A cracked ceramic coaster sits in the office. Made with the imprint of your 1 year old hand. You are ten now and strangely we are thrust back into that world of stay-at-home isolation. I remember the day we made the coaster. We went to the pottery place and covered ourselves in personal protective equipment. Clothes now safe, I let you smear paint all over the paper tablecloth. You spread and splattered colour everywhere. Once one hand was entirely covered I pushed it to the coaster and carefully placed it out of your reach. Brilliant, a Father’s Day gift had been made and an we had an interesting outing for the two of us - two people quarantined before it was compulsory. Those were the days when we were bound to the house for stability, for naps, for meals. That was my training for this time now. Adrift from regular life, lonely and trapped. I actually think the first years of your life were harder than this “self isolation.” Because there are four of us at home at the moment and my days are filled with chatter. You were an adorable baby but I have much better conversations with you now.
The thing about hard times is that they all eventually pass. The other thing about hard times is that they aren't a competition either. The loneliness and isolation I felt as a first time stay-at-home mother in a new country, is different to what I am feeling now. What I feel "sheltering-in-place" will be very different to what key workers are going through. What we do have in common is strength reserves. We have mechanisms for getting through this. And we will. This blog post is a bunch of reminders for things to try when your reserves are feeling a little low.
1. This is Really Important: Reframe the Situation
Words matter and the two most prominent words for what we’re going through are poorly thought out. The word "lockdown" makes us feel locked in prison but what we are actually doing is experiencing a raahui - a temporary restriction for our protection and the protection of others. The term "social isolation" is wrong, we are physically distant from people but we are still connecting with friends and family. We are actually in" aahuru mowai" -safe haven. When we use words that make us feel safe instead of threatened our nervous system relaxes and our subtle alarm system lowers its guard.
2. Look for the Silver Linings in this Whole Experience
Can you think of three positive things that have come out of being at home for such a long time? I'm not going to list all of mine here but one good thing for our family is the amount of time we now spend together. I am playing more with my children on our daily exercise outing than I ever have before.
3. Hack your mood
A good mood creates a positive bias to overcome the flow of negative information we are getting at the moment. To help to get yourself into a good mood you can remember a moment that made you very happy. Draw in the colours, the smells and the temperature of this moment to recreate this emotion vividly in your mind. You can also think of your favourite food and the emotions eating this delicious meal creates. You can repeat words that make you feel happy such as ‘joyful’, ‘laughter’, ‘giggle’, ‘sparkle’ and ‘smile’ to yourself. Or, you can look at comic books, tell jokes or share memes with friends and family.
3. Keep it Simple.
Our brains are really busy right now readjusting to a new normal. Sustained attention and big projects are pretty ambitious. It may feel easier to do small scale things throughout the day. Include something creative; something that connects you to someone else; something productive, and some self care. As Matt Haig writes "the tea seemed to be making things better. It was a hot drink made of leaves, used in times of crisis as a means of restoring normality." What restores normality for you? Do that thing. Daily. To help the kids I created this BINGO sheet for when they have a moment of "what now?" in their structure-less day.
4. Be Kind
During a crisis, the people who cope best are those who help others. Supporting others is thought to help buffer our bodies against the effects of stress. A five-year study of 846 people in Detroit found that stressful life events appeared to take a greater toll on people who were less helpful to others, while helping others seemed to erase the detrimental physical effects of stressful experiences.
There is so much research backing up how good giving is for us. It is thought to lower stress and blood pressure, increases our sense of well being and it bolsters connection with community. Kindness is physical proof that there is goodness in the world. Being kind is also a chance to get outside of our bubble of self awareness to find meaning and purpose in something bigger than ourselves.
New Zealanders are called to Be Safe, Be Kind in their response to Covid-19. I love this response so much.
5. Be Grateful. So Grateful.
Being grateful makes us happier, gives us perspective, and brings focus to how much we do have, instead of what we don’t. As the daily death toll rises I feel grateful for my health, for my family's health for the safe haven of our homes. I heard an interview with a woman who had just been released from intensive care. She was grateful to be able to breathe freely again. Can you imagine being grateful for your breath?
Charlie Mackesy's image says so clearly how grateful we all are for our NHS workers, the supermarket and shop staff, and our key workers.
6. Scan Your Body
Take a minute every day to check in with how you are feeling, physically, emotionally and energetically. Stay with your breath and notice, accept and observe how these elements change day by day. Thank them, accept them and let go of how you are supposed to feel or act. Change requires a baseline, how are you to release tension if you don't know that you are feeling it? How do you release sadness if you don't acknowledge what you are feeling? Also our body is constantly communicating to us, take a moment to listen to areas of tension, these are whispers asking us to stretch and mobilise. If we don't listen to them they become shouts of muscle spasms and pain. No outside person has our physical experience and so change has to come from us.
Sometimes you need to hear a reminder that you have got this, that you are strong, that you have the skills to make this work, that you have been through hard times before and you will get through this one. My go to affirmation is: "I have fantastic coping mechanisms." Tell yourself this when things are feeling overwhelming. Here's an octopus to remind you -
This is an old but a goody - give it a go.
9. Surf the waves
Give yourself permission to feel your feelings without judging. Surfing with the waves is much easier than battling against them. It’s OK to acknowledge how hard you are finding things. It isn’t a competition.
10. And Finally: Breathe.
Pause to take five deep breaths. Breathe in for five counts, hold for a pause and breathe out for five counts, hold for a pause. Let your breath tell your nervous system that you are relaxed and all is alright.
Here is a link to a Covid-19 meditation for adults that I wrote.
Here is a link to an anxiety release for kids that my daughter reads
This whole situation is HARD. But you have survived difficult situations before. You've got this.
Kia Kaha (Be Strong)
here is a picture of a cracked coaster