Social Distancing, Isolation and How to Survive Our New Normal

by Whitney HadleySurvivor and AYA Oncology Support SpecialistMarch 26, 2020View more posts from Whitney Hadley

With the arrival of COVID-19, we’ve all relearned the important basics we were taught when we first started going to school. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Cough and sneeze into your elbow. Stay home if you have a fever. As cancer patients and survivors, this was all hammered into our minds while in treatment, and, for some of us, this is an all too clear reminder of those days. While we as a community may know the importance of all of these precautions even more clearly than our peers, that does not make this time any easier for us! So, how can we weather this COVID-19 storm? How do we practice social distancing and isolation without losing our minds?

The range of emotions that we can be feeling right now is incredible. In one day I have experience fear, anxiety, sadness, excitement, joy, loneliness, boredom, and emotional exhaustion. This is normal and okay. Now is the time to hone our skills, build our resources, get creative, and try new things.

Take a few minutes to clear your mind of the scary realities of the virus and grab a piece of paper and a pen. We are going to take inventory of our strengths, things that bring us joy, and areas where we need some help.


  • We’ve already established that as a community we can rock social distancing and isolation. We may hate it, but we know to do it. This is a big area of strength for us. We know what to do.
  • What are the resources we turn to when we feel lonely? Who are the people we reach out to? Where do we like to go? While we shouldn’t leave our houses, maybe we can find ways to reinvent some of these places in our own homes. For example, do you like to go out to share a meal with friends? Set up a Zoom/Skype/FaceTime dinner party! (BYO everything). Who are the people you call when you need to talk? Set up a list and schedule some time in your day to check in with these people – they probably need the contact just as much as you do!
  • What are the resources we turn to when we feel scared? Who do you call and what do you do when you are scared? I have my short list of people who can talk me down and bring comfort when I’m scared.
  • What are the resources we turn to when we feel anxious? Maybe you have a different set of people and tools to pull from for anxiety. I love mindfulness meditations and there are a few that I listen to that will help me fall asleep at night if I’m feeling extra anxious. I also find movement can help – though we can’t go to the gym or take a yoga class, there are so many options for free online workouts now! Or, since we are now officially in spring, through on a jacket and go for a walk!
  • What are the resources we turn to when we feel sad? What do we do when we feel sad? Sometimes you need a good cry. Many of us have a show or movie that we just know will bring on the tears. Maybe you’ve discovered the magic of crying in the shower.

What Brings You Joy?

  • What are the things that “fill you up”? What brings you joy? The best way to weather the storm of COVID-19 and social distancing is to pull out all of the things that bring us joy and pencil them into our new schedules.
    • Make a playlist of power songs that make you smile or make it hard for you to sit still without dancing. Play this at regular intervals throughout your day! Dancing it off sometimes helps too.
    • Stay connected with family and friends. Call your people! Social distancing feels like the wrong choice of words – really this is a “physical distancing”. FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, whatever works – stay in touch!
    • Do you like to cook? Maybe now is the time to add some new ingredients to your instacart order and test out some new recipes!
    • Hate cooking? Maybe now is the time to try a new restaurant or two on your uber eats or grubhub account. There are also tons of meal delivery options now that are wonderful and might be worth trying.
    • What hobbies did you have growing up but haven’t touched in years? Break out the paint sets. Print some coloring pages.
    • Love to read? Set a challenge for yourself to see how many of the books on your “to read” list you can get through in the next several weeks
    • Puzzle it up! I used to LOVE puzzles. Now I might jump on the bandwagon and break one out on the dining room table that is never used.
    • What about those projects you’ve been meaning to get to…? The walls that need a new coat of paint or that drawer you really need to organize. Maybe now is a good time to get that done!
    • Maybe you have a strong sense of faith and now you’re able to tap into that more than ever. Take time to center yourself in that way if it resonates with you.

The possibilities are endless – everyone has their own things that spark joy in the life. Take advantage of the forced “pause” button and do more of what fills you up.

Areas You Need More Help

When you look at your inventory of strengths and joy-inducers, where do you see gaps? What are you feeling and experiencing now that you need to address? Take out a new sheet of paper and write down your needs. Maybe use the lens of a close friend or maybe even a health care professional. What are the gaps you need to fill and how can you fill them? Start with the resources and strengths you already have. Pencil those in – write yourself a prescription.

Personally, I’ve narrowed my list down to five main pillars that I need to hit each day: movement, connection, nutrition, faith, and imagination. Each day, I have written in my planner one way to address each area. I am making sure that I take breaks in my new work-from-home schedule for meals and to grab snacks. I am trying a new workout program that is an online boxing class (I envision myself punching little COVID emoji characters), I take time to talk to family and friends, I make sure I read something that centers me in my faith, and I’ve been challenging myself to read new books. Each day I have to check off that I have done these things to keep myself healthy – mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

Some Helpful Resources

Delivery services:

  • The one thing I am most thankful for right now is Instacart! No need to go brave the crowds and germs at the grocery store. I’m ordering all groceries on instacart. Note: at least around here, the delivery and pickup times are filling up quickly, so you might have to wait a few days before you get a slot!
  • Prescriptions – make sure you’re getting all of your meds when you need them! Many pharmacies are offering free delivery. Call them and ask!
  • Grubhub, Ubereats, etc: you can ask that your orders are left in a specific place and you don’t even have to see or interact with anyone – saves you from needing to worry about somehow maintaining 6 feet distance while grabbing your pizza!


  • There are so many online guided meditations. There are tons of apps like Headspace, Shine, and Calm. Find one that you like and try it out!
  • YouTube has tons of guided meditations as well.

Working out at home:

All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at

Join the Conversation!

Leave a comment below. Remember to keep it positive!


  • Andrea says:

    What a great article! The question and list format was thought provoking and fun. I feel uplifted picking and choosing what I can do today- and tomorrow- and next week… I got my “medicine” today and I feel better

  • Leslie says:

    Thank you! I plan to share this with my cancer community and as well as my family, so applicable! Great article.

  • Great article! Thank you for sharing this!

  • Debbie Bender says:

    What a pleasure to read your response to Covid 19 and social distancing., As one of your Wish Granters many years ago, I marvel at the mature insightful young woman you have become. God bless and thank you for your thoughts. Debbie

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.