How to Survive a Self-Quarantine

Spending two weeks at home will surely teach you how to survive a self-quarantine. In the end, it wasn’t so bad, really. In the end, I was surprised at how quickly those two weeks went by.

Now, the coronavirus is spreading around the world. Here in Shanghai, things are slowly but surely getting better. New cases have dwindled to a relative trickle. Restaurants, parks, and bars are starting to reopen. People are actually leaving their homes and going out into the streets. It’s probably going to be the best spring in years.

Nothing lasts forever. Not even novel coronavirus pandemics.

a skateboarder isn't quarantined in Shanghai during the coronavirus outbreak
Unfortunately, you can not do a kick-flip when you’re under self-quarantine.

Anyway, here are some tips on how to survive a self-quarantine you can use should the need arise. It should go without saying that this isn’t medical advice. I have only one piece of medical advice: you should probably be wary of any medical advice on some random blog.

Clean the house

We’re generally not messy people, but when you’re at home for what feels like forever, it’s easy to let laziness take hold. There were admittedly days when we threw our clothes on the floor. We piled dishes in the kitchen. The more we let messes and clutter pile up in our apartment, the more the apartment seemed to get smaller and smaller. Suddenly things start to feel downright claustrophobic.

Piles of crap on the floor are basically just extra walls. Take an hour to clean and your space will feel bigger. It’s seriously just so much more peasant to be stuck somewhere that doesn’t feel like a hoarder’s dungeon.

Clean yourself

This ties in with the point above. When you’re stuck at home all the time, it’s incredibly easy to forget to shower for days on end. I mean, if you aren’t going out, who do you have to impress? Why not just wallow in your own filth and body odor for two weeks? There were even days when 3:00 in the afternoon would roll around and we’d suddenly realize we forgot to brush our teeth.

Maybe you think I’m a total dirtbag now. “Why on earth would you ever forget to shower or brush your teeth?” you may be thinking. Trust me, when you’re stuck at home for days on end, shit gets weird. Hygiene gets forgotten.

Don’t forget it. A shower and a brush can do wonders for a bad mood. If you’re wondering how to survive a self-quarantine, just remember to stay clean. It kind of rhymes, right?

quarantine sign
Thankfully, things haven’t gotten to this point yet.

Stay busy

Look at your two weeks of isolation as an opportunity. You literally can’t keep up with any social obligations. You’ve got tons of time to yourself. You’ve got an internet full of instructional videos about various things. Study a language. Read a book. Learn to play an instrument. Embroider. Carve small wooden animals out of your furniture. There’s a ton you can do.

I was lucky enough to be able to work from home. Well, “lucky” is a strong word. It was nice to have income, obviously. But it was also nice to be able to stay busy for most of the two weeks. It kept me from sleeping in till noon or getting day drunk.

On the other hand, there’s a downside to working at home. When you work from home, you can never go home from work. Your bosses can give you tasks, and you can’t lie and say “I’m too busy” because they know you’re stuck at home in self-quarantine.

I tried to have a specific work area, at least. There’s a small desk in our laundry room, which is not very ergonomic, but at least it can function as a kind of home office. I also tried my best to be strict about my working hours… which is hard when you’re still getting work messages at 11:00 at night.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I know people who effectively lost their jobs because of the coronavirus. There are others who had their salaries cut by quite a bit. I’m very lucky to still have a job and still be getting paid my full salary. I’m just ready for a vacation now…


There are limited things you can do, physically, when you’re stuck inside. However, it’s important not to just spend two weeks glued to the couch. Getting regular exercise is a key part of how to survive a self-quarantine.

vintage women lifting weights
These ladies know exercise is important during a self-quarantine.

We tried to do at least a half an hour of yoga every day. I sporadically did some other aerobic things like jumping jacks. And yes, I even jogged back and forth along the length of our apartment. Chinese apartments tend to be longer than they are wide, which was a real benefit in this situation. (Sorry, down-stairs neighbors!)

Did this exercise help us much physically? I doubt it. But, they say that half an hour of exercise is equivalent to a low dose of antidepressants, so there you go. Not being able to leave the house for two weeks, you need all the antidepressants you can get.

Freak out if you need to

There are going to be days when you feel like the world is literally ending. There are going to be days when you hate life. There are going to be days when you feel like the walls of your apartment are going to close in and smother you.

That’s okay. Let yourself cry if you need to. Or shout into a pillow or do whatever you have to do when you feel crazy. It’s a crazy time we’re living in. It’s okay if it gets to you some days. Let it out. Rely on the person or people (or animals) you live with, and try to remember their going through the same bullshit you are.

And it’s also okay if you spend a day binge-watching whatever’s on Netflix. Don’t spend the entire time doing that, because you’ll feel worse, but let yourself be lazy every once and a while. Some days all you need is a distraction, and that’s cool.

But just keep in mind, it’ll be over. Before you know it, your quarantine period will be done and you’ll be like “yep, that’s a thing that I did.”  A few years from now we’ll all be reading about quarantines and coronaviruses as part of some Buzzfeed listicle, “Things Only People Who Grew Up in the 2020s Will Understand.”

You only do two days…

So, there you go, those are my tips on how to survive a self-quarantine. As they said in The Wire: “You only do two days, the day you go in, and the day you come out.”

Now, full disclosure… I’m an English Teacher in Shanghai. I don’t make a lot of money, but I make more than like 70% of the population here. I share my one-bedroom apartment with one person, not a whole family. We had enough room to give each other space if we need it.

I was able to work from home. I know a lot of people don’t have that option. Self-quarantine was mandatory here, but in a lot of other countries, it’s going to be a luxury that many people can’t afford. Especially in the U.S. where rules about sick time can be down-right draconian.

Also, let’s talk about healthcare. China doesn’t have universal healthcare but, it’s much cheaper than in the U.S. On top of that, the government made it so any testing and treatment of the novel coronavirus were completely free. There’s an interesting interview with a WHO official about China’s response here:

In the U.S., there are going to be millions of people who can’t afford to go to the doctor and who can’t afford to take time off if they get sick… which is not a good recipe for containing a virus outbreak.

So… good luck out there. Try to remember, humanity’s survived much worse. Here’re some reasons to be reassured:

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