Self-isolating when you’re unwell

Dr Dominique Thompson

Dr Dominique Thompson is an award-winning former university GP, young people's mental health expert, TEDx speaker, author and educator, with two decades of clinical experience.She is a Clinical Advisor for NICE, RCGP and Student Minds.

Developing the symptoms of coronavirus can be challenging for lots of reasons. The following tips will help you to care for yourself if you become ill and have to self-isolate due to Coronavirus.

There are a number of challenges that developing Coronavirus may cause, if you are a student. In addition to feeling unwell, you may also be far from home, worried about your studies or unsure about how to seek medical advice. You may also be feeling quite anxious about being ill and self-isolating, which is understandable, and it’s important to talk to others about how you feel.

To help manage these challenges, feel calmer and feel back in control, you may want to follow this guidance.

I feel ill - should I self-isolate?

The symptoms which indicate possible coronavirus and require action are:

  • A new continuous cough
  • A high temperature
  • A loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste, or smell.

You can check your symptoms using the NHS 111 tool.

If you have any of these symptoms you will need to self-isolate immediately, and have a test for the virus. Your university may be able to arrange a free test - otherwise you can get a free NHS test.

Avoid contact with people who are clinically vulnerable or shielding.

Top tips for self-isolating safely when unwell

1. Sort out your daily needs

You might want to read our guidance on preparing for self-isolation.

Think about how you are going to get food, or prepare meals if you feel up to it. Plan with your buddy network, or university or accommodation staff, how to have food delivered to your room. If this isn’t possible, agree with your flatmates how you can safely use a shared kitchen, ensuring that one person is using it at a time, and that it’s cleaned thoroughly after every use.

Discuss which bathroom you will use (if you share facilities), as you should reduce spread of infection by not sharing. If there is no option except to share, plan a rota, and clean the bathroom regularly. Do not share towels.

2. Treat your symptoms

Once you have checked the NHS website about your symptoms, it is important to make sure you look after yourself.

The most important things you can do are:

  • Sleep and rest
  • Stay hydrated
  • Take paracetamol

Check the NHS guidance on treating coronavirus symptoms for more detailed medical advice.

You will not be able to go to a pharmacy, but you can phone a local pharmacist for advice (they may deliver medication), or a friend may be able to buy medication such as paracetamol on your behalf.


3. Seek help if your symptoms are getting worse

Contact the NHS 111 online service if your symptoms get worse.

Do not ignore worsening breathlessness, fainting, or skin rashes and blotches. If you develop any of these symptoms seek immediate help by phoning 999.

4. Keep your mind active.

Maintaining motivation and positivity can be tough when you are confined to your room, especially if you feel ill. Daily routine can be very helpful, if you feel well enough to get out of bed.

Once you feel well enough to do more than sleep, rest and take paracetamol and fluids, then you could pass the time by watching films, television shows or listening to podcasts and music. You may also benefit from creative activity such as drawing, playing music or writing.

Stay in contact with friends and family. Try to speak to someone everyday: it may be family, a friend, a flat mate or your tutor or wellbeing adviser. Once you feel much better, you may want to try some light exercise, like yoga or an online stretch class.

Read our tips for self-care in isolation when you’re feeling better.

5. Try to stay positive.

To stay positive it can help to remind yourself why you are self-isolating - to protect others. You are doing a positive thing to keep other people safe. You can also remind yourself that it will be over soon, and then you will be able to catch up with friends, work and your favourite activities. It can also be uplifting to plan those future activities, or to plan a meet up with others, or a day out. It’s really important to have things to look forward to.

Being unwell and having to self-isolate is not something we would choose to do in normal circumstances, but, along with wearing masks and remote learning, it is something many of us are having to manage, so that as a community we all get through and move onto better, happier times. Spend time thinking about what those happier times will look like for you (what you are most looking forward to), and the time should pass a little less slowly.