The pressure to feel you should have accomplished some amazing feats whilst being shut off from the world in lockdown can be overwhelming if you spend more than ten minutes on social media. By some people’s standards you would think we should all be coming out of this pandemic with the ability to speak five new languages fluently, super fit from completing workouts in the living room every day, and knowing how to juggle six balls whilst walking on a tight rope and spinning plates off of our chins.
Oh, and of course doing all this while simultaneously baking endless trays of banana bread and carving a brand new garden bench using nothing but a dinner knife from the cutlery drawer.
Along with this undercurrent of expectations is the feeling that we're letting ourselves down when we don't 'achieve' things we think we ought to be during this time, and this shows itself in the language we find ourselves using. For example:
‘I’ve been bad today, I only did two hours work’
'I know I should be making the most of all of this free time, but I've been doing awfully at it so far.'
'I feel like we're midway through the year and I've wasted my time, I'm failing and haven't achieved anything.'
Such phrases like the ones above highlight how we might be feeling like we're getting it all 'wrong'.
Is There A 'Right' or 'Wrong' Way To Get Through Lockdown?
No, no there isn't. We're all simply trying to get through this period in any way we can, facing our own daily battles and struggles and for some that's being in basic survival mode each day.
So to start with, let's throw those two words out of the bloody window! There's no 'right' or 'wrong' way to be getting through these months, and the continual use of these words is part of the root of the problem of how we are assessing our day-to-day living. We're judging our current choices and actions on an old set of routines and standards, and then chastising ourselves when we don't live up to an image of what we 'should' be doing with our time which, by the way, doesn't exist. What even is that image anyway? I, for one, have no idea.
As one friend said to me last week:
'It’s as if we’ve all got a role in this drama production that we didn’t audition for, and now we’re just trying to work out what the hell the script is...'
She's completely right! The reality for most is that we're just muddling through and doing whatever we can to get on with life. The majority of things we would do day in and day out has all been taken away from us and because the pandemic is something we never thought would actually happen in our lifetime there was no mental preparation for it. Also, how on earth can you effectively prepare for something like this? Three months have passed by already but it has felt never-ending. It's as if we've all been thrown into the non-comedic version of the film Groundhog Day.
Some people have not struggled much at all, lockdown life is quite similar to their previous routines, but for others the enforced shifts and changes have been tremendous and destabilising. Along with the restrictions there are a different set of pressures, commitments and responsibilities facing each individual. Therefore, how and why do we keep comparing our day to day, our energy levels, and our productivity to someone else? Furthermore, why do we keep using negative language to suggest we're failing a test that we're not actually sitting?
There's no manual on how we're suppose to navigate each day. We have been, and continue to be to a large extent, isolated from our loved ones and support systems and attempting to crack on as best we can given the sudden restrictions to all aspects of our life.
Effectively, we’ve all been grounded.
These restrictions are obviously going to have an inevitable impact on how we are able to approach our day, our work, and how we manage our energy and mood. Even with some restrictions being lifted, and more on the horizon, it’s the equivalent of your mum or dad saying; ‘You’re allowed out but you’re still grounded which means you can go and play as far as that tree, and that bush.’ We can go for a drive, go to the shops, and meet a few more people all at a distance. But the lack of being able to properly travel, go on holiday, work at our usual workplaces, socialise in our favourite hangouts, go out to restaurants and the cinema, hug our nearest and dearest (all without a second thought) has left many with feeling they are struggling and frequently demotivated. I even weirdly miss the sardine squish on the Northern line of the underground going into central London during rush-hour. Obviously I don't miss the sweaty armpits in the my face, but I do miss the fact, and took for granted, the ability to be in close proximity to lots of people and not have to constantly worry for my health or the health of others.
Bearing this is mind, perhaps it's time to start thinking more of how we're viewing ourselves, our emotions and our coping mechanisms, and look at ways to be kinder to ourselves as this pandemic continues...
Suggested Ideas For Self-Care
- Cut Yourself Some Slack: Remember, it's not like you woke up one day and decided you didn't want to leave your house or do anything for the coming months. The whole country has stopped. You're not being left behind, we're all in this together. Some of you will have started a new hobby, be learning new skills or started or growing your own business, and that's lovely to hear if you fall into that group. On the other hand, many people will be doing what they can to get through each day to come out the other side with as good a handle on their mental and physical well-being as possible, and that may involve lots of duvet days and Netflix, and that's great too. This isn't a race. There are no lanes and no finish line where someone else is going to 'win' and beat you. Focus on you and what is best for you to get through each day.
