“The only constant in life is change” – Heraclitus, an Ancient Greek Philosopher who clearly knew what he was on about.
Last week our Premier, Dan Andrews, announced some school children would be heading back to Primary School next week, including my daughter Heidi.
It’s the announcement I’ve been waiting for – finally a relief from the juggle and struggle of home schooling and working. Three weeks ago, if you had said to me I’d receive this news, I pictured myself fist pumping and probably cracking a bottle of champagne in celebration.
Except once I heard the news, I poured myself a cup of tea and cried.
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has rocked so many of us mentally, physically and emotionally.
Overnight we were collectively grieving our old lives as the lives we once knew, seemingly disappeared. With that came uncertainty, fear and a resistance against change.
However, we are human, and humans are incredibly malleable, so slowly, some of us will have begun to adapt and accepted the changes we faced.
Now, as restrictions appear to be lifting a little, for many, there’s another round of anxiety and uncertainty again as everything shifts once more – children back to school, work places re-opening, social gatherings commencing.
It’s a strange kind of feeling because suddenly, some of the elements of our lives we were grieving, will start again. And I, for one, don’t feel ready.
Change, even when it’s perceived as good change, can be unsettling, change is rarely straight forward, or linear.
While I’m not resistant to the changes we are about to face, if I’m completely honest, I’m just tired. So bloody tired.
It’s no wonder.
When we are dealing with stressful situations, it triggers stress hormones and physiological changes in our body – pounding heart, feelings of being hot and cold, laboured breathing etc. Ultimately activating a ‘fight or flight’ response.
The fight or flight response plays a vital role in our survival and this response is a direct result of adrenaline being released into the bloodstream. A lot goes on in our brains and bodies when this response is activated, and you can read more about it here.
Anything that causes stress to the body will trigger a fight or flight response – it could be a break down in a relationship, work overwhelm, financial stress, illness, death of a loved one, or a bloody GLOBAL PANDEMIC!
We are in a constant state of high alert right now, wary about what is to come, unsure how this global pandemic will play out and in a constant state of flux.
It’s exhausting, uncomfortable and our poor bodies and brains have been in flight or fight mode for far too long. Nearly every time we seem to catch our breath, another wave of changes roll through.
Admittedly I feel a little better prepared right now, after all, it was only 8 weeks ago it felt like everything spiralled out of control. I’m not saying I’ll nail it, after all, I’m human, but I’ll give it my best shot.
Here are some things I’ll be putting into practice and I hope they might help.
IT’S OK THAT YOU’RE NOT OK
I’m going to get real here. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, sad and wary, it’s ok. I am going to give you a permission slip right here, right now, to say, it’s ok that you’re not feeling ok.
Quite frankly, I’m sick of people trying to tell me how to feel, and I have been for a long time.
“Stay positive” or “look on the bright side of life” or “why don’t you just write down 5 things you’re grateful for”. Spare me.
Right now, if you’re feeling lost, exhausted, negative and wondering, how am I going to cope with this? That’s ok. You’re going through a lot right now, it’s a natural and normal response.
As a society, we are pretty uncomfortable dealing with other people’s grief and negative emotions and we’re desperate to ‘fix’ them. And in trying to ‘fix’ them with positive platitudes, what we actually end up saying is ‘your feelings are not valid’. That is absolutely not ok.
When we stifle people’s emotions and feelings we’re actually doing them more damage – mentally, physically and emotionally. If you simply bottle it all up, it’s going to come back later with far greater consequences. In a moment I’ll talk about acknowledgement of emotions, which basically means, you have to feel all of the feels, become familiar with them and then you can take action to solve them.
On the flip side. If you’re a Positive Polly in life, do you know what? That’s ok too. I actually love being a Positive Polly myself. However, here’s some advice to all of the Positive Polly’s out there. Should someone come and talk to you, and confide and share their vulnerability, just show up, shut up and listen.
It’s important to focus on what you can control. It’s likely you’re twenty steps ahead of yourself in the future thinking the absolute worst. While you cannot control COVID-19 or the actions of other people, or the government, you can control what you do, in the here and now.
After my husband died, all I heard was ‘just take it minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Honestly, I’d be pretty rich if I had a dollar for every time it was said to me. If I’m honest I would quietly seethe as my mind raced to the future and what impact this would have on my future life.
The thing is, it’s actually true. I didn’t know what the future held for me then (I certainly didn’t think it was COVID-19, I’ll give you the hot tip), and I don’t know now. All we can do right now is take it minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and focus on what we can control in the here and now.
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEELINGS
When we are dealt change (be it positive or negative), anxiety is inevitable. It’s a completely normal and natural response to a challenging time and situation. You might be going through a range of emotions and it’s important to acknowledge these, sit with them and notice them.
For instance, if you’re feeling anxious – acknowledge it, sit with it and notice what this brings out in you.
Is your mind racing, do you feel hot and then cold, is your chest feeling heavy?
