10 Ways to Stay Human During Covid-19 Quarantine
Experts weigh in on how to stay healthy, safe, smart, and human during the Covid-19 pandemic while social distancing.
Ways to stay human during coronavirus quarantine
There is an undeniable amount of uncertainty and fear during the coronavirus pandemic. Non-essential businesses have closed, stay-at-home mandates are now commonplace, and people are advised to practice physical (not really social) distancing (staying six feet apart from others). These precautions are all to prevent and reduce the spread of Covid-19.
With all these new social "norms," you have probably found yourself avoiding eye contact and inadvertently failing to say "hi" to your neighbors. On the occasions that you do go out, whether to the grocery or pharmacy, you're likely seeing more discarded gloves and masks lingering on the ground. Social norms seem to be falling by the wayside.
At this point, you may even be neglecting personal hygiene. "Shower? What's the point—I'm not seeing anyone." Maybe you're less regular about brushing your teeth in the morning. If you're working from home, moving from your desk to the dinner table to the couch, you might feel as if scrubbing yourself is less urgent.
Those routines may be more important that you realize during the age of coronavirus. To help you navigate what's right, safe, smart, and healthy during the Covid-19 pandemic, we spoke with experts who offer their tips to staying human.
Do say "hi" and acknowledge others
Self-isolating has become the new norm during the pandemic. You may notice that some individuals aren't even acknowledging each other at the grocery store or on a trail. But why? You can't catch coronavirus from saying hi to someone 10 feet away from you. "We as humans are social beings and therefore, we need connections," explains Ronnie S. Stangler, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The University of Washington in Seattle. "Loneliness was increasingly recognized even before Covid-19 was a lethal human condition. Covid is only exacerbating something that previously existed with known terrible medical consequences. Now we are even potentially more alone." Translation: Don't be afraid of making eye contact and human connection even amidst this pandemic. It can be beneficial for you and the other person.
Shower (even if you don't wash your hair)
It's true: You're not going to be seeing colleagues or other people daily. So yes, you can probably go a day without showering. But don't become a smelly, dirty isolationist by stopping regular showers all together. "It's still important to regularly wash your face and care for your skin," explains Hadley King, MD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell in New York City.
"Regular washing is necessary to remove dirt, oil and dead skin cells that can otherwise contribute to clogged pores and breakouts. And regular washing also removes fine particles from air pollution and other toxins that can contribute to aging of the skin by way of oxidative damage from the free radicals they contain."
So even though we're spending most of our time indoors alone, try to keep things clean by showering regularly—even if you choose not to wash your hair every time. Dr. King recommends continuing your usual routine as much as possible, showering at least every other day.
Brush your teeth
Get out of bed, make your coffee or tea, then it's over to your desk or the couch for the morning news and to start working. Before you even realize, it's suddenly the afternoon, or worse, the end of the day, and you haven't brushed your teeth yet.
Because you're not leaving the house and your routine is different, you may be forgetting this fundamental oral hygiene habit. "It is especially important to maintain great hygiene habits, such as brushing and flossing your teeth, and using a mouthwash with antiseptic qualities in the current times," explains Inna Chern, DDS, practicing cosmetic and general dentist at New York General Dentistry in New York City. "Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, focusing on your overall health is paramount. Since oral health is tied to systemic health, maintaining better than usual hygiene habits will increase your systemic health, reduce inflammation and improve immune function."
Be sure to brush twice daily, for two minutes, with a soft bristle or electric toothbrush, reminds Dr. Chern. This will prevent any possible problems down the line, too, like cavities or periodontal issues.
Stay social while physically distancing
Medical experts and government officials want everyone to stay away from others during the Covid-19. But, they made the mistake of coining it "social distancing," instead of physical distancing. "The development of the term 'social distancing' represents a major error, a true misnomer, subsequently acknowledged, but sadly it has taken hold and cannot be easily eliminated," explains Dr. Stangler.
We need to physically distance ourselves from others in order to stop the curve of coronavirus, but we should still be social. "'Physical distancing' is always what was clinically indicated to stem contagion," explains Dr. Stangler. "In fact, a few weeks ago, the World Health Organization officially stopped using the term 'social distancing,' in recognition of the fact that strengthening social connections is critical to maintaining our health and promoting resiliency."
Get fresh air if you're healthy
Are you bored, going stir crazy, or just feeling down? If you don't have any coronavirus symptoms and are feeling healthy, try to get some fresh air safely (wear a face covering if your state has recommended it). "Getting outside in the great outdoors is a good thing," says Tania Elliott, MD, clinical instructor at NYU School of Medicine in New York City. "Walk around your neighborhood, in a park if they're open, near the water—just stay away from crowds."
If you're using gloves and/or a mask to help stay safe during this pandemic, whether as a part of your job or as a personal choice, it's important that you dispose of them correctly. Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is being discarded on streets and in parking lots. The litter isn't only bad for the environment, it also means another individual will be forced to clean it up. And if the PPE has been infected, this could put another individual at risk. If you're done with your PPE, do the right and healthy thing by throwing it out in the trash. Also, learn the truth about wearing gloves during Covid-19.
Create a routine
Working from home might have been novel and exciting at first. But now that it has become the norm, you might not have a usual daily routine. It's good to switch things up, but you may want to consider a new routine to help ground yourself and navigate this situation. "We often think about structure and routine as necessary for children—crucial for their developing capacity to self-regulate—and without routine and structure, the world is confusing and overwhelming and children cannot learn how to effectively navigate," says Dr. Stangler.
However, in this situation, individuals may start to see themselves as children, according to Dr. Stangler, because you may not know what to expect next. "We face a universal unseen enemy, lurking everywhere, respecting no personal or geographic boundaries. Its effects are unpredictable. We need to structure ourselves, requiring routines in order to regain any semblance of agency, sense of control." Learn how routines can set you up for success.
Clean your home
You might be washing and putting antibacterial on your hands constantly (don't forget to moisturize), which is good. But what about cleaning your home? "The coronavirus can live on surfaces for hours or days depending on the material," says Dr. Elliott. "Try to regularly disinfect doorknobs, vacuum handles, countertops, sinks, clothing and outerwear, railings, and bedding. Wipe things down daily, and every time you are going in and out of the house."
Exercise and stay active
Don't let staying home be an excuse to stop moving. Yes, your local studio or gym might be closed, but that doesn't mean that you can't fit in fitness. "Exercise can boost mood, metabolism, and energy levels," says Dr. Elliott. "Being sedentary and sleeping all day can increase your risk of depression, irritability, fights with significant others, and weight gain to name a few things." Instead, go for walks or runs outdoors alone, or indoors, find online workouts.
Be kind and patient
It's normal if things feel different and scary right now. It's a very uncertain time, and that can be alarming. "There is certainly confusion and fear surrounding this 'novel' virus, and its impact is novel," explains Dr. Stangler. "It has catapulted us into a world of unknowns, where nothing can be taken for granted." Try to be as kind and patient with yourself and others as we navigate this pandemic together.
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- Ronnie S. Stangler, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The University of Washington in Seattle
- Hadley King, MD, board-certified dermatologist, clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Cornell, dermatologist in New York City
- Inna Chern, DDS, practicing cosmetic and general dentist at New York General Dentistry in New York City
- Tania Elliott, MD, clinical instructor at NYU School of Medicine in New York City