How are you all coping with these strange and unprecedented times? Firstly: a reminder that this IS an extraordinary event and we are, quite rightly, suffering the fight or flight response which is triggered by a threat to our lives. This is a physical response: you may feel jittery, your breath may be more rapid, your heart beating fast, your brain more scattered and less focused, your digestion might be affected… then you begin to catastrophise that these are symptoms of Covid-19 and become even more anxious. So please pause. And take a deep, slow, calming breath. That is your first step in taking more control of your response to this crisis.
As we know, but as the news also keeps ramming down our throats, this virus is a dangerous one. But, we have also been hurled into a new scenario which neatly collates all of our various streams of life into one place. It’s as if our areas for seeking perfection – motherhood, work, family, home – are now colliding with nowhere to hide and no space to regroup, and the not-good-enough mindset can thrive in this mayhem.
Hands up who has already had catastrophising thoughts about not being able to be a good enough homeschool teacher, compared to the joyful yogic homeschooling perfection they’ve seen on their insta feed? Who is already starting to panic about how to manage with the extra demands placed on our time which already felt at full capacity? In this blog, I’m hoping to offer you some solutions and strategies for finding our way through this as calmly and positively as we can. Creativity doesn’t thrive when in fight or flight stress response. So it’s important to give yourself some respite, in order to unlock some freedom and, hey, even benefits, to the uniquely weird and challenging situations we find ourselves in.
Know that: you can’t be all things to all people. This was true before the crisis, and it comes into its own now. Here are your new rules to live by:
Put a “friend filter” on your internal dialogue. If your best friend was feeling stressed, overwhelmed and scared at this time due to news of a global pandemic, fear for relatives’ health, while caring for her children and juggling work in a totally changed environment – would you say to her “you really should be more organised, I can’t believe you haven’t spent 6 hours on your children’s work today that’s so lazy of you, you’re such a failure!”. I’m willing to bet on the fact that you wouldn’t say that to your friend. You wouldn’t, I believe, even think it. So please offer yourself the same compassion and view your situation through objective, kinder eyes.
Soften your immediate expectations: this is a period of transition to a new normal for the time being, and change is ALWAYS discombobulating. Humans don’t like change, it gives us the heebeejeebees. It would frankly be weird if you felt at home and at peace with what’s going on. It’s ok to be distracted, scattered and unable to focus. Soften your desire to “be normal” and instead realise it’s absolutely ok to be feeling freaked out: take calming breaths whenever you can remember to, and allow yourself some time to ease into this new normal. Things will settle after this period of initial upheaval: and your mindset is key to being able to thrive through this. You are immensely capable and resilient. This is no space for mum guilt.
Write down your intentions each morning for what you need to get through for work. In these initial weeks this can be a bare minimum and needs to be realistic. Depending on how old your children are, you can create your daily intentions together, so everyone has collective ownership and accountability for getting through the day. Instead of a to do list, this is an intentions list. And at the end of the day this becomes your To Dah! List where you give yourself a high five for how brilliantly awesome you are.
While it’s ok to feel freaked out: know that our children are looking to us for clarity, security and safety. Try not to expose them to all the news. They can’t process it the same way we can: and we are freaked out. Try instead to focus on what you have right in front of you now: your home, your loved ones inside your phone, whatever comforts you can zoom in on, do so. Take deep breaths and write down your feelings whenever you feel it’s getting too much. I find the 5-finger gratitude exercise is a wonderful way of breaking the charge of an overwhelming day: count on each finger one thing, one tiny thing, you are grateful for today. It could be the yellowness of some daffodils (coronavirus can’t prevent spring from springing!), the lovely cup of coffee you had, the fact that you don’t have to commute today. Whatever it is, notice it and savour it. So the children watched TV/had the ipad a lot today – be resolutely thankful for the amazing invention of the TV/ipad.
You do not have to school your children for the entire “school day”. Three hours of home school activity is very much enough to cover the amount of work your child would get through in a school day. Build in as much free play, explorative time, reading, meandering as you can possibly allow them. Resist the urge to micromanage. Boredom is GOOD. Boredom and extended downtime at home is a gift that their generation may otherwise never have encountered. It’s not your responsibility to occupy and account for all of your school age child’s time: set them free a bit, show them tools (freewriting stories/creating their own comic/doing crafting/online problem solving) but let them take responsibility for what they do with them so try not to helicopter over them. And that means, set both of you free from screen time as much as you feel able.
Some days will be harder than others. Turn to your journal at the end of each day to release your tension and stress and begin afresh the next day.
Sideways listening is a wonderful way to tap into your child’s anxieties without being too demanding by asking questions of them. This is the type of conversation which evolves naturally while you’re in flow otherwise occupied but not looking at each other face to face: perhaps doing the washing up together, or making friendship bracelets, or doing some family yoga silly movement. Allow your child to be open about the things worrying them, and hold space for them. Let them be scared, but show them that you are there and protecting them.
Finally, you need to prioritise your health so that you can be in “work mode” and “mum mode” without burning out: your mental and physical health is incredibly important right now. So bring it back to basics: drink enough water, eat nourishing foods, take deep slow breaths, allow yourself space when you need it between “modes”. If you are hyper stressed for prolonged periods this affects your immune system. So be gentle with yourself. Set barriers for your news and social media intake, move your body every day, get some daylight if you can, or if you don’t have outside space, gaze at pictures of nature that make you happy, and know that we will get through this.