I must admit I didn’t sleep very well for several nights after the government’s lockdown announcement. I found myself waking very early for a few days and finding things to clean, so strange because I HATE cleaning. What’s that all about? I’ve also felt distracted, like I have frogs jumping around in my head and sad too. I think I was in shock. I also recognise the signs of anxiety.
The fact is we’re all adjusting to find a new normal. With those adjustments come lots of thoughts, feelings and stress, whether we’re aware of them or not. It may be that we’re still reveling in the novelty factor and enjoying being at home. Over time our relationships will feel the pressures and so we’ve put together a few tips to help you look after yourself and people you are sharing a home with.
Looking after myself
- Be kind to yourself – we all process differently. Some people need to talk and express their feelings readily, others process internally and need time and space. If you are unhappy consider reaching out to a trusted friend and ask them to listen and help you work out what’s bothering you. Try not to bottle things up.
- Be careful what you consume – too much media can drive you mad. Whilst you may feel you need to know what’s happening you may wish to limit listening to all the bad news. It’s worth putting limits on some good things too, I’ve had to mute some What’s App threads because they are pinging continuously and I realised this was contributing to the ‘frogs’ in my head!
- Develop a good routine – get up at your usual time, get dressed and take some exercise. Staying in pyjamas may be fun occasionally, but getting properly dressed will help you feel more normal. Fresh air and exercise will contribute to your well-being, particularly if you take time to stop and listen to the birdsong and observe spring growth. If you really can’t get outside then explore You-Tube, there’s a wealth of exercise routines to suit everyone, exercise is good for your physical as well as mental health.
- Be grateful – it’s well known that an “attitude of gratitude” can help you shift your mindset into a more positive one. Our grandparents may have called it: “counting your blessings”. Notice the small things and be intentional about expressing your gratitude. This also helps us maintain perspective, some things really are “first-world problems”.
- Be creative – I’m not saying we try to become the next Picasso. What I am suggesting is it might be a good thing to use the extra time we have positively. When do we normally have time to slow down and try something new? Maybe you could try some painting and sketching (try You-Tube for inspiration); or read around a historical figure or country you’d like to visit one day; try a new type of cooking …the point is to think outside the box.
- Be still – a spiritual dimension can give another and different perspective. Taking time to be quiet and still each day, meditating on something like the Psalms can be very helpful. The Psalms can help us explore the full range of human emotion: wonder and worship, anger, suffering, depression and more. Psalm 46 describes desperate upheaval in the world and yet the psalmist commends us to “be still and know that I am God”, assuring us that God is with us and over all circumstances. Try reading some Psalms and talk to God about your thoughts and feelings, which is prayer. You may find comfort from many psalms (eg 23, 27, 34, 91 and 139) and in talking to God in prayer. If you’re not sure about the God stuff everyperson.com is a safe place to explore some of the big questions.
Looking after my relationship with my partner
- Be kind – Often underrated, little acts of kindness can make a big difference to a relationship. Take a moment to consider: what could I do to make my partner’s life just a little easier today? Bring them a cuppa? Cook dinner? Rub their shoulders? Listen to their moaning and showing empathy instead of withdrawing? Play a game with the kids? Little thoughtful daily gestures can really help.
- Make space – we’re not used to living and possibly working on top of one another. It’s helpful to talk about your needs for time and space together as well as apart. You may well be very different from each other and it’s worth accepting that our partner’s needs are not the same as our own. It’s also helpful to compromise when the physical space in your home is limited, taking turns to have that favourite spot. Getting out for daily exercise on your own may also be helpful.
- Manage the disagreements well – in our ‘normal’ lives it was much easier to ignore issues because we could get away. It’s likely that things that may have lain beneath the surface will now rise up and cause tension and possibly arguments. It could be domestic habits that get on your nerves, for example one of you is organised and tidy and the other has a very relaxed approach to the home. You’ll need to decide whether you can live with your partner’s habits and consciously decide to let them go, after all none of us are perfect. If not then talk to try and find another way of doing things that both of you can live with. Resolving disagreements well is very worthwhile but not always easy, especially if an issue has become a pattern of behavior. Try the Toucan App – Conflict Module, which is full of constructive ideas, and it’s free.
- Be pro-active – talk about some positive things you can do apart from binging on Netflix: work on a puzzle or online quiz together; go walking or cycling in your neighbourhood; have a virtual coffee or even dinner with friends over Skype; cook a curry from scratch or bake something together. Try some active investment in your relationship using the Toucan App, which will help create interesting conversations around a range of topics.
- See the funny side – a sense of humour can help manage stress. There seems to be lots of humour circulating on social media and some of it is really fun. There are times when it’s helpful to listen to each other’s feelings and anxiety, and there are times when it’s helpful to find things to laugh at together. Don’t use humour to mock or belittle, but do find things you can laugh at to relieve stress.
- Pray together – If you share a faith perspective then praying together can be one of the most faithbuilding and uplifting things to do, as you give your concerns to God together in prayer. When Pray is a free online resource to help couples pray together.
Looking after the children
There is a lot of practical help online for homeschooling and finding fun things to do with the children. We felt it might be helpful to mention two things:
- The children will take their cue from you. They watch and see everything, your anxiety and any bickering or arguments. No one expects anyone to be superman or superwoman but it’s worth having a conversation as a couple and making a plan for what home life will look like, it could be we’re in for a marathon rather than a sprint. Work positively on being on the same side for the sake of the children. Some structure and routine in the home will help everyone. Manage any disagreements away from the children, if possible and try to play as a team, supporting one another.
- Your children will need comfort more than hours of schoolwork. We found this advice from a teacher to be very helpful: “
Dear parents with school aged children,
You might be inclined to create a minute by minute schedule for your kids. You have high hopes of hours of learning, including online activities, science experiments, and book reports. You’ll limit technology until everything is done! But here’s the thing…
Our kids are just as scared as we are right now. Our kids not only can hear everything that is going on around them, but they feel our constant tension and anxiety. They have never experienced anything like this before. Although the idea of being off of school sounds awesome, they are probably picturing a fun time like summer break, not the reality of being trapped at home and not seeing their friends.
Over the coming weeks, you will see an increase in behavior issues with your kids. Whether it’s anxiety, or anger, or protest that they can’t do things normally – it will happen. You’ll see more meltdowns, tantrums, and oppositional behavior in the coming weeks. This is normal and expected under these circumstances.
What kids need right now is to feel comforted and loved. To feel like it’s all going to be ok. And that might mean that you tear up your perfect schedule and love on your kids a bit more. Play outside and go on walks. Bake cookies and paint pictures. Play board games and watch movies. Do a science experiment together or find virtual field trips of the zoo. Start a book and read together as a family. Snuggle under warm blankets and do nothing.
Don’t worry about them regressing in school. Every single kid is in this boat and they all will be ok. When we are back in the classroom, we will all course correct and meet them where they are. Teachers are experts at this!” Don’t pick fights with your kids because they don’t want to do math. Don’t scream at your kids for not following the schedule. Don’t mandate 2 hours of learning time if they are resisting it.
If I can leave you with one thing, it’s this: at the end of all of this, your kids’ mental health will be more important than their academic skills. And how they felt during this time will stay with them long after the memory of what they did during the time is long gone. So keep that in mind, every single day.