The concept of isolation is something we’ve all been confronted with quite abruptly over the last few weeks. Whether it’s self-isolating with symptoms of Covid-19, working on your own from home, being laid off as businesses close down or simply missing meeting up with a few friends for a pint or a coffee, we’re all coming face-to-face with the reality of spending a lot of time in our own company, or in the company of a select few family members.
One man who is no stranger to spending a lot of time in his own company is Irish solo sailor Enda O’Coineen. In 2016 he became the first Irishman to take part in the Vendée Globe – a solo round-the-world yacht race which takes place every four years – and, after disaster in early 2017 when his mast was ripped off in a storm 180 miles south east of New Zealand’s South Island, he completed the solo circumnavigation in 2018.
One of the most important bits of advice, he says, is to find a routine.
“It’s about structure. You wake up in the morning, you’re kicked out of bed or your alarm goes off, radio goes on, you have breakfast or if you’re bringing kids to school – there’s a routine.
“So then you’re totally disorientated, that’s gone. I suppose the first lesson is just to develop a routine. In other words, separate out your tasks. Set mini goals each day for what you want to do and what you want to achieve. Even though I’d have been totally on my own in the Southern Ocean I’d have a routine. I’d have my three meals a day, now I could eat any time, but you set that down.”
Suddenly being out of the workplace might seem like a peaceful break at first but over time, for many, the lack of workplace chat and just the general feeling of being around people could get more and more difficult. O’Coineen – whose adventures are detailed in his memoir Journey To The Edge – says that communication is key and, if possible, to work it into a routine whereby you speak to people at the same time each day.
“Being isolated is quite separate to being lonely. We have all the mod-cons now where you’re in touch daily and you’d encourage people to pick up the phone rather than email or text, there’s a huge tendency to rely on that which is only one-dimensional. The best situation is obviously personal contact but pick up the phone – that would be another message. Set up that routine and that regularity where at a certain time you talk.”
And while the new daily life that most people are now living will inevitably prove more and more challenging the longer it goes on, there can be some positives taken from it.
“I think it’s actually a good time for people to stand back and benefit from this. You get a much clearer perspective,” says O’Coineen.
“When you do spend periods on your own you appreciate the value of company. While it might be seen as a negative I’d try to take this opportunity as a positive. It’s much easier obviously if people have work to do. Home working is easier because people have that focus. I suppose if you don’t have a focus, if you’re in the frontline hospitality business and you don’t have work that’s another challenge, but the way I think to get around that is to create goals and objectives.
“It’s not for everybody, isolation. It’s certainly not. We do need human company but I learned to manage and, you know, I had a challenge and a goal and a focus. People could look at working from home as a challenge and you can adapt and learn and use it to your advantage.”