantine, why not cut yourself some slack and give one of these hobby hacks a whirl? 

Halifax-based art therapist Evie Dunville says thinking outside the box is vital, “whether it’s the box on the back of the pasta or the box that school put you into.” 

Though no substitute for professional help, Dunville says creativity and exploration can buoy spirits during low or anxious spells. She encourages people to “just stop and zoom in a little bit.”  

In other words, appreciate the little things around you: the bumble bee going about its splendid work, the ingredients you cook with, and your own body and mind. This shift in thinking opens the door to brighter days. 

Through creativity, Dunville says, “you actually start trying to reframe your focus and reframe your life.” 

Mindfulness and meditation 

Lila Berryman, a fourth-year international development studies and French major at Dalhousie University, readily offers book, podcast and video game recommendations. She also dabbles in guitar and woodworking, tends a garden, cross-stitches and weaves friendship bracelets from embroidery thread. She once painted a handful of landscaping rocks entirely brown because she had just the one colour on hand. 

Like most people, Berryman’s motivation waxes and wanes. She tries to begin each day with meditation, either streaming from an app or sitting outside with eyes closed taking in birdsong and the occasional bagpipe serenade.  

“Doing that makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something and that kind of sets the tone for the rest of the day,” Berryman says.  

Meditation encourages Berryman to notice thoughts and emotions as they surface, which helps her accept mistakes and keep insecurities at bay.  

“[Meditation] would definitely help with starting new hobbies and it would also help with lots of other things,” Berryman says.  

Lila Berryman talks quarantine hobbies in her Halifax backyard. She tries to begin each morning here with mediation and tea. (Photo by Leah Simonot)

Get creative 

From sourdough starters to candle-making, it seems the most popular quarantine trends have people getting creative. But what if creativity isn’t your strong suit? 

Dunville recommends switching off critic mode to focus on play and experimentation. 

“I do believe that some art can be sacred,” Dunville says, “but creating this kind of mythos around art . . . makes it challenging for people to actually enjoy the creation.” 

For Nicole Keeping, a student at the University of King’s College, moving in with her partner in May and being laid off meant she had time to tune into chef’s vlogs (and had someone to share the results with). While Uber Eats and fast food were relentlessly attractive heading into lockdown a few months ago, Keeping is glad to no longer rely on them.  

“When you’re tired, I don’t know, you think the world is ending, you don’t have the energy to make your own meal,” says Keeping, who is in her fourth year of a music major.  

Since paying attention to how food works and investing a bit of each pay cheque into better equipment, Keeping’s kitchen has become a place of expression and self-care.  

“Now when I go into my kitchen and see all these great things to cook with, it will seem like a waste if I’m not using them,” says Keeping. “Even if it is busy, I’ve learned how to make quick, easy meals.” 

This too shall pass 

Hannah Whaley, a fourth-year English and theatre studies major at Dal, gravitated toward escapism during her two rounds of self-isolation.  

“I will sing the praises of OverDrive forever,” Whaley says of the free ebook website

Whaley also spent time listening to podcasts and enjoying her new Nintendo Switch (which she happened to get on sale). For Whaley, being in solitude granted space for processing the winter term as it wrapped up. Later on, she kept busy balancing summer school with a full-time job. But being in isolation can even get introverts feeling down. 

Whaley’s advice is to let yourself miss people: notice that it sucks, but try not to dwell on it.  

“You’re not going to feel this intense about [self-isolation] every day,” she says, adding that putting people at risk would be more stressful than not seeing them.  

If you’re left with nothing else to do in quarantine, consider following Whaley’s lead: with the impossibility of getting a haircut, she decided to shave her head. Like Whaley, you can sit back and enjoy people’s reactions on Zoom. 

Disclosure: Hannah Whaley is the member-at-large on the Dalhousie Gazette’s publishing board.

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