Often physical responses take place before we can attribute it to a feeling.
For instance, I don’t ever wake up and think, today I have anxiety.
Rather I feel jittery, heart pumping, mind racing and hyper-alert. When I notice this going on in my body, I start to think, “this feels familiar, I think this might be anxiety”. Once I acknowledge this I can then take actions to rectify it. Sometimes that’s going for a walk, writing a to-do list so I can focus on what the day will bring, slowing down or voicing my feelings to a friend. As time goes on, and you become more familiar with the sensations, you can begin to solve them more quickly.
TAKE THE PRESSURE DOWN
I never thought John Farnham would feature in a blog post, but here I am. Take the pressure down friends, take the pressure down.
What I mean by this is that we are in the middle of a pretty big crisis, everything is changing and it’s changing rapidly and none of us have the answers. Or knows how this will play out.
Achieve what you can achieve, no matter how big or small. If you only achieve a shower today, that’s ok. If you achieve having your child only watch the iPad for 2 hours instead of 6 hours like they have the last three days, that’s ok. If you do not get out of your active wear for three months, that’s ok.
Once you take the pressure down, you have more realistic expectations of yourself and I think you will feel some of those anxious feelings go down a notch.
When you’re not even sure of what day it is, or a week feels like it’s been going for a year, it’s important to set some kind of routine where you possibly can.
A simple routine can help with clarity, structure and a sense of achievement.
Map out how your day will look the night before, so you can rest easy knowing there is some kind of plan.
A simple routine could be waking in the morning at the same time each day, having a shower, eating breakfast, taking a quick walk, working, reading a chapter of a book, preparing dinner and then bed.
It doesn’t have to be a world conquering plan – keep it simple.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t completely stick to it, remember we are taking the pressure down, but a routine will give you some sense of purpose and stop you spending a sleepless night wondering what the next day will bring.
Stress sends our nervous system into a panic, so we have to work to minimise stress as much as we can. We are all so different, what works for you to minimise stress, may not work for me. So once again, take the pressure down and if sitting on a yoga mat makes you want to vomit rather than bringing down the stress levels, that’s ok. There’s no right or wrong. Research stress management tools, try them and figure out what works for you and instigate them when required.
CHECK IN MENTALLY, PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY
We are all a little bit frazzled at the moment but it’s important to take a moment each day, or every few days to check in with yourself on three fronts. Mentally, physically and emotionally.
Ask yourself, how am I feeling mentally? Am I not able to concentrate, deeply sad, anxious?
Ask yourself, how am I feeling physically? Is my back sore, do I feel tension in my neck, am I not sleeping well?
Ask yourself, how do I feel emotionally? Am I in control of my emotions or are they controlling me?
Our bodies, brains and emotions are so closely linked. And if we only address one and not the other, we come crashing down. If you check in and know where you sit, you can take steps to help yourself. Connect with a psychologist, meditate, see your Osteopath or whatever it is you can do to keep your body and brain functioning at an optimal level.
FEEL GOOD FIVE
Create a Feel Good Five. Alright, I’m probably sounding a bit hippy dippy here, but here’s a Jo Betz tip for you. And you can thank me for it later.
After my husband died. I forgot what made me feel good. Though sometimes when I reflect, I wonder whether I’d got so caught up in the ‘busyness’ of my own life (work, parenting, marriage, life) that I’d forgotten what made me feel good a long time ago.
At some point in this adventure that is life, I was sat in my psychologist’s office and I was in my deepest and darkest hole yet. She asked me what made me feel good, and I was stumped. And this upset me even more. Because how on earth did I actually not know off the top of my head the things that made me feel good?
I went home and rectified this immediately and sat down and wrote five things that made me feel good, which has become my Feel Good Five. Here are mine, though these might need to be adapted in the strange times we are currently in.
- Walking or hiking – I’d prefer hiking but time doesn’t always permit this, so a stroll around the block is good enough for me.
- Reading a really good book.
- Drinking a cup of green tea made from actual tea leaves, not the tea bag, fancy!
- I get great joy from eating amazing meals – preferably dumplings or a good ramen soup.
- Holidays – travel makes me feel so good, so if I can’t actually get away, do you know what I love to do? Read TripAdvisor reviews about hotels I’ll probably never stay at. Weird, I know.
List the things that make you feel good and just do it.
Suddenly we are allowed to get social, and for many of us, it’s completely overwhelming. Socialising takes energy, a lot of energy, and energy levels have been depleted for a while now.
It’s important to set some boundaries when it comes to getting back into normal life. While connection is crucial to our mental health, you don’t want to overdo it in the first week! Perhaps ease yourself into post-iso life by committing to one social commitment per week and then gradually increasing as you adapt.
It’s also ok to say ‘no’. Don’t feel compelled to do something if it is to the detriment of your energy levels and mental health.
Change is constant.
It is right now and it always will be.
It appears that Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus, really did know what he was talking about.
I hope some of these strategies might help you feel a little better equipped to cope.