25 steps to steer clear of stir crazy!
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Every situation in life generates extremes at the opposite ends of the spectrum. For those who preferred the solitude of their own company, they might be feeling relief as the pressure to ‘conform’ and socialise has been removed. For those who lived life in the fast lane and relied on the companionship of a variety of friends and being constantly on the go to give their lives meaning and pleasure, this is potentially a nightmare.
For those people in particular, what do we do when everything we’ve ever strived for, believed in and enjoyed seems to become unattainable overnight? In these days of uncharted territory, where only the few are not personally affected by the virus, we need to be grateful to ‘live to fight another day’. However, it’s important we don’t underestimate the potential for feeling untethered and the effect this can have on us, if left untended.
What’s more, the cause is nothing we can see. In many respects ‘life goes on’. We look out the window, nature is thriving, the sun continues to rise and fall, the birds seem to be singing with abandon. Perhaps we can now hear the birds more clearly without the usual noise of life drowning them out and, removed from our usual routines, and general ‘busyness’ we’re simply noticing them more? Except it’s all a great facade, isn’t it? It IS actually different.
There’s also a huge divide between the lives of those who are in ‘essential work’ and those who are forced to stay at home. I don’t imagine we’ve collectively been in the situation where NO ONE knows what’s going to happen? Perhaps the world wars were similar in some respects? And I am wondering now if that is why older people were so ‘stoic’.
My mother in law, whose teen years spanned the second world war, (hello Joyce Froggett if you’re reading) has told me tales of giggling with her siblings at her elder sister knitting down the air raid shelter. Tales of rationing, their home being bombed, but only blowing up the larder – which her mother found devastating. Perhaps now, more than ever, we can appreciate her mother’s anguish and despair? (Joyce grew up in the East End) but that was her ‘normal’. The people in their 90’s do seem to be a bit more sanguine about life and perhaps being brought up in chaotic and life threatening times generated that ‘we’ll get by’ attitude. Because, as Joyce said to me about four months ago when recounting the tales, ‘what else could you do?’
And that is where we find ourselves now. But unlike Joyce, many of us have had a lifetime of planning to achieve. To accomplish great things. To make our parents/significant elder proud (if we’re honest). Or a childhood where everything has been geared towards exams, the right qualifications, the right leisure activities to give our children the best start in life. And now. Where does that leave us?
What are the right skills, right now? Survival coaching? Are we going to need to turn into pseudo Bear Grylls? (let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!). Perhaps the grass would make a good allotment (if we could get our hands on the seeds!). All change. And with that, while many can ‘pivot’, it’s really important to acknowledge, for the sake of the mental health of ourselves as well as those around us, that everyone is in their own private grieving process. The life they had, the life they thought they were going to have, the roles they had and their relationship with others that these roles created. And with that, comes outbursts, sadness, depression and anxiety.
It might help to recognise that we all go through the five Kubler Ross stages of grief at different speeds. There’s no right route here. We have to, now more than ever, give ourselves a chance to BE. To be a human being rather than a human doing.
What are the five stages of grief?
Disbelief. Well we all understand this one! No needs to explain that.
Anger. Many of us are in this place right now. Lashing out at anything and everything. Living life on the edge of reason. The smallest thing tipping us over the edge. Blaming others for our situation.
Bargaining. ‘If I do this, then we’ll be ok in three weeks time’ type of thing.
Depression. Sadness and ‘going into yourself’. Feelings of despair. No light at the end of the tunnel.
Acceptance. It is what it is. What can I do now? Today? Losing the fight and seeing the good things which are still present. Enjoying the memories of the past but not letting them ruin the small opportunities for joy today.
What can we do day to day to help us get through this intact?
1. Find your rhythm. We have to listen to ourselves, possibly for the first time in our lives. If we have the option, and are in isolation, we need to find the rhythm that suits us. No longer obliged to fit into the norms of society, we can sleep and rise when it suits us and those in our household. Create new patterns for living.
2. Routine. If you’re living with others, especially children, a structure is helpful for part of the day. And to entertain children when you’re flagging, there’s a great resource on the Scouts website entitled ‘The Great indoors’ https://www.scouts.org.uk/the-great-indoors
3. Journal. I for one am waking just before dawn and have been enchanted by the dawn chorus. Having gone to bed usually around 9pm I am awake and find that hour or so where my OH is slumbering, a real paradise of still and quiet. I am now going to look at the RSPB website and work out which birds I can hear! First thing is a good time to contemplate the day (nothing beyond that at the moment, changing a lifelong habit here). I get my journal out and write up my thoughts, warts and all. No pretending. Using pen and paper. Illegible, to anyone but me, but that’s fine, it IS for me!
