How should I write messages to friends and family during self-isolation?

Right now we need to connect with each other more than ever. But we also need to reflect a little on the how we do this. We are bombarded with stories about the virus, many of us nervously checking the statistics, exchanging news articles, sharing our insights and knowledge. And many of us are also feeling anxious, fearful, overwhelmed and exhausted.

To survive the isolation as healthily as possible, we also need to concentrate on the here and now, to find sources of daily pleasure, to have a mind that can switch off when we go to bed.

And we also need to be kind to each other.

Showing empathy – the key to all good communication

When we’re in quarantine, instead of constantly writing to each other about the virus, what else could we write about? How can we show empathy and connect with other people? 

The tone you use, in email in particular, can be easy to misinterpret. Quickly made observations or comments can be easily misunderstood, especially if you are being sarcastic or trying to be funny. It is very easy to take every word in an email in the literal sense, and not notice any nuance in the tone. So choose your words carefully.

People’s quarantine conditions can vary enormously from small flats in huge high-rise buildings, tiny one-room studios in crowded cities, big apartments with balconies, to spacious houses with large gardens. So first, ask yourself if it’s a good idea to send photos of your walks in the hills to someone who has no access to an outdoor space. 

Although your own situation may be very different from someone else’s, you will still likely have some things in common,  and it’s a good idea to try to learn what they are.

A good start is to focus on the person you are writing/talking to. Try to put yourself in their particular shoes. How might they be feeling? Choose your words carefully.

Initial phrases

Present continuous – things happening now

  • How are you feeling today?
  • How are you managing your (work, shopping, cooking, exercise)?
  • What different sounds from outside are you hearing?
  • Are you still reading the newspapers or have you stopped?

Simple present – talking about your daily routine

  • Do you manage to get outside?
  • How do you get your food?
  • How much exercise do you get each day?

Present perfect – from the outbreak of the virus until the present moment

  • How has your day been?
  • Have you managed to establish a daily routine? If so, how is that going?
  • How has your neighborhood changed during this period?

Showing understanding and making suggestions

Simple present – talking about now, but with verbs that do not require the continuous form in this context

  • Your situation sounds very (difficult, hard, tough, challenging).
  • I feel the same way about …
  • I really feel for you.

Simple present – talking about habits

  • Sometimes I find it helpful to …

Present perfect – from the outbreak of the virus until the present moment

  • I have also experienced the same thing.
  • Have you thought of/about…?

Comparing your situations and asking advice

  • Do you have any good suggestions for (films, books, recipes)?
  • What's your favorite way to relax?
  • Which exercise machine do you think I should buy?

Ending the message

  • Please write to me whenever you like.
  • I really enjoy receiving your messages
  • Let's keep in touch.
  • Your email/message/call has really cheered me up.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • I am thinking of you and sending you my best wishes.

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