What is self-isolation?
Self-isolation is staying at home for a recommended amount of time. It means you shouldn’t leave the house to go to public spaces or use public transport, and people shouldn’t come over.
It’s a precautionary method currently being used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Who should self-isolate and for how long?
The current advice is to self-isolate for 10 days if you have symptoms of coronavirus. The three most common symptoms include:
- a new continuous cough
- a high temperature
- a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste and smell (anosmia).
You may also feel tired and have breathing difficulties. If you have any of the symptoms, you should arrange to have a COVID-19 test.
If you’re living with someone who has coronavirus symptoms, you’re advised to self-isolate for 14 days from the time they became ill. If any of the following also apply to you, you’re classed as a vulnerable person, and ideally you should find somewhere else to stay, but if this isn’t an option, you should try to keep away from each other in the house if:
- you’re over 70
- you’re pregnant
- you have an underlying health condition
- you have a weak immune system.
Then, if anyone in the house starts getting symptoms before the end of the 14 days, they should also get a test. If positive, they’ll need to stay at home for 10 days from when the symptoms appeared, and if negative, they should continue to self-isolate for the remainder of the 14 days.
If you had symptoms and they’ve gone after the 10 days, you can stop self-isolating. If you still have symptoms after this time, or they’re severe, use NHS 111 online, or call 111.
If you need to stay at home for an extended amount of time, here are some useful tips, suggestions and things to consider, from stocking up and creating a routine, to staying active and keeping busy.
Remember to ask for help if you need it, but if you’re having someone come over to bring you supplies, or getting online deliveries, you should avoid contact and get them to leave the items on your doorstep.
It’s a good idea to plan your meals ahead so you know whether you have enough food to last you, as well as any family members or pets.
Can I go shopping if I'm self-isolating?
If you're self-isolating, you shouldn't go shopping. See if friends, family or neighbours can bring a food shop to you, or order a grocery delivery or meal box subscription. There’s no need to stockpile certain items, just get what you need and there’ll be enough for everyone else too.
Make sure you’re getting a variety of healthy foods for a well-balanced diet so you can support general immune function. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated.
Make sure you have enough medication for you and anyone you live with. If you’re running low, or you need to collect a prescription, ask a friend, family member or neighbour to pick it up and bring it to your house. Alternatively, order online in plenty of time.
If you’re going to miss any appointments, call the organiser to discuss what this means for you, and find out if there’s anything you can do.
Check you have enough soap, toiletries and cleaning products to get by. If you live with others, the whole household will need to work together to keep surfaces clean in communal areas.
Remember to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, avoid touching your face, and, if you have symptoms, cough into a tissue. If you have dependants, make sure they are doing all of this too – it will help to avoid spreading or picking up the virus.
Keeping fit is vital for staying healthy, but even more so in self-isolation.
There are plenty of ways you can exercise without needing any special equipment, from house walks to at-home yoga.
If you’re not feeling well, or want something simple, here’s an easy workout you can do at home with gentle stretches and movements to keep you flexible and mobile.
For those of you who want something more energetic, try this high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout. Have kids? Here’s a 15-minute workout for them. Or if you’re pregnant, give this prenatal mobility workout a go.
Can I go for a walk if I'm self-isolating?
Going out for a walk is not allowed if you're self-isolating. You can only exercise in your home (including a private garden).
If you’re working from home, check you have everything you need, such as equipment and devices, a good internet connection, and any physical documents or books.
Remote working has its advantages. You can decide when, where and how you work. Plus, you’ll have extra time in the day that you would have spent commuting. But you’ll need to adapt to avoid any potential disadvantages.
Check in with your colleagues regularly to maintain a sense of community and teamwork. Perhaps have daily video calls in the morning, or set up a virtual water cooler. And conversations don’t always have to be about work.
If you don’t already have one, set up a separate work space at a desk or table with minimal distractions to help you focus and protect your posture. Working in bed or on the sofa can be tempting, but this can make it harder for you to create a boundary between work and relaxation.
Make sure you take regular breaks to stretch, move around and rehydrate. And try not to work longer than you should – at the end of your working day, turn off and put away your laptop or work phone to signal it’s time for you to switch off too.
Vulnerable people and dependants
If a friend or family member you live with is vulnerable, make sure they have everything they need and follow the hygiene advice extra vigilantly. Also make sure you keep your distance (at least 2 metres apart), and that they avoid using communal areas for too long.
If you have children, think about how you’ll keep them entertained, especially when you need to work. If they’re school age, make sure their school sends work for them to do, and come up with a routine to find a balance of home-schooling and play. You could schedule in regular activities to break up the day – what about a family workout or crafting session?
Carry on taking care of any pets as usual – there’s no evidence that animals are affected by coronavirus. If you have a dog, you can still walk it as long as you keep a safe distance from others, or you may want to enlist someone to take care of it for you.
It’s important to keep in touch with your friends and family. Text or call regularly to talk about the situation and how you’re coping. Or why not schedule in a video chat so you can still ‘see’ each other?
Do keep yourself up to date on the evolving situation through reliable sources, but don’t watch the news constantly or spend all your time scrolling.
As long as you focus on the positives, social media can be a powerful tool for staying connected and feeling part of a community. Post your self-isolation successes, share good news stories from around the world, and get involved with live streams – many musicians are taking requests.
Self-isolation is the perfect opportunity to do all those things you don’t usually have time for. You can rediscover your hobbies or even find new ones.
Get started on that tower of books that’s been piling up, or finally get around to watching that TV series everyone’s been talking about. You could even arrange to watch a film or episode at the same time as your friends, so you can chat about it as a group.
Think about creative projects you can do. Maybe dabble with some sketching or painting, redecorate or reorganise your house, or write that story or blog you’ve been putting off.
What about learning a new language? Or doing that self-development course you’ve always wanted to do?
Try to get as much light and fresh air as you can. Open your windows every now and then, or sit near a window so you can gaze out.
Get out in the garden if you have one – you could take your work or exercise outside, or do some gardening.
Why not try growing some herbs or vegetables in the garden or on a windowsill, so you can enjoy your own fresh produce, while saving money?
Whether you’re working or not, it’s a good idea to stick to a routine to give your days structure and balance. Aim to wake up and go to bed at the same time, and have three meals at the same time each day – not forgetting to weave in regular breaks for water, exercise and fresh air.
If you live with others, you may need to agree how the household will run with everyone at home all day, particularly if you need to keep your distance. Perhaps come up with a timetable for who can use which rooms and when.
Remember, it’s only temporary
There are plenty of ways to plan and prepare for self-isolation, and so many things you can do to keep preoccupied and maintain your wellbeing while staying at home.
Try not to think about what you can’t do – focus on what you can do, like nurturing your interests and relationships, and focussing on self-care.
It can be tricky to begin with, but once you get into a good routine, it’ll be easy to stick to healthy habits. It’s about adapting, being creative and finding a balance. You may even find you carry on some of your new-found hobbies and habits once this is all over.
Above all, it’s important to stay positive. Try to find some light relief and sources of laughter where you can. And ask for help, or offer support to those who need it – we’re all in this together and we’ll get through this together.
If you need more guidance on looking after your emotional wellbeing during these uncertain times, read this.
Last updated Wednesday 24 February 2021
First published on Monday 23 March 2020