This is a fast track learning curve in maintaining sanity. We’re starting to realise (whether we like it or not) the difference between what we want and what we need. The things that carry us through day-to-day, usually under the radar, become glaringly apparent and differ person to person: coming and going as we please, access to the people we care about, feeling safe.
Our personal worlds are shrinking down and teaching us what really matters. And it’s important to pay attention.
Listening to ourselves and working towards a new normal is vital – it’s how we’re going to keep moving, and being helpful and staying healthy in this unknowable stretch where time has slowed down.
We’re so used to moving quickly, to (as my friend Marie-Claire once said, and it stuck) wearing ‘busy’ as a badge of honour. People who’ve never considered themselves as ‘anxious’ or ‘worriers’ are suddenly identifying and I think it’s because we’re used to setting our own speed.
My anxiety is triggered by a loss of control, so it flared early doors as irritation (made worse no doubt by my sense of entitlement). But…but I NEED to swim every morning and spring is here and I have ROUTINES that are essential to my mental wellbeing, and I NEED to go to coffee shops and see my friends, and I have holidays planned.’
Soon followed by panic and looking beyond myself, ‘And all the businesses I care about are under threat and what about freelancers and how will things get made and what about vulnerable people and the NHS and connections with others. I CAN’T DO ANYTHING TO HELP.’
Like many (I assume) I couldn’t stop reading the news and following chains on Twitter. I wanted, needed to stay informed, but that information was paralysing. I was losing control of my mind by only inhaling what I couldn’t change.
So…adapt or die right? To put it bluntly.
I had a frank chat with myself, very much like the one needed at eighteen, where I was so terrified of everything I’d created a pit of despair by the side of my bed which I sat crying in (very cool, I know). It went something like this, ‘Is worrying and hiding and dwelling making it better? No? Then we need to try something different.’
At eighteen, different meant getting out there, applying for jobs, showing up to social gatherings, deep breaths, baby steps, pretending to be braver than I felt.
At thirty-two, it means some of the following. You might find that nothing on the list works for you, makes you feel any calmer, any better. We’re all in hugely different situations here: some people are losing their jobs, their loved ones, their health. Others are upset that they only have fifty loo rolls left. My hope is that something in the below will resonate and help, even if just a little. Some of these are working for me, for my friends, or just ideas discovered online. I’ll keep adding to this list, so please do get in touch with what’s keeping you steady.
- Supporting within your limits – The majority of people (I really hope it’s the majority) want to do something; actions, gestures, offers, something that makes us feels useful. But the only way this helps is if it’s not to your detriment. Buy vouchers for the businesses you love if you can afford it, donate to food banks, pick up your neighbours shopping if you’re not in an at-risk category and you do it safely, join local groups online and volunteer your time, call your friends to check-in, stay at least two meters away from people when you need to go out. We can all do something positive. Recognise your contribution.
- Small achievements you can see – especially useful for those like me, who need to retain a sense of control. Bizarrely (because I hate it) for me, this is cleaning. My fridge and oven have never looked better. The cobwebs are gone from every corner. I can see the benefits and it’s hard work. I’m ticking off the long-ignored boxes on my to-do lists and it feels like progress.
- Ban virus chat – it’s very, very difficult to avoid everything you talk about linking back around to COVID-19 – everything is orbiting it right now. But it’s important to try for windows of escapism – books, films, nostalgia over old photos, making future plans. Stay silly. Limit your social media or just agree not to talk about it for blocks of time (if you’re super good at this, create a swear jar and get rich).
- Indulge yourself. Hot, long baths, novel after novel, seek out new music, new recipes from scratch, sleep in, write poetry, learn a language, knit a jumper – whatever it is that you’re always saying no too because it’s never a priority, so just hums away in the background – if you can do it at home, then now’s the time to make room. We might be here for the long haul folks, so give in to the simple pleasures and what makes you feel good.
- Re-invent being social – your book club can go digital (everyone’s raving about Zoom), as can your dinner parties. You can make plans to hang out online. Have beer tastings together, play games, cook the same food. Yes, I know it’s not together together, but thanks to the internet we can still gather and it’s so important that we do. I went to a virtual house party last night which involved running around taking selfies with cuddly toys, fish knives, coasters and salad spinners (to name but a few items), Pictionary and Never Have I Ever. Three hours later we played Buckeroo – asking our friend to place various items on his sleeping wife. The small plate on her ankle ended play.
- Create new stories – there’s a real temptation to stay very still and wait it out. Usually, we’re out and about creating stories all the time: making group plans, talking in bars, running into people, having adventures. We explore by accident. Now we need to intentionally set up conversations which focus on things outside of just sitting in it. We need shared experiences which don’t all come down to fear and panic. Start an online film club and watch them together, read the same book as a friend and discuss it, plan how you’re going to decorate the lounge, research your next holiday, set group challenges, reach out to someone you’ve lost touch with, research your family tree. Stay curious. Keep learning.
- Take stock – if you’re worried about running out of supplies, then check-in. This isn’t about hoarding and taking more than you need – it’s about understanding your essentials, when you’ll need them and where they’re going to come from, especially if you’re unable to leave the house. There are a fair few local suppliers dropping veg and meat boxes and so much stuff can be bought online. Understand your options or, if you know you’ll need help, join a community group and ask, or prep your friends and family. If there are systems in place and you have a plan, you’ll reduce the likelihood of finding yourself suddenly without something you need.
- No goals for me thank you very much – or – as one ambler perfectly put it, ‘I’m trying to get into the mindset that to have a lot of free time, with no obligations, is a once-in-a-lifetime possibility.’ This time at home doesn’t need to be about achieving, objectives or projects. It’s about tuning in to your own head and doing what you need to keep it healthy, or ‘allowing yourself to stop,’ as another ambler rightly celebrated.