Seeing as we’re a little ahead of the game and are week into being at home, just the four of us (I tried to persuade the 18yo to come back from uni, but she’s on a nursery placement and is needed. I’m not happy about it.) I thought it would be helpful for me to write a blogpost about what I’ve learnt this week. Plus it gives me something to do! I’ve learnt about what helps me stay sane, and what helps my family. I thought that as many of you might be about to embark on self isolation and social distancing – and for how long who knows – that it might be helpful for me to share some of those things… (caveat: we’re all different and in different situations, I know that. This is just what has helped me, a mum of three, two with a serious lung disease and immune issues, and my over active brain that likes to always err on the side of extreme catastrophisation.)
- Deep breathing is your friend. Sounds simple doesn’t is? Just breathe. But it is something we easily forget when we are feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Deeply breathe into the diaphragm – in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four, repeat (there are other variations for this online, but this one works for me.) This helps the part of your fight or flight system reset itself and tell your brain you are not in immediate danger. You can do this anywhere, anytime. Standing, sitting, lying. Whilst you’re making a cup of tea or are on the loo. Lower your shoulders and breathe deeply. Close your eyes if it helps. Do it now.
- Try and keep to a routine. It’s very tempting to want to stay in your pyjamas all day because you can, but if you usually got up at 7am and had a shower then do the same. If you used to run to and from work go for a run around the block before you start work and when you finish. Have a proper lunch break. Finish work at the same time you would normally. Keeping a routine helps us keep some level of normality in our lives. One of my children would happily stay in his pjs all day, and maybe I don’t make him get dressed for the whole day, but at least for part of it!
- Get outside. I cannot repeat this enough. Do some deep breathing outside = even better. Social distancing still applies here, but you can go for a walk or a run or a bike ride and steer well clear of anyone else. If you have a garden get in it. If you don’t, open a window and lean out and feel the sun (if it’s out!) on your face. My eleven year old and I are starting couch to 5K today. Do whatever you can manage, but try and get outside at least once a day, even if it’s just to sit.
- Restrict access to the news. It is very easy to go down a rabbit hole of doom and need to check every update, every breaking development, but it is not healthy. And a lot of what is happening is out of our control, which can be extremely anxiety inducing. Limit your access to news to maybe once a day. I’ve deleted Twitter and Facebook from my phone as well as the news apps and it has been life changing. No, I am not in denial, I am just confident that if I need to know something, I’ll find it out.
- Donate and do good where you can. I’m supporting the local food bank, as well as a local hospital’s staff in their ICU department by donating much needed toiletries. I’ve ordered goods from friends who run their own businesses and have championed fellow authors etc online. It helps me feel like I am doing something to help even though I am stuck at home. And that I’m not powerless.
- Be kind to each other. We’re all a bit overwhelmed by this and not sure how to behave. I’ve learnt to have a bit more tolerant this week for my husband who has been working 24/7, upstairs in our bedroom on the phone, to keep his job. When we first went into isolation I resented that I was the one home educating, and cooking, and doing all the boys’ physio and medicine etc etc whilst still working myself. But he’s also playing a vital role in keeping us safe, and if that means he can’t help out practically then so be it.
- Take the pressure off. We are not all teachers. We do not need to recreate school at home. Our children (I’m talking primary level here as that’s how old mine are, I appreciate it’s different for secondary school aged children) do not need to have daily algebra lessons or spend hours learning about fronted sodding adverbials. Bake. Do some gardening. Create. Watch films together. Go for walks. Play board games. Give them screen time. Whatever. Yes, try keeping to a routine and yes, if they want to learn something more formal then go for it, but don’t set expectations for homeschooling that no one is going to meet. If you want some inspiration I’m posting on Instagram (jenfaulknerwriter) what we’re doing most days. I’m very lucky to have been a primary school teacher for fifteen years, but that doesn’t mean I find this homeschooling malarkey easy. I’m just being guided by my children and am trying to find ways of teaching them through what they are interested in. If you would find a blog post of homeschooling ideas helpful then please comment below.
- Have virtual get-togethers. Grab a drink, get some snacks, heck put your make up on and a fancy outfit and then FaceTime, or Whatsapp, or Zoom and get together. Social contact is so important and I miss my friends. And it’s the same for my children – my eleven year old is currently enjoying a group FaceTime with his peers who are also off school at the moment. They’re talking nonsense, but it is so lovely to hear them laugh and see each other’s faces!
- Take time out for yourself. If you can (I know not everyone can) but have a bath, read a book, go for a walk, out some headphones on and dance to your favourite tunes. I crave time on my own and if I don’t have it I can easily feel overwhelmed. Yesterday I went into another room and read a book for half an hour and it was enough. Today I’m on my own writing this. Tomorrow maybe I’ll walk the dog.
- Keep a gratitude diary. I’ve been doing this religiously since this shitty virus came into circulation. And I have got a lot more to be grateful for than I realised. It’s helping put things into perspective and is taking the momentous fear away. I am so lucky in so many ways and instead of spiralling into fear and anxiety (which over the past week, I have done many a time let me tell you) I now sit back and say what is good about this situation that I have no power over and find the positives. There are always some, I promise.
- Have a look at all the positives that are happening around the world in response to this. See how people are pulling together. Search the internet as it is full of wonderful people offering support for free. Free yoga, crafts, films, plays, lessons and so much more. And then look at Venice, where dolphins and swans are coming back as pollution there has lessened. Marvel at how the air over China is cleaner than it has been in decades. Mother Nature is benefitting from this hugely.
All I can say is that over the past seven days there have been ups and downs. Moments of sheer ‘holy fuck I can’t do this for weeks how will I cope what if my mum gets it and I can’t go and help her or my daughter what if we run out of food or i have to start wiping my bum with a flannel’ etc but now, I actually, honestly feel very calm and very positive. I’m lucky I love having my children here with me, and I’m getting to know them more, understand them more. I don’t have to worry that they might catch a bug at school or become overtired or unwell. And tomorrow night my husband and I are going on a date to a fancy restaurant (the kitchen) and then to the cinema (the lounge.) and I am looking forward to it as much s I would be if we were going out for real. My attitude has changed in response to my circumstances. This time at home has made me feel better, not worse. Maybe it’s because I am taking the time to look after myself more. I am eating better as I have more time to cook. I am exercising more as I have more time to get out. Plus my house is getting cleaner and less cluttered by the day as I have time to get on top of all the stupid little jobs that have me nagging at me for months. We’ve slowed down and it was just what we needed.
It is going to be okay. Take it one day at a time, one hour at a time if you need to. No ‘what ifs,’ just facts about the here and now. Stay safe. Stay healthy.
This too shall undoubtedly pass.