4. Acceptance. We cannot change what is happening around us. We can only change our reaction to it. Depending on which stage of grief you are at, you might find this really difficult. But it’s pretty much all we can control right now. In times of ‘change’ we’re encouraged to seek out those things which are constant, the things over which we can have a degree of control
5. List creation. Make a daily list, from a ‘master list’. Planning things day by day is really helpful. My master list is being added to all the time. And includes
things I should be doing (chores),
things I could be doing (not exciting, but useful, time consuming),
things I like doing and
things I love doing.
Then I make a list each day with a mix of those elements, using the things I love doing as rewards for doing the others! Simple but effective!
6. Allow yourself free unstructured time. The real reason list creation is so good, apart from creating your own personalised structure, which is in itself a very useful exercise, is that if you want to take a break, have a cuppa and look out the window, it’s really difficult to enjoy if you’ve ‘nothing better to do’. One can seem like boredom and one can seem like a treat. It’s weird how the mind works. I’ve done this for years. It means that you can look after yourself, enjoy the moment, and still get stuff done. Without a list, we are so easily distracted and unable to focus. Which for many of us is the nature of the beast at the moment.
7. Expect the unexpected. Anticipate inconsistency. Some days are better than others. I am sure we’ve all noticed that. Too much news or social media and we’re right back in the land of fear and disappointment and unable to appreciate our surroundings, or the people we’re in lock down with.
8. Being in the NOW. On rough days, it can help to work hour by hour. Literally think, what can I do for the next hour (or half hour as I advised someone close to me recently). Pick something you enjoy doing ideally. Something where you are in the ‘flow’. Collapsing our time scales and being more immediate can help get us through that period. And it’s important to allow ourselves to notice, accept that’s how we’re feeling and adapt accordingly.
9. Wear normal clothes. You’ll have read this elsewhere, but getting dressed and showered is important. Certainly on the ‘week days’. Then you can ‘slob out’ at the weekends if you fancy, which breaks the week up. Even if it’s only you at home, it makes a difference to your mind set to prepare for the day and make decisions, no matter how small, such as what to wear.
10. Keeping in touch with others. Build into your daily plan contacting people who
a) you’re used to having a lot of contact with
b) people you should have had a lot of contact with
c) people you’d like to have more contact with and
d) people who you’d lost touch with through being too ‘busy’
Also consider having a ‘buddy’ who you can check in with each morning and evening, to hold you accountable for your plans, and you for theirs. Even if you don’t complete them, you can have a laugh or a moan and start again the next day, having had someone NOTICE what you’ve been up to. Feedback is vitally important for most of us.
11. Food and mealtimes. In many ways, some households might feel like they’ve gone back to 50’s domesticity! However, regular meals, making an effort to drink lots of water and using left overs properly is now a helpful concept. Even planning how we’ll use the available food that day can be fun/a challenge. Knowing in the morning what the evening meal will be helps create a sense of order. And try to ban devices if and when you get everyone in the household round the table at the same time! How rare is that!?
12. Movement. We all need to ‘move’ each day. Planning what sort of exercise we’ll take today and what route is within our control is also SO good for our health and mental well being. Don’t let it slide! If you have mobility issues, try to sit by an open window and get fresh air, it really helps!
13. Finding the small wins. Taking positive action and not letting procrastination take over. I’ve found that deciding which ‘job/s’ I am going to make myself do today, from the ‘should’ list, those things I’ve been putting off because I didn’t have enough time (lol), is surprisingly empowering. The feeling of satisfaction where a job you’ve been studiously ignoring for months is done. The task might have made your living environment that little bit nicer. And wow, don’t those jobs usually take SO much less time that you’d expected? Win/win! We all need to find little wins in our life!
14. Learn something new. Get creative? You might have been expecting this one higher up the list. But while we all know that using this time to ‘self develop’ and ‘be productive’ is being encouraged all over social media, it’s not always possible to learn something new, just because there’s now the time. We have to be in the right head space. So don’t beat yourself up and add dissatisfaction with yourself to your list of things to be anxious, disappointed or annoyed about. Do what feels right for you. Don’t compare to the others who are bossing it with their new business ideas or astonishing previously unrealised artistic prowess!
15. Be kind to yourself. Go with the flow. If you fancy that piece of cake, eat it. That beer, drink it. Try not to drink beer all day every day, and same for the cake. But let your standards drop a bit. Enough to find pockets of enjoyment in this time and savour it where you can.
16. We need to lower the bar. Change the record. Start a new one really. Many of the old materialistic ways will be left behind, and ‘living in the moment’ concepts and mindfulness laden ideals we’ve perhaps toyed with in the last few years can now come to the fore. Ever fancied exploring more spiritual side of life? Now’s the perfect time! Want to enjoy listening to a whole album right the way through like you did as a teenager? Now’s the time to reminisce and transport yourself to those ‘halcyon’ times with music from your youth!
