The growing coronavirus pandemic has caused governments around the world to take unprecedented measures in order to safeguard public health. We are rightly being encouraged to practice ‘social distancing’ in order to slow the spread of the virus. For some this involves working from home rather than going into the office. People displaying symptoms are being asked to ‘self isolate’ which means reducing contact with other people to the absolute minimum.

Over the coming months  none of our lives will remain unchanged as we collectively attempt to slow the spread of the disease. Our worlds will get smaller, and we’ll have less opportunity to connect in person. For LGBTQ+ people who already experience higher rates of mental health problems, this may pose a daunting period of time.

That’s why we’ve composed this guide. It’s vitally important to care for our minds whilst we also care for other people’s bodies through social distancing. If you’ve never worked from home, or are simply an extrovert who thrives on the company of others, this advice can help make the coming months more manageable 

But first some important information:

Should I be self isolating?

Advice on whether to self-isolate is likely to change regularly. It’s important to have the most up to date information. As of March 16th 2020, it is advised by the UK government that anyone with a persistent cough, or a temperature of 37.8C or above self-isolates for 7 days. 

How to work from home

Moving your working life from the office to the home isn't always a bed of roses. Yes, there are benefits: no dress code, creature comforts, and the company of pets and family. However, the lack of structure and outside contact can quickly have a negative impact on your mental health. Here are some important rules that can help keep yourself mentally healthy when working from home.

  • Separation of space - Keeping your work area separate from the parts of the home you relax is key. Don’t open your laptop in bed. Select a part of the house or flat that is your designated work space and use it during work hours. This could be a desk, or that kitchen table, but preferably not the areas you use for recreation or sleep. If lots of space is not a luxury you have, then try creating a work area by moving around furniture a little.
  • Keep regular hours - It’s tempting to wake up late and shift your hours around, but this will lead to working late into the evening and quickly blur the lines between work and recreation time. As much as possible, keep to your regular schedule, and clock off when you usually would. 
  • Have a shower, get dressed - If you don’t get up, shower, and get dressed, then every day begins to feel like Sunday. No, you’re not going out, but dressing and morning showers are also important for our self-esteem, and can help us maintain a sense of regularity. Avoid the temptation to work in the same set of pyjamas for days on end.
  • Plan your social contact - It’s easy to feel lonely during the day when there’s no one to talk to. This is why scheduling conversations, be they for work, or with friends on your lunch break, are vitally important. Be sure that you’re talking to someone every day, whether it’s a friend or family member. There are tonnes of options for maintaining contact: WhatsApp, Facetime, or even a good old fashioned phone call. Texting is great when you’re busy, but nothing can replace the sound of another human voice.
  • Light and air -  It’s a sad fact that residential buildings in the UK often aren’t built with the same concern for light and space as commercial buildings. Our homes can be cramped and dingy, which is bad news for your brain. If you can, try positioning your work space near a window, or somewhere with a view. Getting decent amounts of natural light during the day is important to maintain your circadian rythym and sleep patterns as well. 
  • Limit your news intake - The 24-hour news cycle can become all-consuming if you’re starved of time outside the house, especially in times like the current crisis. Constantly checking news sites, Facebook and Twitter can be emotionally draining. Your world is smaller than before, and you might find that news stories, especially those that are potentially scary, are affecting you more than before. Rather than constantly checking your feed for updates, try scheduling a couple of times the day where you read some news, and then close the window. It’s still vitally important to remain well-informed during the coronavirus outbreak, but minute-to-minute screen checking will just make you more anxious.

Feeling lonely, need to talk? Come to the OutLife forums, a place for all LGBTQ+ people to express themselves, and be heard.

How to do social distancing

If you’re still leaving the house to go to work, but you’re no longer getting social contact outside of those hours, it’s still important to take care of yourself.

  • Help is still there if you’re in crisis  - Mental health crises aren’t suddenly going to disappear over the coming months. If you’re struggling to cope, but your social resources are limited, then you can call helplines, or use the webchat of various LGBTQ+ charities: see our 'get help' page for the numbers and contact forms of various UK charities.
  • Don't just cancel appointments - For many of us, seeing a therapist or checking in the GP are vital parts of our weekly or monthly routine. During the outbreak, don’t just cancel your appointments, see if they can be undertaken digitally via Skype or another video calling app. To be clear, do not cancel medically necessary appointments without consulting the relevant medical professional.
  • Check in with friends - Your regular plans have been cancelled, but that doesn’t mean cutting yourself off from friends. Keep talking with them by whatever means you can.
  • Get outside (within reason) - This very much depends on your personal circumstances and advice from the government. If it’s reasonable to do so, and you’re not putting anyone else at risk of infection, then be sure to get outside and get a breath of fresh air. Private spaces like gardens are most suited for this. If you’re self-isolating, then the current advice is to stay indoors.
  • Vary your escapism - Netflix binges can become monotonous very quickly. If you’re not going out, try to vary the activities you’re undertaking indoors. Read books, take an e-learning course, try some indoor exercise - whatever you’re going to find stimulating or soothing.
  • Watch out for one another - Specific parts of our community, such as older LGBTQ+ people are at risk, not just from the virus, but from becoming lonely and cut off from the support they need. Opening Doors runs a telefriending scheme for older LGBTQ+ people - it could be a great way to keep yourself occupied, and bring joy and company to you and another member of the community.

What Next?

Support

If you think you're experiencing coronavirus symptoms and want advice, call NHS 111.

LGBT Switchboard is operated by trained volunteers who will listen to what you have to say. Just like you, they are also LGBT. You can contact them on 0300 330 0630 from 10am – 10pm.

Samaritans operates a free helpline that is open 24/7. You don’t have to be suicidal to call about whatever is getting to you.

Check out our OutLife Forums for a safe and non-judgmental space where LGBTQ+ people can talk to one another about their issues and life experience.

Opening Doors is a charity for older LGBTQ+ people. It runs befriending schemes and aims to prevent older queer people from becoming isolated and lonely.