A Brit living in Spain explains how to ease loneliness when you're self-isolating

Ella Dove
Photo credit: Malte Mueller - Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

Like other countries around the world, Spain has been put on lockdown. From the evening of Saturday 14 March, the government put into place this drastic measure in an attempt to delay the spread of coronavirus, Covid-19.

Residents are currently being forced to stay in their homes, only leaving for wholly essential reasons such as to buy food, medicine, help the vulnerable, elderly or disabled or to go to work – although working from home has been strongly advised where possible.

We spoke to Sarah Jones, a Brit who is living in Seville, to find out what self-isolation really feels like – and how she is keeping herself sane.

Photo credit: Sarah Jones

Sarah says…

It’s day three of lockdown. It’s a difficult transition, with a lot to get used to, freedom snatched away in a manner we have never experienced before.

On Saturday night, just as lockdown came into action, one of my friends went out for a jog. She was stopped by a police car.

"Go inside," officers warned her. "Otherwise we will fine you."

That night, at 10pm, I heard a noise outside. I went out onto my balcony to investigate – it was the sound of clapping. All around me, people had gathered on balconies and terraces, their applause ringing out across the empty streets of Seville.

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They were clapping for the health workers – for the nurses, doctors and medical staff who are devoting themselves completely to looking after those who have been struck down by coronavirus, often at their own personal risk.

It happened again the following night – I think 10pm is around the time the nurses change shift. To see this visceral, poignant display of support and camaraderie brings a slither of joy to a frantic, fearful situation.

Living alone

I live in a studio flat in Seville. I’m here on my own, and now I’m quarantined. It could be terrifying. It’s certainly strange. And yet, in the midst of so much doubt and uncertainty, I am finding light.

The applause is just the start of it. The feeling of union is all around. I am foreign here, but in the past couple of days, I have felt so looked after, part of a community who truly care. I belong – we all do.

On Sunday night, I met my neighbour. He knocked on my door to give me his WiFi password, because I don’t have my own WiFi in the flat, it being very expensive for someone who lives alone. We didn't stand close, and we were both wearing masks. We all know here that we need to be so careful.

My neighbour and I had never met before, but we found ourselves chatting in broken English and Spanish. We decided quarantine could be a good opportunity for us to practice both languages.

Our building is designed around a contained patio block, and one side of it gets full sunshine. My neighbour suggested we could go up to the terrace and sit in the sunshine together to pass the time.

"We’re Spanish!" People keep saying. "We’re used to being out in the streets, talking to people!"

Whilst I’m quite good with my own company, lockdown is very hard on this sociable community. Any opportunity for human contact is relished – and maintaining it will be crucial.

As an athletic person, I was a bit worried about not being able to get out and exercise. However, yesterday, day two of lockdown, I went outside onto the patio of our complex to get some fresh air, and I met some more neighbours.

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We were chatting through their window, and they told me that there is a larger part of the complex’s patio that would be really good to do workouts on. The people who live there have agreed we can draw up a schedule among ourselves, so that we can exercise outside.

The complex are also talking about giving out their phone numbers, displaying them so that anyone elderly or vulnerable can seek help when it comes to food shopping and supplies. The kindness is keeping us all going.

A couple of weeks ago, I met an elderly man called Ishmael who lives nearby. We agreed we could meet up and practice Spanish, but I know I can’t see him now, for fear of passing anything on to him.

However, we arranged a phone call – and we both relished the human contact. Ishmael told me that Semana Santa, the holy week, has been cancelled in Spain. For 25 years, he has been part of the procession through the streets of Seville. This year, those streets will remain empty.

Finding routine

I can’t deny that this is a horrible time. But where there are people, there is positivity. I know how your mind can run away when you feed it one negative thought, and so I have made a vow to myself to take one day and one thing at a time.

Every morning, I am starting my day with a yoga video, part of YouTuber Yoga With Adrienne’s 30 day challenge. It feels reassuring to have routine and to stretch out my body, and the video makes me feel like I have a friend there doing it with me.

After that, I’ll keep my routine much the same as if I were going to work – I’ll have breakfast, shower, get dressed and put on a bit of make-up. I think this is so important when it comes to holding on to normality.

My coping strategy is to be super mindful. I don’t want to allow my thoughts to spiral. I know if I do, I will ruminate and my mental health will suffer. I’m trying not to scroll endlessly through the news, or even Instagram.

Instead, I’ve been putting on a podcast and just sitting, fully listening to it and soaking it up. Another day, I want to try immersing myself in some new music, simply listening to an artist’s album, taking everything in.

So often, we listen to podcasts or music on the move or while we’re doing something else. But by consciously doing one thing at a time and enjoying the thing I'm doing, whether reading a book or cooking dinner, I’m trying to be in the moment more than ever before.

I’ve made a list of things I want to do - including workout videos, practising Spanish, reading more and listening to poetry and audiobooks.

After each activity, I am taking time to write down what I’ve done and learnt. This gives me a sense of purpose, almost like I’m studying. It also means I’m less likely to multitask – I need to concentrate because I know I’ll be testing myself afterwards.

Enjoying your space

Another key part of managing lockdown is the environment in which you live. My studio flat is small, but it’s thankfully not claustrophobic, and I’m lucky I enjoy spending time in it.

I’m making sure I have fresh air every day, and I’m transitioning from day to night by changing up the lighting, drawing the curtain around my bed to make it feel like a separate room, and lighting candles. I’m also keeping up with the cleaning – anything I can do to make it a more pleasant, homely and enjoyable environment.

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We don’t know how long lockdown will go on for. Initially, we were told 15 days. Now, the government is warning it could be longer.

The main thing I’m sad about is that friends from the UK are no longer able to come and visit me – however, we are having regular ‘Skype dates’ instead, eating dinner with each other over video chat or even watching a film.

I’m aware that it’s early days. The situation will likely get worse before it gets better. But I encourage anyone out there in a similar position to me to try their hardest to focus on the positives.

Time is precious. We never feel we have enough of it. Now, there is more. And we can use it. We can learn what we’ve always wanted to learn, read things we’ve been meaning to read, or even take up a new fitness challenge.

There’s no doubt about it: The coronavirus pandemic is horrendous. This period of our lives is tough. There is fear, there is suffering, there is loneliness and worry. But there is also sunshine, and people, and the joy of communities coming together in crisis.

I for one am determined to harness hope. And if we all make a conscious effort to do the same, we will gain so much. We can do this. Together.

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