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Guest Blog by Caroline Howley, Freelance Journalist

First came the denial. Then came the panic. Then came the memes, virtual quizzes, and parents pleading for help with Zoom. Then there was the collective freakout after someone’s friend’s aunt’s pug-dealer somehow had all their money stolen on Houseparty. Then came the Millennial men with their Sourdough Starters.

Lockdown has been a rollercoaster, but as we (in the UK at least) settle into our third week of this strange new normal, we’re thinking long-term.

Sadly contemplating our doughy hands, loathe to force down yet another loaf, we’re realising our sudden, surprising lust for bread might not stay the distance. As 10 former colleagues mock us with pixelated scorn for not knowing the capital of East Timor or which former cricketer is a Flat Earther, we inwardly vow we’ll never put ourselves through the cruel humiliation of public quizzing again. And as we lie on the couch, bloated and nauseous from our nightly two bottles of Prosecco, there’s this sudden, unwelcome epiphany: You don’t have to be fun to have drunk.

Like me, you may have scrolled through endless ‘self-care in the time of quarantine’ articles chock full of aspirational yet impossible advice. ‘Bake!’ they cry. How, when my suburb is experiencing a tragic egg shortage? ‘Garden!’ they croon. But my garden is paved and ruthlessly exterminates all life! ‘Run then!’ they scold me. ‘Run for your life!’ But I don’t want to.

With this in mind, I — a writer entirely unqualified to dole out self-care advice but with very little else to do — am going to share with you my five, easy-to-achieve, self-care tips that are helping me to get by.

1. Wear sunscreen (even if it’s not sunny)

I live in Manchester, a city where the sun famously does not dare to shine. But one day last week, the suffocating grey blanket that hovers above this industrial cityscape miraculously parted, and there he was. Mr Sunshine, in full beam. I quickly applied some Piz Buin to my face, and was suddenly transported from my home/prison back to the shimmering swimming pool in Laos where I last wore it. I’m speaking metaphorically of course, so please don’t cancel me for being the world’s worst self-isolator.

Ultimately, I realised I associate the scent of sunscreen with happy memories, which puts me in a buoyant mood, and since then have been dabbing a little on every day. Trust me — try it.

2. YouTube Yoga (with Adriene)

I’d pretty much always thought yoga was not ‘a bit of me’, to invoke Love Island rhetoric. I’m more a fan of HIIT dance workouts, and also just sitting down to be honest. But after browsing YouTube for an exercise class that wouldn’t cause my cat to flee, hissing, from the room, I came across Adriene, and let me tell you she has got it all worked out.

Lower back hurting? Adriene will sort that right out. Hangover guilt? Adriene has the tonic. Starting to get egg withdrawals? Go see Adriene.

With classes both long and short, tackling all sorts of body pains and mood issues, there’s a reason Adriene is a YouTube legend. Since doing her classes once or twice a day, the creaking in my spine has become at least 70% less alarming, and my eyelid has even stopped stress-twitching. I do recommend.

3. Turn Coronavirus into a project

I know what you’re going to say: you’re sick of hearing, reading, and talking about the pandemic. But I say embrace Covid-19; run shrieking towards the fear. And by this — I should be clear here — I DO NOT MEAN run towards a hospital, or lick supermarket trollies, or go for more than one jog a day.

But hear me out.

Remember at school when we had to do projects about the Second World War, and our grandparents delivered, with old photos and ration books and war medals? Suddenly they were the most interesting, most glamorous people in the world.

Even if you achieve absolutely nothing else in your life, you are currently living through a world event that will go down in history. Sure, ‘I stayed inside for three months, furiously washing my hands and crying about toilet roll’ isn’t quite on a level with ‘I distracted three Nazi guards with a striptease so political prisoners could escape’. And, chronically dry hands and a lifelong stockpiling habit may not be as fancy a badge of honour as a Purple Heart. But it’s still a weird thing you lived through.

So make a diary, photograph life in quarantine, save news clippings and all those terrifying government letters, and create a gleaming bronze cast of your favourite sourdough. And one day you could be that grandparent that comes to the rescue on that school project. All this documentation will also help your grandchildren understand why you clutch your rosaries to your heart every time they dry cough.

4. Embrace your orange destiny

We’re just emerging (metaphorically) from a long, cold winter — yet we’re cruelly trapped inside. This, along with my wardrobe of Peter Pan-collared floor-length dresses, meant I spent the first week of lockdown walking aimlessly around my house like a Victorian child ghost searching for the porcelain doll that killed her. And then I remembered fake tan.

Admittedly, it sounds a bit Y2K. Like most pale girls in the UK I abandoned the fake tan when Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud fame decided to be her real authentic self. But this week I have made a happy return to my true orange form. Having even a suspect tan seems to trick my brain into thinking I am extremely healthy, which is:

a) Probably not true
b) Great for avoiding those 4am ‘is my throat sore or is this what it always feels like?’ spirals.

5. Say no to self-judgement

Look, I know we’re all missing loved ones at the moment. But generally speaking, humanity is a judgemental nightmare. And isn’t it nice to have a break from all that?

Think about it. For the first and only time in your life, you’re in a judgement-free space, with only yourself or those forced to love you unconditionally, for a prolonged period of time. So get weird. If it feels good (and is firmly within the law), do it. This is pure, no-filter, 100% distilled you. And don’t ruin this unique opportunity by being self-critical.

Who cares if you start writing obscene Poldark fan fiction, or finally get around to joining the thriving Shrek fandom you’ve so long wanted to become a part of? No-one needs to know about your new one-woman Ashley Banjo tribute act, or how close you’ve come to perfecting the call of the majestic rough-legged buzzard. And if your cat critiques your dazzling dance routine to Britney Spears’ Stronger as “tedious and unpromising”, that’s between the two of you and no-one else. You could even go completely off-the-rails and see what all the fuss around Mrs Brown’s Boys is about. But actually, don’t do that. That’s too far. Just bake sourdough instead.

Written by Caroline Howley – @carolinehasgoneto