How to tell someone you're isolating with that you need some time to yourself

Staying in the house is one of the most important things we can do to ensure our safety and that of others in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

But when you’re isolating in the house with family, flatmates, or partners, it can feel a bit like you’re all on top of each other – particularly if you’re working from home at the same time.

Whereas before when you needed a bit of ‘you time’ you could head out for a coffee or zone out on your commute, you’re now taking your state-sanctioned daily walks together and doing everything from cooking to online exercises as a household.

It’s a great time to get together with those you live with, but if you do feel you need a break, there are ways to tactfully introduce this so as not to offend.

We spoke to Ruth Cooper-Dickson, Positive Psychology Practitioner commissioned by Audley Villages as part of their research on how to stay sane during self isolation. Here are her top tips.

Use your ‘daily exercise allowance’ to head out separately

If you explain that you prefer to exercise alone – and do so in a caring and clear way – it should sidestep them thinking it’s simply because you don’t want to be around them.

Ruth advises ‘communicating to your partner you need some time to run/walk/cycle allows you the physical and cognitive space you need for time alone.’

She tells ‘Take full advantage of this time by talking to each other and finding out if there are certain times in the week when it would be better for you to leave the home separately e.g. if they have a long video call or need creative thinking space.’

This way you’re making allowances for them as well as you.

Establish work routines and boundaries

You don’t know your partner as a work colleague (at least in most cases), so you have to adjust how you act towards each other throughout the working day to avoid distractions and annoyances.

‘Unless you have the luxury of two office spaces, many couples will be hot-desking in the office or dining room table, possibly even alongside home-schooling!’ says Ruth.

‘Come up with a plan as to what was your ‘normal’ weekly work routine and how it can be adapted for isolation in the home.

‘For example, if you usually went out for a coffee mid-morning, designate the bedroom or garden as a no-go zone where you are explicitly allowed an hour of interrupted me time.’

Practice active listening

‘The majority of us, unless we work in professions where listening is part of our job e.g. a therapist, are not great at active listening,’ says Ruth.

‘Sit down to have a proper conversation with your partner, no distractions or phones around.

‘Be accepting of their points as well as your own. It will require you to be more non-judgemental in your approach, especially if you feel they are not coping as well as you might have expected in the current crisis.’

While your need for alone time is necessary and understandable, are you finding yourself being less considerate of them and therefore more snippy and not communicating with them effectively? Diffusing this could help ease tensions and make things run more smoothly.

Ruth says: ‘Everyone’s current baseline for anxiety will have increased, some more than others so remember we don’t always react in a rational way during times of crisis.

‘Creating space for honest conversations will allow you to better communicate when you feel your need for alone time is not being met.’

Be sure to give them space too

Time to recuperate is what you want, but make sure you’re not ignoring your family, partner, or housemate’s needs in this respect.

‘Now more than ever is the time for building empathy,’ says Ruth.

‘Accepting how they feel is part of a relationship, even if there is nothing you may be able to do to fix the problem.

‘Often we do not see our partner’s ‘work self’ regularly, which could be a whole new side to them – you might not care that Bob in accounts has messed up again and they are really stressed but give space for them to air annoyances.

‘This allows you an opportunity to communicate you need some time out to focus on your work issues/problems.’

A couple (or family) who hates Bob from accounts together sticks together.

Create an imaginary work from home colleague

Being in each other’s pockets means you’re going to be doing things that will annoy each other at some point, and Ruth says this is bound to be ‘tough’.

Instead of finding yourself picking each other up on every time they leave their slippers in the doorway or make a terrible playlist choice, she advises coming up with ‘an imaginary work colleague who you can use as the scapegoat.’

She continues: ‘Therefore when the little things happen which get under your skin, such as your partner leaving unwashed coffee cups in the sink, you can blame this imaginary character, rather than feel like you are nagging at each other directly.

‘In the scheme of things these small annoyances are slight but will continue to build if you don’t let them out.’

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