As the pandemic compels us to practice social distancing and self-isolation, many of us are suffering from loneliness. But people don’t seem to talk about the other side of the coin: if you’re isolating with others, you may be struggling to find alone time. As an introvert who suffers from anxiety, I’ve experienced this first-hand.
For a month now, I’ve been isolating with my husband and six of our friends, making us eight in total. I love them dearly, and we’ve had great times playing games, watching movies, and throwing birthday parties. However, the constant social interaction can get dangerously draining at times.
After the first week of isolation, I realized that I was feeling overwhelmed. I stayed in bed all day, and had to force myself to join everyone for dinner. I needed to find a way to create more downtime for myself.
If you’re currently experiencing the same thing, it’s important to recognize that your feelings are valid. You don’t have to feel guilty for needing alone time, even when everyone else seems to be craving social contact. And fortunately, there are things you can do to make yourself feel better while isolating with other people.
1. (Re)decorate your room
This step often gets overlooked, but for me, it was a crucial step in improving my mental health. When I needed to be alone, I’d go to my bedroom. But just because I’m an introvert, it doesn't mean I enjoy being stuck in my room all the time. I felt like I had to go to my room for space, which led to me feeling “trapped” or “locked in.”
At times, I felt trapped inside my own room.
I hadn’t taken the time to decorate my room yet. I figured it didn’t matter, since we’d only be living here for a handful of weeks. As it turns out, a little bit of decoration can go a long way to change your perspective: it can be the difference between feeling “stuck” in your room, and feeling lucky to retreat to your personal haven.
So take the time to primp up your bedroom: hang up some paintings on the walls, or put out some incense and oils. Take the time to keep your room organized and clutter-free. If you share a room with someone else (in my case, my husband), don’t be afraid to communicate with them: let them know that you’ll need to be alone from time to time.
2. Making time to meditate
I’ve always had the habit of casually meditating. In order to feel balanced, I need to find some time to sit and just watch my thoughts flow, preferably while looking at nature.
With eight people in the house, it’s become harder to meditate whenever I want. To make sure I get to do it, I’ve had to mindfully put time aside for meditating. Today, I make it a point to meditate in my room right after waking up in the morning, so I can start my day with a calmer and clearer mind.
If you’ve never practiced meditation before, now’s a great time to begin! There are lots of wonderful apps that can get you started, and even online videos for guided meditation.
3. Wearing headphones
As I’ve already mentioned, staying inside your own room can get suffocating. Sometimes I like to enjoy the outdoor views from the living room, or read on the couch to take advantage of natural lighting. The problem is that I get easily stressed out by noise. Obviously, the public areas of the house aren’t as quiet as my room: maybe my housemates are chatting, or the TV is on in the background.
If you’re having the same issue, I strongly recommend investing in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. I like to listen to instrumental music when I write or read, so that the music acts as a kind of barrier against the world. At the same time, it’s so soothing that I barely notice it’s there.
When my housemates are playing a game in the living room, but I just feel like watching a movie, I can simply wear my headphones. It’s a great way to make sure everyone can enjoy the common space together while doing their own thing.
4. Finding the quiet hours
In order to maximize your alone time, t’s also a good idea to avoid “peak hours.” If you notice that the common areas of the house tend to be more crowded at certain times of the day (for example, in the afternoon or at mealtimes), try to plan your day accordingly. Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, you can take advantage of more “quiet” hours before everyone gets up, or after they go to bed.
I love waking up to watch the sunrise and having an hour or so to read peacefully, or to make breakfast without fighting for counter space. On nights when I can’t sleep, it’s also been wonderful to sit up on the couch with a midnight snack and be alone with my thoughts. Just make sure not to push this to extremes: it’s crucial to get enough hours of sleep in order to keep your immune system strong.
5. Saying “no” when you need to
When you’re isolating with others, it’s likely that people will come up with fun group activities to pass the time. You may feel obligated to say yes every time, either because you don’t want to be rude, or because you’re afraid of missing out. (Introverts get FOMO too!)
Remember that you are allowed to occasionally pass up on group activities. If your social battery is drained, kindly and calmly explain to your housemates that you need to take a rain check to recharge. This is a weird and taxing time for everyone; they’ll understand. Taking some time for yourself will ensure that you’ll be more pumped for the next party/movie night/board games competition.
It might’ve been easier for me to isolate with just my husband. But easier isn’t always better: I do feel grateful for all the wonderful times I’ve had with our friends and housemates. Since I tend to shy away from social events, I might’ve missed out on these experiences if we hadn’t been living together. All things considered, I’m glad that the eight of us are able to support each other through this time - even if it took some getting used to.