In the same boat, but paddling apart

COVID-19 lockdown without shutdown.

(Originally posted here)

An introduction where I give you the latest stats is hardly necessary here. By now you probably have shortcuts and do (obsessively) regular check-ins on all the various indicators. One of the most telling indicators in South Africa is always the ebbing and flowing of crisis-appropriate memes. I’m sure another article can investigate something around desensitisation, but let it also be known that humour is considered a sophisticated psychological defense strategy - there is something very endearing about the South African heart that insists on using the last percent of their cell phone battery to create a quick Eskom meme just before load-shedding starts.

That being said, we’re in crisis. As social creatures in distress the necessity to have to practice physical distancing can make this an especially trying time. We tend to react to distressing situations by either fighting, fleeing or freezing. If you’ve considered blatant or subtle rebellions in opposition to the stay-home instructions; if you’ve found yourself fantasising about your next trip as soon as ‘this is all over’ or; if you’re reading this article as a moment’s ‘productive’ reprieve from the deep, deep, deep gravity well of Netflix & Chill (Netflix & Freeze?), then you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Where possible, we want to incline ourselves towards cultivating the capacity to intentionally respond to crisis instead. This puts us in a position of feeling in-choice, empowered and part-of. It takes us out of that automated stress reaction and, very importantly, it also allows the parts of our brains responsible for judgement, planning, problem solving and informational processing to come back online. So if the memes don’t get you through this, here are a few more ideas (and yes it’s in a “10 things you can do...” list):

1. You’re grounded, now ground yourself

When all your usual anchors have been removed - the routine, your familiar habits, the people you see at the office - it can easily create a sense of limbo. You might feel restless or frustrated, or find yourself floating around between tasks and not really knowing what to do with yourself. You might even feel completely overwhelmed and panicked. Regardless of the degree of untethered you’re feeling, try making a list of grounding exercises . Some of these might already be in your toolbox (I’m looking at you meditators and yogis), but if you’re new to this, a general rule of thumb is to involve your senses - they’re always in the present and can help you feel more focused. You can start by firmly placing both feet on the ground and feeling the solid earth underneath your feet. Notice what you can see in your surroundings, label objects simply, pick up something familiar and explore it with your senses as though you’re doing so for the very first time. Make a cup of tea and do only that. Smell the tea, taste it, feel the comfort of the warm mug in your hands. You’ve got this.

2. Keep to your routine

Most people, when asked, say that they despise the monotony of routine, but routine can actually be really grounding - it’s made up of habits after all, and what are habits if not familiar ways of inhabiting our lives. Try and stick to the routine you were used to before the stay-home. That means all the way from sleep routine to grooming and going to gym, relaxing, meals or meeting friends. See how creative you can be in keeping as close to your normal routine as is helpful, within a few square meters. If you’re working from home and your space allows it, see if you can keep your work space separate from your living space - it helps your brain keep up. If you also work in bed and watch series in bed and read in bed, how is your brain supposed to know when you’re supposed to just sleep in bed?

3. Keep in (don’t) touch

The worst time to be separated from loved ones, right? If you’re more inclined to flee or freeze, you might tend to neglect some relationships when you’re worried. Try to be intentional here - you’re thinking about them anyway, the online thing isn’t all that bad. Why not schedule a few online dates with close friends and family? Some apps like Houseparty even cater for groups of people to join the same ‘room’ online and play games together. Ask someone to be your check-in buddy, especially if you’re doing this thing in solitude - check in with them at least once a day and specifically ask each other how you’re doing and what you need. Talk about more than COVID-19. Join online groups you are interested in. You can even run a marathon in your lounge!

4. Throwing your pebble into the community pond

Be deliberate in cultivating an environment of support in your immediate environment, for yourself, for whomever you might be sharing with - it helps others and it helps you. Check in with elderly neighbours and ask if you can shop for them. Have neighbourhood rituals - make noise for the frontline workers . Have a communal syncronised neighbourhood braai. Send your love, compassion and support out as far as your mind can reach through prayer, meditation, song, poetry, or just by thinking and wishing well. Kelly McGonigal TEDtalks about how “when you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience... Your stress response wants to make sure you notice when someone else in your life is struggling so that you can support each other. When life is difficult, it wants you to be surrounded by people who care about you….it has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”

5. This is not a Coronacation, but do cut yourself some slack

This isn’t sick leave and it isn’t a planned vacation. But if it is available to you, you can give yourself permission to rest. This beautiful poem by Kitty O’Meara captures that inclination so elegantly - this time of illness is also a time of healing. You don’t have to keep all this in your head all day, you don’t have to hold onto guilt if you’re privileged (privilege is not your fault, but your responsibility, remember? We’ll get to that in a minute). If you are worried about yourself or loved ones, worry productively, do the things , and these things , remind yourself that you are doing the best you can in these exceptional circumstances. And then rest. Know that you’re going to feel frustrated, anxious, bored, worried, and when those feelings come, welcome them. Of course you’ll feel those things. And if you’re secretly grateful for this forced break, then that’s okay too. In fact, whatever you’re feeling about this is okay. Feels have got to feel.

6. Take good care of yourself

This one seems obvious, but seriously, take good care of yourself. Not just because ‘#selfcare’, but because it means that you’ll be less at risk of infection and that means that you’re removing yourself from the infection equation for others around you too. In other words, you taking care of yourself automatically means that you’re also taking care of those around you. Well done. So get enough sleep , eat healthily, get regular exercise , meditate , don’t overwork, get the necessary done.

7. Take your bod for walkies

Our bodies tend to hold the tension we try our best not to think about. And after a few days of Netflix & Freeze, you might notice aches and pains, restlessness, poor sleep and irritability. Your body is asking you to move so that it can discharge some of that tension. Between tasks, do a little dance, make a little love, stay home tonight (see what I did there?). You don’t have to run a marathon in your lounge if you don’t want to, but you can totally do a bit of stretching or light yoga in the morning or afternoon to help your body be your best bud in all this.

8. Regulate your attention

The temptation to check and recheck the updates around COVID is real. Can you notice that point where you’re no longer ‘staying informed’ and actually just compulsively checking to try and get rid of the anxiety? Do you also notice how it doesn’t help? Set up limited times to keep yourself informed and stick to them, no matter how curious you feel in between. Be careful not to insert your fears into the unknown. Make deliberate efforts to stay present to the current reality but shift your attention away from information that leaves you just feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. Take the closest step first. By all means plan responsibly, but only go as far as you can see, once you get there, you’ll see the next steps and go from there. This is all novel and unknown to all of us, as hard as it is, see if you can let it be unknown until it is known.

9. Powerlessness

As you now know, taking good care of yourself and those around you is already a vital and super helpful contribution to the wellbeing of the larger population. You don’t need to do more than this. But if you are so moved and feel willing, I would like to encourage you to assist in ways that are in line with your gifts, privileges, values and interests. If you have financial or material surplus, donate some of that, if you have time , donate some of that, if you’re a really good cook, donate some of that, if you’re good at calming people down, spread some of that. And if you are in need, allow yourself to receive some of that.

10. Therapists are online

Remember that mental health is considered part of core healthcare services and remain open. Many therapists and counsellors have gone online and are ready to help if you feel you need extra support. You can find the therapist who might be a good fit for you on TherapyRoute.

Now, go and be the change you want to see in the world… right after you forward this meme. Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

#COVID19, #Lockdown, #Stayhome, #Coping #Selfcare




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