Endorphins & Productivity – Keys to Weathering Isolation

by Matt Hetherington

Today marks my 12th day at home in self-isolation. Right now, I’m by myself day in and day out, which presents its share of challenges.

It was only a couple days ago that New Jersey entered a shelter-in-place phase, so why did I go into self-isolation a week earlier? Simple, to protect my vulnerable state.

I have 2 auto-immune disorders and have to inject drugs every 14 days which suppress my body’s immune responses – that makes me more susceptible to complications if I were to catch COVID-19.

There are an estimated 23.5 million people in the USA with auto-immune diseases. If you add that to the other categories of people potentially at risk – it could spell disaster if we don’t do this right.

I spent the first few days in sloth mode, binging movies and tv shows, but continuing my good eating habits and cooking meals (thankfully I learned to cook when I was very young).

A few days in, I kicked myself into gear. I felt stagnant and unproductive, a feeling which I hate. Being away from the table meant I didn’t really know what to do with my extra time. I knew what I needed to do, because I’m used to working from home and being in this kind of situation.


Matt Hetherington's cooks a plant-based diet to support his health

Matt’s plant based “beef” and broccoli with Sichuan sauce, garlic and chili soy shiitake mushrooms and sweet soy rice


Simple start – you’re isolated, you need to keep in a good place mentally and physically. You need to do home workouts. I have resistance bands and a jump rope I have been using, and am fortunate enough to have a treadmill here.

Working out creates endorphins, which help us with that good feeling buzz. While you are at home, some of you all by yourselves, you need to dedicated 30-60 minutes each day to being active. Don’t get caught in the lazy spiral because you will end up feeling awful after a while.

Fresh Air:

Shelter-in-place means we should try and stay home except for essential tasks, but that doesn’t mean we need to stay indoors. Take some time each day to breathe fresh air. Yesterday morning, I got up, ate breakfast, went outside, sat on the doorstep, and just breathed slowly as I basked in the sun. For the sake of your health, do not stay caved up indoors at all hours of the day. Again, natural light is also good for your mental state as well as for your body.


I can’t stand doing nothing for too long; I feel guilty for lack of a better word. This is an opportunity to enter a creative space and to have time on your plate to do things you have been meaning or wanting to do. I know a few people who are learning to cook now, or are reading more books. Some are using this time to actually get into a good workout routine day-by-day.

For me things went fairly sour, as the timing of this has essentially effected all of my work-related things.

By day 9, Lily Yip dropped a table tennis net off at my front door and it was my saving grace.

I went into my basement space and pushed my sofas and bed all the way across to the side. I pulled a table tennis table out of the garage and carefully set it up. Now, I have essentially created a studio space for making my own table tennis videos. For me this is my isolation breakthrough and it will keep me productive as these days go by.

I made my first video, a 3 step reverse pendulum serve tutorial, and I slept on the couch. I need to sort out my space to adjust for the table taking up room, but I certainly had a smile on my face once it was all setup – because I already felt a sense of accomplishment.

Stay Safe, Stay Home:

This virus has been underplayed by too many people, it is growing exponentially across the world and the death count is rising. I’m doing my part to keep myself and others safe by staying at home and being disciplined. I hope you all are too, and I hope you find something to stay active and productive so you can be healthy – not only physically, but mentally too.

My best wishes to all of you out there, from my isolation cavern in New Jersey 🙂


About Matt Hetherington

Matt Hetherington is a JOOLA-sponsored coach and auto-immune athlete. Originally from New Zealand, Matt has represented his home-country in table tennis tournaments all over the world.

He currently coaches at Lily Yip Table Tennis Club in New Jersey and runs the popular coaching blog, MHTableTennis. Previously, he served as the Media and Communications Director for USA Table Tennis (USATT).

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