Chris Shirley has lived through an astonishing few years and dealt with different forms of isolation, and now the former Royal Marine is offering his advice during the Coronavirus pandemic.
After 12 years in the military - six years with the British Army and then a further six years with the Royal Marines - Chris took part in a challenge to row across the Atlantic as part of team Atlantic Allies. It took the five-man team, whose aim was to raise support for disaster response charity Team Rubicon, two and a half months to complete the challenge. For Chris, this was the first time he began to understand what it is like to be without distractions.
Following that adventure, Chris decided to take on another expedition in 2019 to climb the Matterhorn Mountain in Italy. Unfortunately, he was not able to complete the climb after he fell and was taken to hospital with a broken leg, fractured skull and a multitude of other injuries.
Chris spent eight days in a coma, and then a further two and a half months recovering in hospital. While in hospital he was unable to go anywhere and discovered what was best, for him, when it came to being on his own for long periods of time.
"The six months since I fell off the mountain has been my own period of isolation."
His experiences mean he's had a lot of time to work out what helps when it comes to spending time alone or unable to go anywhere. With the current COVID-19 pandemic many are facing time alone, or with their families, indoors.
Here, he offers some advice based on his experience on how to cope with isolation.
- Routine: This is Chris' most important piece of advice. When he was in hospital, after breakfast, he'd get his laptop and start writing or designing something. He said:
"It felt a much better strategy than sitting there watching Netflix all day."
- Surround yourself with positive people. While spending a long time in hospital, Chris relied on his visitors and messages from well-wishers to keep his spirits up. He learned from American chat show host and actor Oprah, that people can be classed as "radiators and drains", some radiate life and others drain it.
- Celebrate the small wins. As he recovered from the accident it was a triumph for Chris to walk to the toilet on his own. The achievements gave a purpose to his day, something that he is keen to pass on to people during the Coronavirus pandemic.
- Have a plan for the low days. During this uncertain time, not every day is going to be plain sailing. Chris says accepting that and having a plan for those days will help with your mental health. He said:
"My plan was to not eat all the chocolate in one go."
- Find other ways to check in with someone. Don't just ask people how they are, send a funny message or talk about a TV show. Chris discovered that when people asked how he was all the time it made him evaluate his feelings even on the days when he didn't want to talk about them.
- Be careful with your intake of social media. Chris suggests not being on social media 24/7 to help manage the information overload and, in turn, help keep your mental health positive.
- Physical fitness. From his time in the military, Chris learned it was important to find ways to exercise in a small space, especially on board ship. He says having that time set aside to exercise breaks up the day and will help with both your mental and physical health.
- Journal. Having started journaling during his time onboard a Royal Navy warship in the Arab Spring in 2011, the hobby has stayed with him. His advice is to spend time each day writing about the day itself and your feelings, to help clear your mind. He said:
"It's cathartic, and gives you a chance to see your progression."