It would be very unusual for someone not to feel stressed at this time. Now, with a full lock down being imposed in South Africa for the next three weeks I couldn’t help but notice the air of hysteria that lay under the many jokes and memes that flew around social media last night. After all, humour is one way to manage stressful times.
I thought I would share some ideas around how to remain sane while in lock down or practicing social distancing. These ideas are some of my own and they also evolved from the sessions I have been having with clients at this time where we explored what they could put in place to manage stress and well being:
Change your Perspective: I find it so interesting how we are all happy to stay at home and have some quiet family time but, as soon as we are told we have to stay at home and for a certain period of time we all feel trapped and panicky! Yes, this is more complex than that but ultimately what many people battle with is the experience of powerlessness that comes from having no choice or no power – even though we know it is for the best for everyone.
However, you always have a choice. You can choose how to be with this experience. You can choose to resist it or surrender to it. You can choose how you want to be in this time to make it a time you remember with anger, stress and negativity or a time where you remember pleasant moments of connection (if you are not alone in your home), slowing down and getting back to basics. You can also choose to change your belief from something like: “I am so trapped right now” to “I am so glad that our government has put this lock down in place to ensure there are less deaths and less overall chaos in our country. This will also ensure we get over this faster”.
Create a structure. In times of chaos and when life is upside down a structure or routine can help to provide a sense of containment or security. HOWEVER, it is important that the structure does not feel imprisoning and is flexible and can be changed when necessary. Avoid, filling your time with a whole lot of things to do and make time for rest, connection and play. Also, be careful imposing your structure on others in the house. They will also then feel more trapped and stressed. Consider talking to children in particular to gain their input for your routine/structure so that they can feel held and empowered by it versus imprisoned or pressured by it.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. It’s important to let everyone be able to share what their needs are and to be able to express frustrations otherwise this will remain suppressed and add to stress and blowups. Try using the following process to communicate “I notice (what you are observing). I am wondering why you (what you are observing). My concern is that I (your own concerns and needs). Perhaps we can find a way to make this work for all of us (to create a solution in which all people are heard and feel considered) e.g. I notice that you seem to be constantly angry and irritable. I am wondering what that is about? (for a child help them to understand why they may be feeling what they are feeling if they do not know). My concern is that it is that when you are angry and irritable you often hit your sister and that’s not nice for her. I wonder if we can find a way to help you be with your anger (or address whatever is underneath the anger). This can be used with partners too!
You time: Make sure that in your structure and daily routine there is some time that helps you to relax and connect back to you. Preferably with some quiet if possible. I like to wake up early before the children and do some Qi Gong and I also take 20 mins quiet time after lunch. My children know that this quiet time after lunch is in their and my own best interests and so they read/look at books in their room or play with play dough etc. Take a look at Karen Brody’s Website to learn more about Yoga Nidra. Find an online yoga class. Take a look at YoQi.com for free Qi Gong resources. Read a book. Meditate (there are a number of meditations available in my online shop and I will soon be posting a complimentary meditation specifically for managing stress and overwhelm). Your well being needs to come first and it is not selfish. If you don’t look after yourself you cannot look after others.
Eat healthy meals. Try to avoid foods that could exacerbate stress and anxiety. Sugar and alcohol are two big culprits. Find natural alternatives for sugar such as honey, coconut sugar, stevia or dates (if you can find these in the shops that remain open). My son on sugar is a nightmare before being trapped in a house and not being able to exercise. I’m just going to make sure there are no sweets, chocolate, biscuits in the house so that he cannot ask and we do not have to fight.
A consistent meal routine will help your body and circadian rhythm to be more balanced and this too is a form of containment and supports calm.
You can also use this time to get creative and make those meals you never have a chance to make. Build up your repertoire of meals so that your family can stop complaining that you are making spaghetti bolognese again! So that brings me to my next point….