17. Notice what’s nice. Savour the food, smell the flowers, enjoy the sunshine. Using our senses fully takes time. It does really help to consider each day what you are grateful for in your life. Evening is a logical time to reflect on this. Keeping a journal where you note these things in the evening and explain to your future self how you were feeling every morning is also a strangely enjoyable and cathartic experience. Almost like being your own therapist. The journal reveals the tale of our ever changing emotions. And having ‘dumped them’, I for one, certainly feel more liberated during the day.
18. Compassion and Patience. What you can’t control however, are the reactions of the people around you. If you are self isolating on your own, you are more able to create a zone of tranquility. However, add other people,’ the more the messier’, and a huge dose of compassion and patience is needed in the daily mix!
19. ‘I thought I knew you’! Expecting that people will go off the deep end about ‘weird’ things, and extending that tolerance and forgiveness for ourselves, is vital. Once the situation has calmed down, encourage, by your own example, apologies and forgiveness. Also discussion about the triggers is helpful so everyone can be more mindful and considerate of the rapidly changing needs of others. Even if you’ve lived with people all your life, this alien situation will bring out reactions that bear no relation to the carefully curated persona we thought we knew and expect to witness. Prepare to be shocked from time to time. Cut everyone some slack and be quick to forgive.
20. Co-parenting. Looking after younger children where there’s two adults in the household is even more important than usual. Sharing the responsibility fairly, with prior agreement, is essential. Having a daily rota helps everyone know where they stand and what to expect. Even if it’s simple – alternating 6am to midday and midday to bedtime for example, will help the relationships between the adults and this will have a hugely positive effect on the children. Irritability is to be expected. But having some time ‘off’ is helpful for all parenting adults, so they can return fresh.
21. Solo Parenting. If you’re a single parent, or caring for children on your own, the same ideas about planning still stand, but you can ‘use’ TV or devices as you’re break time. But guard against those external distractions being the default or the children will get out of hand, rude and uncontrollable! Children need structure too. They are perhaps even more used to it than us. So perhaps create a plan between you which will create a sense of ‘we’re all in this together, we will survive’.
22. Remember how to play. Play is not just for children. If you have children with you it’s likely you’ve found yourself enjoying some unstructured playful ‘chill’ time with them. At least I hope you have. My facebook feed would suggest that this is happening unexpectedly for a number of parents who find this a silver lining in this situation. If you’re living with adults, or are on your own, now is a good time to reconnect with games you used to play as a child. I think we feel silly and self conscious about playing as we grow older. Whether it’s something I’ve only recently been able to cope with, charades, or say, karaoke (which might be better on our own!!), a card game, or a board game. A paper chase or a clue game. A crossword or a puzzle. It’s perhaps usually seen as a frivolous waste of time. But we need play and the fun and absorbing distraction it creates in our lives and now is the perfect time to claim it back!
23. Create your own space. If living with others this is especially important. Many people are cooped up in a space which wasn’t intended for 24/7 habitation. And the noise? Little things can seem so annoying, things which in the past you’d hardly have noticed. So find your own little ‘corner of the world’. And make sure people know that you need some ‘space’ and kindly ask them not to interrupt. Make sure everyone has the same ‘grace’ applied to them and it should create a more respectful, considerate community in which to sit out this situation. One where we can all make decisions which work for us, to get us through in our own way. Then consider coming together at set times, such as meal times and enjoy the sense of community which some people living on their own crave.
24. Slow living. The desperate rushing to cram so much into every day and chastising ourselves for wasting time has left most of our lives. We are finding our own rhythm. I am hoping that when this passes, and it will, that we are able to retain some of those precious elements which we have discovered in this period. So try to look after yourself and be extra kind to others, and above all, yourself!
25. Look to the future. A little bit. Perhaps consider what elements you’ve unexpectedly stumbled upon on in your present situation which you’ve enjoyed (if you are honest with yourself), even if they are not what you’d expect! (probably especially if they are not what you’d have expected!) Which bits would you like to weave into your new life PC (Post Coronavirus) and which elements of your life BC (you get it!) you’d prefer not to resurrect. Also look ahead a little bit regarding our seasons too. It’s coming into the warmer weather. Can you excavate that cupboard under the stairs and find the old two man tent? dust off/repair the paddling pool (just as much fun for adults as children remember!), find/order some sun cream. Get your summer clothes out and washed and while you’re at it, sort your drawers. You get the idea. This way we can enjoy the changing seasons and feel prepared for once, rather than living life ‘lastminute.com'!
If you'd like to talk about any of these issues, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org or we could have a phone call. Please email first though! Hope to hear from you.