Self-isolation: How to make those seven days as bearable as possible

Couple sitting in bed, woman sick with man wearing a protective mask
Isolation can be difficult -but here are some things you do to make it somewhat bearable. Photo credit: Getty Images

As someone who recently isolated in the very same room as her boyfriend for SEVEN. WHOLE. DAYS, I have developed an appreciation for how difficult self-isolation can be. 

Thankfully, we didn't contract COVID-19 and thankfully, my boyfriend is a good sport who begrudgingly watched Sex and the City with me to pass the time, while also indulging my laziness and embarrassing lack of culinary expertise with multiple Dominos orders (as a lifestyle editor, it's ashaming to admit that I get overly excited when I cook pasta correctly). 

While isolating can pose a number of challenges, such as trying to open doors with your feet and not appearing in the backdrop of your boyfriend's Zoom meetings every time you need the bathroom, there are ways to make the seven days more bearable - even, dare I say it, somewhat enjoyable?

Think about it - in day-to-day life, what other occasions would warrant seven days of staying at home and simply existing without the stresses of the outside world? A week without needing to visit a supermarket (anxiety-inducing hellholes) or go to the gym (a perfect excuse), or attend a social engagement you didn't really want to go to in the first place. As an introvert (and a Virgo), isolation, while challenging, did have some benefits. 

Of course, this is coming from a very privileged position - we were safe in a comfortable, dry room and had access to food and other luxuries that can be taken for granted, such as having a car so we could drive to collect our RATs.

We also had our laptops, equipped with ThreeNow, Neon, Netflix and the World Wide Web, allowing us to pass the time with a good series or new film. We also had our phones, complete with credit, social media and Uber Eats, meaning we could simply order food if we didn't want to cook (or risk food poisoning from my culinary endeavours). Some families are isolating in cramped, damp homes, while some people are forced to isolate in unsafe living situations. Others are struggling to make ends meet and can't afford the services that make life a little bit easier. Not everyone is in such a fortunate position, and I recognise that. 

Following my experience, I still wanted to put together a list of things that can help make isolation as comfortable and bearable as possible - while recognising that these are privileges we should be thankful for. 

Take the time to try something new

In this day and age, we're absolutely spoiled for choice - there are never-ending troves of television shows and films and YouTube videos and TikToks for us to entertain ourselves with. But if you're anything like me, sometimes it can be easy to default to a firm favourite. 'Comfort viewing' is definitely a thing, and when you're in need of a pick-me-up, it's all too easy to pay a visit to your six Friends - or binge Sex and the City for the umpteenth time. 

Instead, why not challenge yourself to watch something out of your comfort zone, or start that series you've been meaning to try (we finally finished the third season of Narcos, and it was bloody brilliant). Alternatively, opt for something educational, like a documentary. 

This also applies to podcasts, music, and books. With the pause button pressed on your day-to-day life for the next seven days, you might as well use the extra hours to expand your horizons. Take the time to delve into a novel you've been meaning to read, or pick up that book that's been sitting untouched on the shelf for years.

It's also a great time to peruse Apple or Spotify's vast catalogue of interesting and informative podcasts, or listen to a band or musical genre you haven't explored before - you may find a new favourite. At the end of a long day of doing nothing, a good podcast or expertly curated playlist can be the perfect way to unwind.

Alternatively, get creative. If you've got access to the supplies already, why not try your hand at drawing, colouring, painting, a DIY project, or taking artsy-fartsy photos to document your isolation experience - who knows, they could end up in an exhibition one day! Sometimes it's just nice to do something that doesn't involve a screen. 

Try a meal-kit service

In the doldrums of isolation, it can be difficult to muster the motivation to get dressed, let alone cook a nutritious meal. Meal-kit services can be a great way to make life just that little bit easier, and if you've been meaning to try HelloFresh or another meal-kit company, now's a great time while the supermarkets are off-limits.