- Watch Your Language: Looking at the above point, it's also really important to notice how you talk to yourself, or how you talk about yourself to others. Try and notice the words you use, and ask if you are subconsciously using them to beat yourself over the head with them. Think about how you can reframe your language to be more positive and kind to yourself and the choices you are making.
- Watch Your Social Media Use: Be mindful of how long you spend on social media and the impact it is having on your mindset and well-being. Are you feeling pressured by seeing other people's accounts and their 'perfect lives in lockdown' photos? Are these images having a negative effect on you? Apart from remembering that these snapshots are not a true reflection of someone's life and that many are only showing you the highlights and the 'best bits', seek out accounts that help give you a balanced view of the situation - the people who are really frank and honest about their experiences during this time of both the ups and the downs. Additionally, maybe think about limiting your use of social media or taking a break completely to give yourself some head space.
- Withhold Your Judgement of Others: Just as we don't want someone judging our lifestyle and choices, extend that courtesy to those around you. If you're choosing to spend your time in a certain way and feel it is really benefiting you, that doesn't necessarily mean that will work for the next person. Be mindful of what you are mentioning in discussions and the impact it could have on someone else's mindset. For example, by saying 'I'm being really productive, what have you been up to? or 'I hate my job and going to work right now' (to someone who is desperately missing their workplace because they have been furloughed) this could be reinforcing negative thoughts that someone is having internally about themselves, or that they're not 'measuring up' to other people's standards.
- Connect With People Who Uplift and Energise You: The fact we can't physically see most of our friends and family in person means that staying connected with those people in other ways is important. For many of us, we like to meet up with our favourite people because, among other things, they help give us a boost and re-energise us, normally making us laugh, gives us an opportunity to talk and feel loved and wanted. These needs have not suddenly stopped over the last few months, if anything, they will be enhanced. So making effort to stay in contact with your circle of people over the phone, via Skype, text, using online Zoom quizzes etc to help each other get through this time can play an important role in helping us manage ourselves.
- Have Time To Yourself and Don't Apologise: That being said, if you need time alone 'away' from others then do it. Only you know how to best manage your well-being, and so where some people may need to be on a phone call to their best friend for four hours straight, others may need four days of solitude in order to have the time out and re-energising space they need. Do what you need to do, and don't apologise for it. But do communicate to others if space is what you need. If you're going MIA for more than a usual amount of time that might make others worry just let your people know and how they can support you effectively.
- Take This Time To Think: For those who are struggling because you do want to be achieving certain things whilst in lockdown but are not able to find the motivation, a good place to start is just to take some time to think. People often believe that being productive = must be doing things. For many right now, that can feel too much and understandably so. What we often do is accidentally look past the necessary step before action which is simply thinking and reflecting on our thoughts. Therefore, taking time at some point throughout this period to simply think about your life can be powerful as it's a way to have a 'check-in' with yourself. It could also provide the kick-start to some of the motivation you've been struggling to find by acknowledging what you like about your life, and what you would like to change in the future. Here are some starter questions to help this reflection: (I always find it useful to write these answers down so you can come back to them at a later point if needed)
- What do you like about your life? (before lockdown and during lockdown)
- What do you enjoy doing? (before lockdown and during lockdown)
- What do you want to keep about your current life?
- What do you value?
- What do you want to change about your current life?
- What is it that makes you want to make that change?
- What could be your first small step in making that change?
- What could stop you from making this first step?
- How can you overcome that challenge?
- How will making this change benefit you?
- Create A Wish List: As a nice addition to the above questions, you can also put all of the things that you're looking forward to when this pandemic is behind us onto separate bits of paper and into an empty 'wish list' jar. No matter how small or big, write it down. Use it as a reflection exercise to show yourself what you have to look forward to in the near future and as a way to also gently remind yourself that you will be able to do all of these things before you know it, even if right now it doesn't feel that way. Keep the jar somewhere visible and when restrictions are lifted, empty it out and start checking off things to do and places to go on your list as you do them! It is a great way to help you have a new found appreciation for the things you took for granted before lockdown happened.
- You Do You: The world will start spinning again before we know it and life will resume to pretty much how it once was, but in the meantime if you wake up one morning ready to take on the world and then the following morning you're just not feeling it, that's okay! Do what you need to do to get yourself through this time so you can coming out the other side in one piece.
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