March 2020. The global Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to live differently.
I am noticing that many people are very distressed about changes to planned goals and activities. The social distancing and self-isolation is causing many to be apprehensive and frustrated at home.
I have decided to share how I keep my spirits up, while adapting to a new reality. I’m no expert, and what works for me may not be everyone’s solution, but maybe some of this will inspire others with their own ideas.
I may have an advantage. You see, the last 14 months were in a way a rehearsal, although I didn’t know it at the time. Sure, there wasn’t a pandemic, or a lockdown, but I faced uncertainty, anxiety and some social isolation. I was navigating two major life stressors, simultaneously. So some of the below points were my coping methods from before the pandemic. I hope it helps others.
I would also like to create an awareness that while social isolation, anxiety and a forced different reality may suddenly be new to the majority of people, there are many others who have already been dealing with something similar, while being somewhat invisible to society.
Some of the new discomfort which many are facing right now, has been a way of life for many others. And I hope this awareness makes us all kinder and more connected. Because we don’t need to be in close physical proximity to reach out and talk to other people.
When people feel that they matter, they cope better. It has never been easier to keep contact. What stops you from calling and engaging via message? Are you simply forwarding jokes and info to everyone in your contact list, or do you also sometimes ask them how they are?
Here are some of the things that work for me:
– Start the day with a mundane task. What many of these activities have in common is movement and distraction – both helpful when dealing with the debilitating effects of depression or anxiety. I’m not a morning person, and wake up in slow motion at the best of times. On top of that, when depressed, it’s hard to jump up and get straight into putting yourself out there confidently. So I always started with some movement by doing a mundane task like putting the laundry in the washing machine and getting it started. When that was ready to hang, it meant more movement and distraction outside and some feeling of control because I got a chore done and won’t have to feel bad about washing piling up. So it’s a little achievement first thing in the day
– Wash your face, put on your bra. If you’re a man, shave and put gel in your hair, or do what you always did when you felt good. Still important when working from home alone and not seeing anybody. I also found this was a sort of ritual that acted as a transition – getting into work mode and hopefully feeling better about myself. How would you feel in the office with colleagues without a bra? (don’t answer that…). I also brush my hair and put on lipstick. My ‘home office’ space is based at my vanity desk – the only desk or table I have at home. So when I look up from my screen, I see myself in the mirror. If I look like a wreck, I won’t feel productive or confident. So at least I can smile at myself and say ‘You’re doing well Alice, keep it up’. These basics are very important, and to me it’s not necessary to dress up in work clothes. Because I don’t have aircon at home, I need to feel comfortable and happy in order to be productive. So when it’s hot I do work in my shorts, and put my hair in a ponytail. But being clean and fresh is what matters. It is an important transition from getting out of bed, often in a low mood, to trying again today, and working through the to-do list
– Go outside and take a photo of a flower, or a cloud, or something. This sounds easy, but sometimes a person can actually be too depressed to step outside. So take one step – that is an accomplishment. Well done. You don’t need a big garden or to go where people are. Your balcony or window will do too. Sometimes I just wanted to take one photo of one flower, once I was outside and it caught my attention. But then I got distracted trying to get a better one, and sometimes there was a bug and I wanted to include that too, and then I noticed another plant or bird, or thought of another angle, and after a while I felt happier because of the distraction. And I had a nice photo or two, so I could share it with my mom or on Instagram and that conversation in turn also uplifted my mood
– Take a selfie. Or use the self-timer. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But I ended up taking many, many photos until I was happy with the angle, the lighting, the background and my expression. And then I realised it was a fun distraction, while deleting the blurred ones and cropping some others
– Take a photo of your pet. Add a funny caption. Share it on social media. Pet pictures make everyone happy
– Embrace a new routine and enjoy it more than lamenting the one you had to pause. My evening routine was to run time trials three times a week at the running clubs. With that on hold during lockdown, I have started cooking in the evenings. I used to come home after a run, shower, eat something quick and then I was tired and it was bedtime. Now I take my time cooking and after my dinner, I have enough left to store for future meals. This also means I need to go to the shop less often for groceries
– Try new recipes. Experiment with all those recipes you never had time for. Look for new ones. When you are proud of your results, share them with friends and family
– If you have a garden or indoor pot plants, spend time taking out weeds or trimming them. I find watering my garden and tending to my indoor plants to be a nice quiet meditation. The repetitive task allows me time to sort my thoughts
– Do some spring-cleaning and de-cluttering. It can be very therapeutic to revisit memories and emotions. Let go of things and emotions, and limit which ones to keep
– Change your curtains around. Besides the change of scenery, the exercise up and down ladders and the counting of hooks will do you good. Wash them and then try hanging them in different rooms. Mix and match your colours
– Reflect, meditate, get to know yourself. Without guilt and without regret. Remember the saying ‘When we know better, we do better’. Understand yourself, your triggers and your needs. Know what’s a deal breaker to you, so that when encountered, you can choose to avoid it.
Find out what brings you peace, so that you know how to return there when something shakes your centre
– Ask your friends and family how they are. Especially if they are quiet, or if you know they are going through another challenge
– Stretch. If you don’t already have a regular stretching technique, look up some stretches or a yoga sequence that works for you. When I do my stretches, my body feels good and my mind is relaxed
– Live frugally. The same frugal living which helps in times of low budget will also be helpful in times of lockdown. Get comfortable with making do. If you run out of your preferred food or household item, eat something else or use an alternative, or do without. Be creative and make a plan. It feels good to live a simpler life. Try it. You won’t die. There is too much thinking about things one ‘must have’. Consumerism and marketing is responsible. But you have a choice to change your thinking. Limit that thinking to rare situations. The next time you say ‘I must have this or that’, ask yourself ‘Really? Why?’ What I do is ask myself what will happen if I don’t get it. For example ‘I need a new pyjamas’. Then I ask myself ‘What will happen if I don’t?’ and I answer with ‘Then I can sleep in my T-Shirt’. Sorted. No need to go out and spend money. I intend to continue many of these practices beyond the lockdown and the difficult times. I’m happier living simply.
I hope that you find a way to see your changed reality as an adventure. When it’s over you will have a story to tell.