There are a number of options on the market, from My Food Bag to FED., the latter of which provides fresh and nutritious meals made to heat and eat in your home. The premise of meal-kit services is that you can pick and choose your meal plan and either the ingredients or the premade meals, depending on what service you opt for, are delivered straight to your doorstep.

While many are subscription-based services, one-off orders are also available - or you can cancel your subscription at any time if you're not looking for a long-term commitment. FED. also offers an isolation box, where their chefs select the best-selling meals from its weekly menu and provide contactless delivery to your door.

If all else fails, a pizza or two (or three or four) never hurt anyone. 

Catch up with loved ones - virtually

With socialising off the calendar for seven days, isolation can be a lonely experience for some, particularly those living alone or buoyant extroverts who siphon their energy from others (I simply cannot relate).

However, there's no reason to transition into a hermit for the duration of your isolation - you can still see friends and family (via a screen) and stay up-to-date on social media. You could always use your extra time to catch up with an overseas friend or loved ones you don't often get to speak to, whether it be via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or an old-fashioned phone call. As someone with family living overseas, I know for a fact that I don't speak to them nearly as often as I should - but in isolation, there are no more excuses.

It's also a great time to chat to your grandparents or elderly relatives who are likely laying low amid the ongoing outbreak of Omicron. It can be an isolating time for our older friends and whānau, and a call to let them know you're thinking of them would likely brighten their day. 

Take time to practice self-care

Once you've logged off your work device for the day or the kids are in bed, take some time to look after you. Isolation is a great opportunity to practice acts of self-care. Whether it's something as simple as painting your nails, journaling or enjoying an at-home workout, there's plenty of ways to treat yourself to a little bit of extra love and attention.

With seven days to play with, you could even make it a goal to do one thing each day that makes you happy. Cooking yourself a nice meal or taking a hot, steamy bath are also good bets (perhaps if you're isolating in your own space - if you're flatting, health officials advise avoiding communal spaces as much as possible). 

Spending seven days in isolation also doesn't mean your day-to-day routine needs to fly out the window. It can be very easy to fall into a pattern of waking up 10 minutes before you're due to start work or sitting at your desk in your jim-jams. Speaking from personal experience, you feel SO MUCH better and far more productive when you pick out an outfit, slather on some skincare and add a little makeup - just because no one's going to see you (no one you care to impress, anyway), doesn't mean you have to resemble a slightly bedraggled sloth for seven days.

Other essentials to make self-isolation as smooth as possible

Of course, there are other steps that are very important to ensure your seven days of isolation are as smooth and seamless as possible. If you're not currently isolating, make sure you're prepared for the possibility. This includes having basic medical supplies on-hand, such as pain relief, a thermometer, nasal spray, lozenges and your regular medications to help manage your symptoms if you have or do contract COVID-19.

If you are already isolating and require medicines, you can contact your doctor or local pharmacy to arrange the medication to be delivered to you - or you can ask friends and whānau to collect it for you.

It's also recommended that you make a list of important information for your household, including NHI numbers, medical conditions and any medications or medical supplies each person might need. Include emergency contact information as well - this goes for families and flatshares.

Health officials also recommend putting together a hygiene kit, including hand sanitiser, gloves, face masks, cleaning supplies and extra rubbish bags, to have on-hand throughout the isolation period.

I've already mentioned self-care, but looking after your physical and mental wellbeing really is so important while you're confined within a handful of walls. Think of ways you can get fresh air or do some exercise. You can exercise outdoors in your neighbourhood, but you cannot use any shared facilities. Alternatively, if you have a deck, balcony or a small stretch of lawn, make the most of the last vestiges of summer sun and work outside.

And most importantly, remember you're not alone - and for the ones who are fortunate enough to have a warm, dry room with a cosy bed, a full fridge and entertainent at your fingertips, remember there's a lot of people out there who are worse off, and be grateful for what you have.