'It's OK to feel overwhelmed': our GP mum of 3 on how to cope if you and your family have to self-isolate
How do you keep it all together when one, some or all of your family have to self-isolate? Our expert family GP and mum of 3 has been there – 3 times! – and shares her tips on to getting through
In the space of the past 6 weeks, my family has had to self-isolate 3 times – in various combinations. I have had children self-isolating because a contact in their school bubble tested positive and then my husband contracted coronavirus himself, meaning we all had to isolate. So I know how a self-isolation period has an impact, both physically and psychologically.
Because there you are, at home. Completely at home. If you are isolating, you are not allowed to leave your home for shopping, for exercise, even to to pick up medication. Test and trace can offer support, your local pharmacy may deliver and hopefully friends or family can help with shopping and leave it on your doorstep. But you stay at home. And it's hard.
Of course, the age of your children – and whether you and/or your other half need to isolate, too – will make a difference. (For more on who need to isolate and how long for, see 3 reasons why you have to self-isolate, below.) When it was just my eldest child who had to isolate at home, for example, this was far easier on the household than when my 5-year-old had to isolate. My 13-year-old could be left at home while the rest of us (who didn't need to isolate at that point) went on a walk but we certainly couldn't do that with the 5-year-old!
Firstly there is anxiety, which has been so common to so many of us throughout the pandemic. You are worried that your loved ones might develop symptoms or, if they've already tested positive, there is anxiety about how unwell they may become.
We have all been so exposed to the news of mortality rates and ICU bed occupancy that it is easy to forget that, for the majority of people, coronavirus is a mild illness from which you recover. When my husband was in bed with a fever, I needed to remind myself of that often!
Then there are are practical concerns. For example, how much the affected person can actually isolate from the rest of the household – which again depends on how old they are.
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The official advice is, of course, to try to separate as much as possible. So, a self-isolating adult can stay in their bedroom if there is another adult to look after the children. But if there isn’t, or if it's a younger child who has to isolate, separation may simply be impossible.
What to do? The best you can. But do try to sleep apart from the isolating person/people and minimise contact as much as possible – including eating separately if you can. And, if you are able to stay apart, then the affected person (if they're an adult or an older child) can clean the toilet/shower in the bathroom after using it, so that everyone else is able to use the bathroom as safely as possible.
Finally, there is the issue of what on earth to do for 10 days when you can't leave the house – and how to keep the children entertained and yourself whole, physically and mentally. Yes, we have all already reduced our worlds, our plans but the sudden removal of the ability to go for a walk or to the supermarket makes a real difference.
It is OK to feel overwhelmed, sad, angry... In fact, whatever emotion you feel, it is OK – and the same is true of your children
If it helps you to have a plan for the day, then have a plan but, if it helps you not to have something to stick to, then do that! Remember that the entire day does not have to be filled with wholesome, developmentally appropriate activities. This simply isn’t possible. Instead get the children to help with the chores (all learning there!) and allow them some independence to play alone, or alongside you, which is also important for their development.
Prioritise some physical activity each day. Not only will it give you a mental boost but it will help burn off some of the kids' energy, as well as keeping your body moving. It doesn’t matter if it is PE with Joe or dancing round your sitting room – just keep moving
During our isolation, we did something physical at least twice a day, and the afternoon one often came at the point when everyone was getting niggly and whingey. Getting active can boost the mood of the whole household – it definitely did for us.
Be kind to yourself. We are all under enormous pressures and are living through a time the likes of which have never been seen. No one will judge you for simply hunkering down and counting down the days until isolation ends and you can go for a walk. I certainly did!
The 3 reasons you have to self-isolate – and how long for
- You have a symptom of coronavirus (fever, persistent cough or loss of taste/smell). You must isolate until you receive the test results and, if they are positive, for 10 days from the start of your symptoms. After 10 days, as long as your fever has resolved, you can leave the house again (even if you still have a cough and/or loss of taste and smell).
- You live in a household with someone who's tested positive. All the household members have to isolate at home for 10 days from the start of the affected person's symptoms. If someone else in the household then develops symptoms and tests positive, then, for them, a new 10-day isolation starts from the date of the start of their symptoms. But the rest of the household (as long as they remain symptom-free) can still leave the house on day 10.
- You have been identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. Only the person who has been advised they are a contact has to isolate; the rest of your household does not (unless you develop symptoms of course). The isolation period is 10 days.
About our expert, Dr Philippa Kaye
Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.
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