Evangelist J.John reflects on practical ways of coping with the stress of living in isolation

On Being Home Alone… 

In my last blog I wrote about us suddenly finding ourselves travelling through the unknown and unpleasant land of ‘Covidia’. Now on the path before us lies self-isolation or quarantine; of choosing or being forced to stay at home for weeks.

There are, of course, exceptions to this. Many people – including many readers – will not have the option of staying at home but will be out on the front line as doctors, nurses, health staff, police officers, pharmacists, supermarket workers and those in other vital roles. If this is you, can I, along with my readers, express our admiration and gratitude to you. We who are on the side-lines of this struggle, salute you and resolve to pray and support you through this time.

Now that self-isolation is what we now face, how do we handle it? Let me share three words that I hope will help.

The first word is Resolution. It’s vital to take charge of the situation and not let the situation take charge of us; at the end of this we all want to be a victor, not a victim. In as much as we can, set ourselves targets and goals. Our grandparents were called to war, we are being called to sit on our settee – we can do this!

However justified we may feel it is, don’t slip into becoming a wreck, don’t be negative or pessimistic, don’t moan. There are some people who bring happiness wherever they go and other people bring happiness whenever they go! Have a happy attitude and don’t drain people with negative talk. Resolve to be cheerful.

Keep up with personal hygiene, change your clothes, don’t sleep until midday! Find things to do, books to read.

And do projects, writing, tidying and de-cluttering. (Remember how ‘we didn’t have time’? Now we do!) Resolve to set limits on what we will drink, eat (no more than one chocolate bar a day is the goal I have set myself!) or view (avoid conspiracy websites and unhealthy TV and film series).

Try to get exercise, even if it’s simply walking up and down the stairs or the corridor.

And let’s think and act to help others who are isolated – even a phone call or Facetime, or practically to support and assist.

This is pretty much standard psychological advice but let me add a Christian dimension to this. We need to remember that God rules over all things, including viruses, and this has not caught him unawares. A little word in the first two verses of Psalm 23 has come to mind. There, in the middle of those wonderful lines ‘The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters . . .’ (NIV) is the word ‘makes’. Although we all desire freedom and the ability to do what we want, we are like sheep and our wise Shepherd may, when it suits him, make us lie down. God has his purposes for us in this period: let’s resolve to make the most of them.

The second thing is Relaxation. Now I apologise if you are stuck in a small flat with hyperactive children and relaxation is something you are praying for, but the fact is most of us will be facing a life that has shifted down a gear or two. This may well be a blessing; one of the characteristics of modern life has been its frantic pace. Many of us are familiar with the sort of situation in which you come across a strange person in the hallway and realise that it’s a member of your family. Indeed, you may well have said as you frown at your twentieth email of the day over your morning coffee, ‘the pace of life is killing me’. Why not consider that, in this self-isolation, God is gifting us with a slow-down? In the long run it may well be the reality – and I pray that it is – that these days of self-isolation end up adding months, if not years, to your life. Our great Shepherd has slowed down life and given us time: time to pray, to read the Bible, to have those conversations with your loved ones, to send out those emails that you never got round to. To relax!

The third thing is Reflection. Isolation should give us the opportunity to think about who we are and what we are doing. For a brief moment the endless stream of traffic on the motorway of life is stopped and we’ve got the opportunity to think about where we are going. While it’s not the moment to peer into the rear-view mirror of life and reflect gloomily about our failures and disappointments, it is a good time to look forward and to think about what we value and what our purposes are. In many accounts from ex-soldiers we often hear or read something along the lines of ‘what I saw and experienced in the war changed me; I made a promise that, if I got out of this, I was going to do something with my life’. There’s a compelling little aside in C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters where the demon Screwtape talks of so tempting a man ‘that at the last he may say . . . “I now see that I spent most my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked”’. What a perceptive thought on how most people live life! Why not spend time thinking and praying, not about how unpleasant things are now, but how, once this is all over – and one day it will be – we are going to live our life in a different way.

Resolve, relax and reflect; and may we find our period of isolation to not be a burden but a blessing.

J.John, Reverend Canon    www.canonjjohn.com