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Self-isolating tips from people who have done it before

Posted on: Tuesday, 31st March 2020 by Hayley and Julie, Media Volunteers

Self-isolation and social distancing were terms many of us couldn’t define a few weeks ago, now they’re our way of life– a ‘new normal’. Staying in and avoiding other people is the best thing we can do to slow down the spread of Covid-19, but for many people getting used to it is really tough. It can be harder to look after your mental health if your usual coping strategies are no longer available to you. 

However, you’re not alone. After having treatment for cervical cancer, lots of patients are asked to self-isolate or practice social distancing, to protect their immune systems if they have been weakened.  We spoke to a couple of our volunteers, to hear their tips on what helped them through this tricky time, to hopefully make this strange, uncertain period a bit easier!

We spoke to Hayley, who had cervical cancer in 2017 when she was 29 and Julie who was diagnosed in 2008 when she was 44.



  • During the period of self-isolation that I needed to have, I was probably too poorly to see people or go out anyway. When I was feeling a bit better and got back into things, what worked for me is making sure that I set myself a bit of a routine. I found it gave me some focus. If I could achieve one task in a day then I had a sense of achievement, be it sorting out a mortgage quote or my car insurance. They were good tasks to get out of the way and I could devote more energy to them than usual.
  • When I got back into work, I found it really helpful to set alarms to make sure that I went and had a break. If you work in an office you’ll naturally stop for a coffee or a chat, but you might need to artificially make your breaks happen if you tend to forget. I would put one at 11am, get up and make a coffee and wander round the house for a bit, then start again feeling much better. 
  • If you are working give yourself a start time and a finish time, then stick to them. This gives you a reason to get up, get showered and dressed and it means you can shut the door, and draw a line under the day when you are finished. 

How to pass the time


  • I found that puzzles took my mind off things better than things like colouring books. You can do it while you watch TV, or you can get really lost in one which is great.
  • Be mindful of what you use your energy for! I used my limited energy to make sure I got out into the fresh air every day which made me feel really good


  • It was a really nice time to sort out my photos – a task I’d never really got round to before, but it really improved my surroundings when I finally did! It was definitely an emotional time, because I felt like a different person in the pictures to who I was afterwards. However, it felt really good to put things into albums and I could put photos together for my family too.
  • I took up calligraphy! This suited me really well because you can see results really quickly and you don’t have to be really creative to be good at it. It was really nice to do, it doesn’t take forever, plus you can send the results to people as lovely cards! 

Talking to other people


  • Lots of people are good at saying ‘let me know what I can do to help you’, but you never end up asking them for help as you feel like you’re imposing. You’re not! People do want to help, but are often not sure how. If you have a WhatsApp group chat, do not be afraid to put something out there. When you have a cancer diagnosis, you often want to feel in control of things and do it all yourself, but people around you do really want to help you through it, so lean on them.
  • Be realistic – it’s easy to get upset because you can’t go and see people, but try to think about whether or not you would actually have seen them if this wasn’t happening. I have many friends I wouldn’t really see for 9 weeks ordinarily, but when someone tells you’re not allowed to see people, you start thinking ‘well I want to!’ 

Mental wellbeing 


  • I had 3 rounds of treatment, once every 3 weeks, so the whole process was about nine weeks. I found it helpful to physically go and look at my calendar and see what the time looked like – it helped me to remember that it’s not that long in the grand scheme of things. 
  • I use an app called Calm to meditate with (it also has stories to help you sleep and sessions on managing anxiety). I started meditating during my treatment and it helps me to feel more in control. It transports you somewhere else which is great when you’re in isolation, but it can also be a great outlet for your feelings. I try to do it in the morning, before I look at my phone. This sets a routine for me and helps me feel ready for the day. 
  • I kept a journal through this time with how I was feeling every day. It was really good to be able to look back on the week and reflect, especially when you’re not doing much. I would write down things I was grateful for, the positive things about the week and what was going on next week. There was always something I could find, and this kept me going during the worst times.


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