If you are returning to Hong Kong after being abroad, you may be facing one, two or three weeks alone in a hotel room. It’s a funny way to say “welcome back”, but pandemics are nothing to joke about, and Hong Kong takes public health very seriously.
Quarantine can be hard on your mental health. Being prepared and having a plan will help you get through your own personal Groundhog Day. Here’s how.
Hong Kong is very fortunate to have a large, active online community dedicated to helping people travelling to and from Hong Kong, including navigating all aspects of quarantine. Join the “HK Quarantine support group” on Facebook in anticipation of your stay. You will find a warm, supportive, and highly knowledgeable community to answer any questions you might have about quarantine.
If you have a choice, try to choose a room that will satisfy your mental health needs. Some people have reported that having a window that opens was key to keeping cabin fever at bay. For others, it was a view of a green space. Having the option of “ordering in” a treadmill or stationary bike was immensely helpful to some. Have the choice between a room that is decorated in dark colours versus light colours? Choose the palette that you find more comforting.
Your room will be home for the next few weeks, so set it up the way you want it. Hotel rooms are not especially efficient in their layout, so feel free to push the bed sideways to make more space for exercising. Prefer to work by a window? Move the desk and chair. Taking ownership isn’t just about layout. If it helps you, have family or friends drop off favourite pillows, blankets, and framed photos to make the space more cheerful.
Cues are powerful signals that affect our mental state. Something as simple as washing up, making the bed and changing out of your pyjamas are important mental cues to help you transition from nighttime to daytime, or from resting state to active state. This also goes for changing into workout clothes when you exercise, and then out again when you are done. It’s the first step towards creating structure in your day – which leads us directly to our next helpful strategy.
It’s easy to slip into a formless void of time in quarantine. Create necessary structure around your days by setting a daily schedule: get dressed, eat breakfast, work out, read a book, have facetime calls with friends and family, etc. It’s okay if you don’t have every moment accounted for, rather, it’s to keep you from feeling unmoored and purposeless. Try to stick to your schedule every day.
One of the most important things you can do while in quarantine is to stay physically active. Exercise reduces levels of adrenaline and cortisol, the body’s stress hormones. Schedule at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily. There are literally hundreds of great exercise videos online lead by experienced coaches and teachers – cue up your favorites, or try something new! A yoga mat, small weights, resistance bands, and skipping ropes are all easily accommodated in a Hong Kong hotel room. Some hotels also offer exercise equipment rentals, so be sure to inquire when booking.
Our minds are usually very active during the day. We are constantly planning, searching, assessing and comparing – and that is just a trip to the grocery store. We make hundreds of decisions every day, without even thinking about it. In quarantine, there is precious little to decide upon, so plan to stay mentally active. Try to spend at least six hours a day on something productive and purposeful to stimulate your mind. You will feel better and sleep better in the end.
If you are facing three weeks in quarantine, some people have found that reframing the time is helpful. Instead of thinking of your stay as three long weeks, think of it as two 10-day periods. This change in mindset can make a small but essential difference in how you perceive your remaining time in quarantine. Put thought into action by creating a custom calendar of 10-day blocks that you can cross off as the days pass. Do seven 3-day blocks work better for you? Go with that instead.
None of us live in isolation. Even the biggest homebodies have friends, families and co-workers they socialise with on a daily basis. Head off the loneliness and disconnection of quarantine by scheduling at least 30 minutes a day for communication with others. This communication should be “in-person”, using any number of the video platforms now available at our fingertips. A good old-fashioned phone call also works. Some hotels have Zoom groups for their quarantine guests at a set time every day. Log in and join the fun.
It’s inevitable: you will watch television while in quarantine. And lucky for us, online streaming services and video platforms offer hundreds of clips, shows, and movies to keep us entertained for hours on end. However, a helpful word of advice from those who have gone through quarantine already: watch what you watch. Avoid shows that may disturb you, frighten you, or make you sad. Now is not the time to binge-watch real crime serial-killer specials. Another widely offered piece of advice? Turn off the 24-hour news channel. It universally annoyed people.
Having a bad day? It’s okay. Quarantine is not easy. If you have made every effort to adapt to life in isolation, but you’ve still hit the wall, now is the time for radical self acceptance: accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback. It’s okay not to be okay during these strange, unprecedented times, when you are cooped up in a hotel room separated from family and friends. In fact, it kind of makes sense.
If you are struggling to stay mentally well even with friends and family in place to support you, do not hesitate to reach out for professional help. Long stretches with just ourselves can leave ample time for bad memories, regretful thoughts, and overthinking to take over. For those returning with the burden of having lost a loved one, quarantine can be especially difficult. Online therapy and counselling are widely available in Hong Kong, so do not hesitate to make use of them.
The BFDC has a Quarantine Mental Health Service specifically for those in quarantine. It includes daily check-ins and weekly sessions. Contact the BFDC for more information.