Here's What Social Distancing Looks Like In London

by Rhea Cartwright
Delmaine Donson/E+/Getty Images
A woman sitting by her laptop while she is social distancing

A few short months ago, the oxymoronic term social distancing wasn’t in my vocabulary. I’ve undoubtedly experienced ups and downs adjusting to self-isolation, and yet it’s intrinsically become the new norm globally for billions of us. Whereas the U.K. has officially been on lockdown for just over a week, I’m solidly in my third week of self-imposed quarantine. Despite the myriad of moods, by adopting essential working from home tips, I feel the most grounded, creative and present I’ve ever felt.

Keeping it raw and unfiltered, there have been some pretty bad days. Debilitatingly bad — like a duvet day on steroids — when leaving the solace of my bed was simply not an option as extreme tiredness swept over me. London-based practitioner Dr. Sophie Mort, MD, confirms that fatigue is normal when experiencing intense stress. “We are all going through a period of sudden change and significant uncertainty," she tells me. "Most of us are not only in survival mode, but we’re also grieving. Grieving for the changes we see each day, the loss and changes in the world, and the loss and changes in our lives. Fatigue is a common side effect of this.”

Rhea Cartwright

But feeling isolated while self-isolating and the random pangs of loneliness surprised me more than the fatigue. Dr. Leah Katz, Ph.D., an Oregon-based therapist, tells me that when we're anxious, we’re unable to access the part of our brain where we think things through and process other emotions. "As the anxiety settles, we start to notice more complex feelings such as sadness and loneliness," she notes. And I can confirm. A nation of tea fanatics, English people jokingly believe a cup of tea solves everything. However, uncertainty around the distance from my loved ones and not knowing when I’d see them next, coupled with the speed at which my human right of movement had been taken away from me, was unsettling.

Even though I often prefer my own company, already work from home, and am partial to cancelling plans last minute, humans are social creatures and I miss impromptu coffee catch ups, red-wine fueled dinners and loud family functions. Although we are perfecting our Zoom conference call makeup looks, Mort notes that seeing friends and family over video or on a call does not offer the same kind of contact as being able to be in close proximity with others — and we feel it. To quote the prestigious body of work that is *ahem*, High School Musical, we're all in this together. Whether speaking to friends in various pockets of the globe or seeing celebrities on social media, this universal threat has unified us. Dialogues and discussions de-stigmatizing our feelings and mental health are opening up. If you've confided in telling someone that you've had a down day, chances are that millions of others have, too.

But let’s not forget all the silver linings. I’ve baked the best banana bread than I thought humanly capable, have forgotten what it feels like to wear a real bra, and my highly organized bedroom would have Marie Kondo fearful that I’m coming for her job. I’ve never been so grateful for my small-but-functional terrace in North West London, that on the warmest days became my outdoor office as I topped up on immune-boosting vitamin D straight from the source. (A telltale sign of spotting a Brit? We’ll probably be talking about the weather... and Mother Nature is providing plenty of glorious spring days that most can only enjoy from the comfort of their sofas.)

Creating and sticking to schedules has never been my forte, but even a vague plan has kept my mind at ease. “Honoring a routine is so important, as it’s so easy to lose track of the days and time,” Katz confirms. Rather than a strict and regimental agenda, I list an achievable set of daily tasks and do them in whichever order my mind sees fit. On some days, I’ve started by tackling the most challenging work assignment. On others, I’ve eased myself in with a long walk across leafy Hampstead Heath while listening to a podcast. The most transformative shift has been my approach to the mundane, habitual tasks and focussing on “rituals not routines,” a term coined by British skincare brand Wild Source Apothecary. For founder Kate Roath, it means elevating your everyday by taking a mindful approach and using this abundance of time to be more intentional with our actions. "Draw some deep breaths and focus your mind on personal rejuvenation, whether you’re cooking, cleaning or face-masking,” she suggests.

Multi-masking aside, my skincare hasn't strayed too much as I'm meticulous about sticking to my routine and maintaining a glow by any means necessary. I'm taking advantage of being indoors by upping my retinol usage to budge some stubborn hyperpigmentation, resting assured that nobody will witness the imminent flaking. Playing with my makeup stash has been the true highlight. I don't think I'll be joining Katie-Jane Hughes anytime soon... but rummaging through my drawers, experimenting, and just having fun with liners and lipsticks has been an unexpected creative outlet, allowing me to experiment with more outgoing looks. If I don't like it, I can wipe it straight off!

Working out and daily movement has been essential. Thinking I’d have no motivation for at-home exercise, always favoring the gym, Instagram fitness classes is where I’ve found an unprecedented sense of community. Ciara Madden, my sweat-inducing trainer of choice, teaches 3,000 of us in her daily live classes with unequivocally the best playlist, almost tricking me into thinking I’m at a club until I find myself struggling to walk hours later. Regardless of my abnormally late bedtime, my day always ends drifting off to a guided sleep meditation via an app or even YouTube and has dramatically improved the quality of my sleep with minimal effort.

With potentially months of uncertainty to come, paying attention to how we’re feeling and practicing our own authentic form of self-care is all we can truly rely on. Solitude is forcing self-awareness so I’m asking myself “what is this situation trying to teach me?” rather than getting lost in the doom and gloom. “Take control where you can and step into your power,” is Katz’s advice and whilst the world may be on pause, keeping one foot in front of the other sounds like a solid plan right now.

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support.