Keeping it TOGETHER- while we’re all together!

written by: Sarah Jervis (Educational Psychologist and volunteer for The Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation) 

April 2020- Covid-19/ Lockdown

Our lives in the 21st century are frequently described as a frenzied, hurried pace of life, of having non-stop demands and never allowing us time to slow down.

Now the brakes have been slammed on! We have suddenly been plunged into a “lockdown”.

Many varying experiences of difficulty and struggle are reported around this time. The “corona virus” pandemic is of course anxiety provoking for many reasons. There are the obvious and warranted fears about this potent virus and its relentless ‘spread’, the worries regarding economic downturn and the pressure this puts on businesses, individuals and families, and the abnormally prolonged (and now extended) time spent in ‘limited’ areas with a fixed number of very familiar faces.

There are many significant challenges to tackle and these are compounded by uncertainties we all face. Everyone is adjusting to a new normal.

“Social distancing”, “isolation” and “quarantine” are our new style-of-life, and guide much of our daily conversations and living. And we also find that this time of forced slowing down, compulsory being at home, and consequent stepping back from the bustle of ‘society’, comes with its own particular form of pressure- the daily grind.

Being primarily with ourselves for an extended period of time with a sense of ‘unknowing’ of how long this might last, is daunting. We may become bored, we feel apathetic, we get irritated… things start to seem “pointless” or inconsequential. We may find we need to deal with issues we have been able to previously “remove” ourselves from. All of this can create stress, frustration, low mood, amongst many other emotions.

So how do we try maintain a feeling of significance each day and help us keep a sense of daily balance during this time? One way is to try to instill elements of purpose in our day, each day.

A group of individuals who need to face the challenge of long periods of isolation regularly are astronauts.

“[In]..preflight quarantine, …..astronauts spend the two weeks before their flight quarantined in their quarters” They say “…a major factor that helps [astronauts] to stay positive in their environment is “purpose,” or the greater meaning of their work”.**

Feeling ‘purposeful’ gives our days an awareness of having direction and “value”, and this helps us get though the times that are difficult, stressful, mundane or just ‘have to be done’.

Even our daily chores and tasks can give us a sense of achievement (and relief) once done! We might not always be aware of it but our every-day tasks and routine, the things we just ‘do’, including our jobs and the roles we play, all contribute to our personal experience of purpose and provide us a sense of focus and control that we all need in life.

While we are in this time of quarantine, many days seem to lose meaning- and a pervasive feeling of “what’s the point?” can creep in. This creates some uncomfortableness and uncertainty- which in turn can create anxious feelings and bleakness. Being able to adjust and ‘re-align’ our needs and goals is a beneficial and necessary survival tactic…so remember, take from this what works for you and leave what doesn’t!

If we are feeling despondency, anxiety and unease rising up, we can attempt to create PURPOSE and STRUCTURE to help us through this time.

Purpose provides meaning to us (each uniquely) and usually includes three aspects: a need being fulfilled, the skill or ability to do it, an element of enjoyment or accomplishment. The sense of ‘purpose’ differs for everyone- there is no ‘better or worse’/ ‘right or wrong’ when it comes to a person’s ‘purpose’. Purpose can vary from being an available or “good” parent, to running a business, to cleaning your home, to being able to read a new word, to walking around the block, to winning a marathon. Feeling PURPOSEFUL relates to your inner sense of fulfilling a need, using your skill and ability, and experiencing a form of enjoyment/ satisfaction. Recognition and acknowledgement can also help us feel purposeful, especially for children.

During quarantine we may need to adjust and tweak our ‘usual’ daily objectives and ambitions, to realise that our abilities and needs have probably been affected and the goal posts have moved in some way or another.

When we can recognise and accept these changes, we can allow our self to set new sights and gain a ‘new’ sense of purpose from our modified daily accomplishments.

Ask yourself “What do I want to achieve today?” This will help set daily purpose/ goals. Your goals don’t have to be momentous- they only need to be meaningful to YOU.

You identify/ recognise a need (in you or in another), you can do it- have the ability, and you will feel satisfied or enjoy doing this.

  • Example: setting 20 minutes dedicated play time with a child may create a sense of purpose for you. There is a need– Children love time with parents in child led activities. There is ability– you can play and just allow yourself to join in, and there is satisfaction/ enjoyment– witnessing your child’s unique personality and connecting with them provides this.
  • Example: doing a puzzle. There is a need– recreation and challenge are a need for us. There is ability– yes with perseverance you can do a puzzle, and achievement is there too with each piece you place- you don’t have to complete it, just get into it!