Get creative. Cook, bake, draw, paint, write. There are so many resources online to guide you if you don’t know where to start. Creativity will help you to feel connected to the present moment and in your body rather than in your head. Anxiety is usually future-oriented i.e. catastrophising about what ‘could’ happen or thinking about the fact that there are still two weeks to go or “if he’s like this now at the beginning of the 21 days how are we going to survive?!” – an actual thought I had about my son’s meltdown this morning!) Creativity is also a way to express ourselves and to work out tension, stress and emotions. Obviously, this will really be great for kids. Here’s a resource for kids art.
Move. Get creative about how you can exercise and move your body while unable to leave your property. This will obviously depend on your energy levels so find something that suits you without pushing yourself too much. Now is a time to be gentle with yourself (unless you feel called to do a high intensity jumping session on the trampoline – I think I might be doing this myself at some point in the next 21 days!).
Movement releases endorphins, reduces stress, releases physical tension and also helps you to move out of a state of powerlessness and freeze if you are stuck in your stress response. Even gentle shaking of your body can help (bouncing on the balls of your feet with your body and arms loose and relaxed as you shake out your body). Ideas for movement include doing yoga, Pilates, a boot camp, a dance-off with your partner or children (or just you!) or an obstacle course around the house that includes star jumps, push ups etc en route. This is a great free online yoga resource for children. For adults try this for Pilates or this for Kundilini yoga.
De-clutter and do that home ‘stuff’ you never had time for. I don’t know about you but I am always complaining that I don’t have time to fix certain things around the house, paint that shelf that needs to be painted, properly de-clutter, put up my photos on the wall (and we moved in over a year ago!)etc. Well, there’s time now for all of that now. Obviously, in South Africa access to materials will be difficult after Thursday so maybe get things you need before then.
When our homes are comfortable, clean and nice looking it helps us to feel more grounded and safe. The home is the base and a huge part of our security. Bring in some flowers from your garden (if you have some), try moving things around and re-arranging your furniture for a new look, get your children involved in spring/autumn cleaning the house (my children still find vacuum cleaning a novelty and fun – long may it last!). However, also be careful not to become obsessive about cleaning as this could be a sign that the anxiety is getting too much.
Observe and Allow Your Emotions: I said it at the beginning and I am going to say it again because it is important. Fear, anxiety and stress are expected at this time. Many of our basic needs and core survival fears are being triggered at the moment. If you believe you shouldn’t feel any fear, overwhelm or anxiety you go into resistance and judgement and make yourself feel worse – this is often how anxiety spirals (the fear and judgement of fear).
If you are waiting for an absence of fear to make you a ‘normal’ or ‘good enough’ person you have really dug a big hole for yourself. No one ever has an absence of fear. We are biologically wired to experience fear so that we do not destroy ourselves through doing something stupid.
If you never feel fear it may be that you have suppressed or disconnected from your fear due to fear of fear. Chances are high that it will come out in different ways (including health issues) so it really is healthier to allow your fear, overwhelm and anxiety.
Imagine that the part of you that feels the fear is your inner child (as this is usually the part of you that is triggered into excessive fear, overwhelm and powerlessness – a common experience for most children). As your present day, conscious adult that has so many more tools, more support, more knowledge and more maturity than your child self ever had, acknowledge the fear your inner child feels and just feel it in your body. Describe it to yourself as you observe with interest and non-judgement. Is it hot, dark, flowing, hard, heavy etc.?
Just as water dissipates in a boiling pot when you take the lid off, the energy you feel that is created by an emotional response dissipates when you let the emotion be and move through your body. Call on the earth (grounding) and any spiritual support to hold you while you allow the fear and DON’T FORGET TO BREATHE. Release with the out breath and draw deep breaths as if into the base of your spine so your belly expands like a balloon.
You can do this and you can come through this time more empowered and conscious. Even if you just focus on one of these steps that I have shared. Even one is enough to start a shift.
Take care and go well.