I grew up in Bosnia during the war, and what I learned is that it is easy for people to get stuck in the fight or flight mode. During the war we were reacting to a constant experience of danger. Afterwards, your body was stuck, anxious, and completely run down over something as simple as going to the post office.
It is this fight or flight experience that makes it so difficult to engage in positive things that make you feel better. Doing a face mask can seem daunting. All that cleaning up! Making dinner becomes a minefield of decision paralysis. Don’t even get me started on the usual advice: Put down your wine glass, grab a cup of tea, no! Jump up and do some squats. No, Chores. Do all your chores. Wait, stop doing chores, the sun is shining. Make sure you enjoy the rainy days and slow down. Don’t let these moments with your family slip by. Do a face mask. Hydrate. Home school your children. Do not call it homeschooling. Self-educate. Learn a language. Are your plants hydrated, too?
So here are my FOUR pressure-free anxiety-busting tips to try during isolation:
If you are exhausted, if you have been up all night, if you feel like you are running on adrenaline alone, having a nice little nap can really make a difference. Once you lie down, I recommend you close your eyes, and take some deep breaths. Pretend that you are a child and mum is going to come in and check if you are asleep. Your mission is to trick her into thinking you are asleep. Covers up, eyes shut, breathing even. When I try this exercise, sometimes I wake up refreshed. Other times I lie in bed, and if ten minutes in I am not asleep, I get up and grab my journal, and write down what I am thinking. If I don’t know what I am thinking, I write down some random things or answer questions or try to compose a haiku, something that will give my thoughts direction. I then put the journal down and try again. (Get out of your phone!)
Procrastinate creatively. I like to procrastinate exercise with other exercises – I can’t be bothered doing PE with Joe, but I will go for a walk to avoid doing PE with Joe. I will absolutely utterly write a business development article to avoid having to look at the latest profit projections. I will call A colleague if it means I don’t have to go to another virtual seminar. Channel your procrastination.
#3 Look at your calendar
Look at your bank account. Open your mail. The things that are making you anxious are sometimes the chores that, once tackled, will make it easier to get through the day. It is like looking at that spider that freaks you out a little. The more you do it, the less scary it feels. I like to write down the list of the things that I am struggling with and why – so if my calendar feels overwhelming writing it down is a good way to begin processing your anxiety.
#4 Learn the phrase “the fifth trimester”
And repeat it every time you think this stage of mass isolation should somehow be productive for your children. We are in hibernation – their teachers are not expecting them to advance – but simply to maintain their skills. The kids are going through the same amount of uncertainty and stress that we are, and the best outcome for them is to feel accepted, safe, and a part of a community. No matter their age, encouraging skills like introspection and reflection will lead to higher levels of resilience and success than berating them for procreating.
Leila Chalk is the author of the Isolation Journal – a guided Journal to help you process through the effects of mass isolation. She is the principal lawyer at Forty Four Degrees Lawyers and has been using the Journal to help her clients.