Ideas: learn a new skill (online or self-taught), do a crossword, walk for 10 minutes longer, quiet time reading to a child, ask your teenager if you and he/ she can have a coffee together on the couch, call a parent/ aunt/ friend who you know is alone, start writing a journal, diary or book….. the list is endless. Think of what speaks to you and feels important to you.

Structure is important in the sense of security and flow it can provide. But routine and structure doesn’t have to be rigid- in fact flexibility is key in these times. The tree that doesn’t bend in the wind can often break.

Maintain or develop a basic daily structure. The sense of knowing what to do, and what comes next gives you and your family a sense predictability and boundaries. It also allows you to build in some ‘you’ time; this is important time that you need to take care of yourself, fill up your cup, pat yourself on the back for the day so far and breathe a bit. Within your daily structure/ routine try to incorporate the following:

Keep connection (this is SO important- social distance doesn’t mean stop connecting)

  • “Check in” with those at home with you. This may seem needless as we feel we are together “the whole time”. But make effort for a quick hug, allocate special time for play time with younger children. Ask your older kids if they are feeling okay or want to chat about anything. Even if they mostly say “no”, provide the opportunity in case things should change for them.This can also be the time to connect in a different way or try something novel to create a new aspect to your relationships at home. A fun-silly family game time, family exercise time, family quiz etc. This is a good time to forge new family “dynamics”, and these may just become some of the memories you and the children carry for life.
  • Make phone contact with those outside your home. Those who make you laugh or with whom you can have a good talk.
    • Plan one “share and care” phone call a day to ensure that you keep in touch with various family and friends. Try to make this a sit-down chat when you can connect, relax and share your experiences. You never know what new ideas you will get and what laughs you may have.
    • Try to avoid chat about too much ‘drama’ and sensationalism around the Covid-19 stats, predictions etc., as this can become disheartening. We waste energy when we worry and there is nothing more you can actually do (as long as you are playing your part, sticking to the rules and keeping your social distance.)
    • Allow or encourage the kids (younger ones who don’t have phones) to call a friend, grandparent aunt etc. Again, make this something they can do every day or second day, or more if possible.

Self-investment. Do something you have wanted to do or find interesting (small ‘bites’ at a time if necessary). Read new book, try sketch something, investigate/ start a new hobby, listen to an audiobook, learn about something that has intrigued you, start a puzzle. This can be something that you do each day and doesn’t have to be completed or finished. It should not create pressure but should create pleasure, and is something that you can turn to for 5 minutes or two hours depending on your schedule, your day and your needs.

Tasks and chore time. This is also part of our day. if we block time off for this then we don’t miss out on other activities or find ourselves endlessly doing ‘parts’ of chores during the whole day.

Keep active. Whether you do a 30 minute walk/ run or 5-minute stroll or stretch, doing physical activity each day is important. Try to alternate activities and adjust times, thus keeping it varied. Listen to music, podcasts or the radio if this helps keep you going. Find your thing and commit to it in your schedule. Try do a 5-minute body-break every two hours to “do” something physical. Walk around your house, walk up and down steps, or any area will get your body moving and give you a change of scenery.

Together times are still needed, even if it feels that ALL time is together!

Meals together, fun times together and check- ins, allow children to know they are loved, valued and helps normalise this unusual time.

TIME FOR YOURSELF. At least 30- 60 minutes of this SELF time for every family member. What does each person need to replenish themselves every day? Is it reading a good book, a chat, a cuddle with dad or mom, lying looking at a book, a ball game outside, art/ craft activity etc. Build this time in– let older children specify what they find “chill” time for them, and schedule this so they don’t become overworked, overwhelmed or feel disconnected.

While this social quarantine remains, and we slowly integrate all that is happening in the world, we have adjusted, we are continually fine tuning and we will continue to adapt. In other words, we are doing just fine as we take each day at a time!

Every one of us have heard and learnt enormous amounts about this virus, we have all adapted our daily living considerably, we have been isolated from seeing some of the people we love and need, and from doing ‘daily’ activities we thought we would always be able to do.

We have thus already transformed our lives in several ways- and survived!

WE ARE IN THIS ONGOING PROCESS TOGETHER. SO, GO SLOWLY AND GENTLY, BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND OTHERS… AND REMEMBER THAT FINDING OUR NEW NORMAL AND RE-SETTING OUR COMPASS IS IN ITSELF A PURPOSEFUL ACTIVITY THAT IS ALREADY UNDERWAY!

** ref: www.space.com

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