Updated: Nov 14, 2020
Return of lockdown; return of the blog. In part, this is in response to conversations I’ve had about the current lockdown and in part because writing a blog last time really helped me. It helped me take time to stop and think, a reason to organise my thoughts and sense of purpose amidst chaos. I’m hoping it’ll do similar this time around!
I know this lockdown’s not the same – no home schooling for one thing (although it’s surely only a matter of time before we have to self-isolate) and on the face of it, more knowledge about the virus and potential time frames we’re talking about. These things do of course, make this lockdown feel different, perhaps easier.
But, some of the stuff I found hard last time is still going to be there. And I’m not talking about the bigger, more obvious stuff (not seeing friends and family and no hugs are the biggest of these for me). I talked last time about the loss of incidental social contact and my realisation of how important those moments were for me in the landscape of my week. And it’s from there that I started thinking about the more hidden, unnoticed and unacknowledged losses of lockdown.
So, here’s my personal a list of what I think will be hard this time around, and some ideas of how I hope to manage these challenges as best I can. Not anticipating it’ll always work, but having a plan makes me feel better so that’s what I’m doing.
I think that along with the loss of ‘small’ incidental social contacts we also lose the subtleties of variety. Not just the obvious thing that the restrictions mean less options and less opportunity to do the things we like to do, but also the smaller changes.
Even if I just think about one aspect of my week- work, on paper I still have a work role that includes the same goals and tasks. In reality, the occupational engagement, energy spent and focus of my work world is very different.
Some of the smaller things I’ll miss are: the sense of purpose as I walk into a place where I know people only see me as a professional, the recognition that ‘work me’ puts on make-up, dresses differently (not just from the waist up!) and the acknowledgement that using the commute to plan and prepare for the next interaction helps me process my day and plan my time.
And don’t forget if there’s differences in our work roles, there’s likely to be differences in other aspects of our life too.
There’s also a sense that the lack of variety in roles and lack of environments to be in leads to a ‘blurring’ of usually clear boundaries: working from home, home schooling and no social contact outside of my immediate family in the last lockdown led to a restriction in the opportunity to be different parts of myself.
On top of that, trying to juggle everything often led to me flitting from one role to another with little time in between. No space dedicated to shifting focus or approach and no time to time to stop and adjust to the next environment or role as I usually would.
I found this constant switching between tasks and roles stressful: it makes me feel that I can’t do any of the things I need to do ‘properly’ or as well as I would want to. I end up feeling agitated and tense; feeling that I’m always ‘coiled for action’ because I can’t plan and need to switch between needs, tasks and roles at any given moment.
This meant that even in all the seemingly extra time that lockdown provided, relaxation was hard. This was obviously compounded by the fact that any moment of respite in the juggle was taken over by the unknowns of the world at large.
So, with this knowledge about myself, my life and the demands on my time and energy: what do I plan to do differently this time round?
And that is the beauty of this lockdown, it isn’t as new, it isn’t as unpredictable (on some levels) and we know from last time how we’re likely to feel.
Let’s use that to our advantage and anticipate the problems so we can feel more prepared and in control of how we respond.
1) Stop and recognise the challenges for what they are
In a previous blog I wrote about realigning our goals to current circumstances, recognising demands and resources available to us in that moment and setting goals accordingly. I feel that if I can get into a better habit of doing this, I’ll be able to manage better. For example, as I type this, the boys who would normally have a football match on a Sunday (physical exercise, fresh air, social time with their mates) are currently watching a film after having played video games this morning.
I know, I know, this is not ideal and frankly some of you might read this and think that I’m a poor example and poor mother but, do you know what? I’m not stressed. I’m working hard not to feel guilty and when it stops raining, we’re going to go out for a family walk.
Putting in this shift of perspective means I can let go a little bit; the usual opportunities and activities aren’t available, so we have to adapt. This is how we’re adapting today. Yesterday was different (less TV - honest!) and tomorrow will (thankfully) be different again (whoop whoop to schools being open). I have worked hard to see this, recognise the value in the acceptance of this and as a result I feel better.
2) Hold onto the bits of my usual roles that I can
I can’t go out with a big bunch of friends dancing and laughing the night away, I can’t go to Pilates in the studio and I can’t see family for a hug. But, I can get a takeaway coffee with one friend and go for a walk and a catch up, I can book regular Pilates Zooms and not allow these to be taken over by other things (read kids’ needs!) and I can organise huge family zoom quizzes that aren’t the same but keep me connected to the people I love.
None of this is perfect but it is ‘good enough’
It allows me to get the bits that count for me into my life even in lockdown. The reason why these things were the things I missed can be found in different forms- I can laugh and chat with a friend one to one- it’s a different feeling but it’s still love and affection; I can move and physically be present on zoom and, (always looking for the positives here) it’s even easier on Zoom to fit into the busyness of life because I don’t need to get anywhere- I can literally pop on some joggers and I’m in. And family, I miss hugs I do, but being together online still lets me feel part of that crew, we’re in it together and we do the best we can.
3) Remember that ‘small wins’ are still wins
The kids are in school, I can take the littlest to the park, I am working and enjoy it. These are all important and hold up the rest of my world. On days when things feel good, I need to take a moment to focus on that. All too often I focus on thinking about the not so good days-’what happened? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t it go to plan?’ but I have to make more effort to stop and reflect on the good stuff ‘what happened? What did I do right? Why did it all go to plan?
4) Consciously and intentionally put in boundaries to stop the blurriness
I’m particularly talking about the impact of doing pretty much everything in one space here. Working from home, parenting at home, leisure at home. It all makes it difficult to differentiate between all the different areas of life.
I am planning to intentionally switch off (or at least not look at) work emails when I’m with the kids- there is time when they’re in childcare or in bed.
Try to not do family or life stuff in work time; there never seems enough time so focussing on the one thing I can’t do at other points in the day seems like a no brainer but one that I frequently forget. It means I have to live with mess while Im working but if I close the door on it, it’s surprisingly easy to do that!
Try not to multitask. I know it’s sometimes necessary, I know I can do it and stuff gets done BUT it makes me edgy and stressed and I don’t like the person I am when I do too much of it. I need to aim to multitask less; not avoid it all together because, well, that’s not really practical in my life but making the plan to do it less and noticing the moments when I’m stressed and working out that it’s the multitasking makes a big difference. So, that’s what I’m aiming for.
5) the winning combo?
So, the next level up is to combine all of these good intentions.
For example, every time I walk out the door to pick the kids up, I try to consciously remind myself that it is good to go out to get them- it means they’ve not been at home all day (goal 3).
I also choose to stop thinking about work (goal 4), I mentally and physically roll my shoulders and take a breath (seriously if anyone sees me in the way to get the boys they’ll wonder what I’m up to). I slow my pace (as long as I’m not running late of course) and look around.
I focus on the feeling of being outside, the sense of not being hunched behind a desk. I’m not really one for mindfulness or meditation but I do value the focus on the here and now as a ‘reset’ button.
All of this helps me switch consciously from work mode to parent mode. I often need to switch back again after we get in and I go back out to the shed to work, but that's ok:
the stress is easier to manage if I accept that sometimes I have to focus on the here and now rather than the what next.
Maybe some if these ideas mght work for you, maybe not.
What I do know is that stopping, taking a physical and metaphorical breath and reflecting on what worked and what didn't last time can be really helpful.
If you want to do this and need a bit of structure, the Reflection template and Goals template (in the file share area of my website) from previous blogs might be useful.
Thanks for reading