Updated: Mar 31, 2020
I decided to write this blog because I hope to offer something positive and useful in the chaos of all the change that Covid-19 has brought to all of us. I’ve also realised whilst writing it that it is great distraction for me, so a mixed agenda here!
First up though, a bit about me and why I might have something useful to say
(but it’s up to you to decide, there are no guarantees).
I am married with three small(ish) boys aged 8, 6 and 3. I’m an occupational therapist and have always worked in mental health.
This blog will try and bring together practical examples from my life trying to juggle work and family while social distancing and the things I’ve learnt throughout my training and career working in mental health. I hope it’s in some way useful.
In my work life I think about change all the time. I look with clients at the process of change: making changes, the impact of change on emotional, physical and mental well being and responding to and managing the impact of change that’s outside of our control.
So, first things first: we are all in the middle of huge changes that have been thrust upon us by the extraordinary circumstances of a global pandemic. However, it’s not usually the big stuff that feels hard; it’s in the everyday routines, interactions, and activities that it feels difficult. When I think about my life today compared to a couple of weeks ago it’s safe to say that it’s different! And I’m going to guess that whatever your personal situation, it’s likely that things have changed for you too.
Humans don’t particularly enjoy change; we’re wired to follow familiar routes neurologically and tend to gravitate towards the safety of the known. We automate our lives by developing habits and routines to save time, energy and resources by cutting out whole chunks of thinking every day. This is partly why unexpected change can feel so hard- we have to stop and think about everything that is normally unconscious and ‘easy’.
On top of this, habits and routines contribute to our sense of who we are (occupational identity) and how we fit into the world. Our sense of health and well being depends on being able to do the things that are important to us (the things that make us who we are) to a level that is satisfactory to us.
So, if our routines are linked to our health and well being, disruption to this will have impact on how we feel. This is true of small and big changes even without the worries of a global pandemic. So when your normal life is completely disrupted and then you pop health and financial worries into the mix with a dollop of being with family 24/7 or being by yourself 24/7 (depending on your circumstances), it’s likely to feel challenging at the very least!
So, what next?
For now, the important thing is to stop, give yourself a break and focus on the things that are working rather than the things that aren’t. Look for the small successes, take note and celebrate them. Give yourself time to adjust.
Try and find a way to regularly reflect on the activities of the day. I know you’ve probably already got a busy day that might feel overwhelming so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. A bit of reflection can be at whatever point in the day works for you: while you’re doing the washing up, going for your daily exercise or whilst the kids are watching yet another episode of Ninjago in the other room.
The key thing is to stop for a moment and reflect: focus on the real world, tangible, practicalities of life.
Personally, I tend to try and do my thinking at the end of the day when I’m inevitably putting away the piles of clean washing (that we don’t need because we’re not going anywhere!)
that I do just because I’m at home and it’s sunny and I can’t let a ‘good drying day’ go unused ('old habits die hard' as my mum would say).
If you can find the time and head space, write your thoughts down. Having a record of progress, no matter how big or small can really help when we get overwhelmed by circumstances or emotions. There is nothing too small to notice or celebrate- lets face it, it’s the small things that are achievable right now.
(I’ve attached an example of the things I’ve been thinking about this week at the end of this blog along with a template for your own reflection)
So, in summary: give yourself a break. If you’re not managing the daily stuff as well as you usually do remember that you aren’t doing it the usual way, in the usual environment with the usual supports. You’re trying to work out how to do the same things in new environments with additional pressures and stressors and without your usual habits and routines to automate the thinking, planning and logistics of life.
It is all new and you are likely to need time to adjust, reroute some thinking, alter routines and skill up where needed.
When you’re feeling stressed, worried, pulled in too many directions, hopeless, sad or unsure (just some of the emotions I’ve been going through over the past few days) think about the good bits, the rest will fall into place with a bit of thinking, some practice and time.
More in my next blog on how to work out what to expect of yourself in this new normal and how to judge yourself and your successes more kindly.
Take care and stay well,