When I first heard we may go into lockdown I thought “I've got this! This is what I've been in training for! ” I thought it wouldn't really affect me. After all I've been mostly housebound for nearly two years now. Since January this year I've only been out for an hour or two a week to see friends. Turns out a global pandemic affects us all – who knew?!
We all have to figure out where to get food, how to cope with other people being in the same space ALL of the time and how to navigate the daily news and everyone's emotions – including our own. We all have probably been doing some weird shit, acting out, getting annoyed for seemingly no reason etc. etc. I know I've been rebelling against the things I know help me to feel healthier! Which makes exactly no sense until you realise we've all probably gone into fight, flight or freeze at least to some extent. And that when we go into panic mode it switches off the region of the brain that's responsible for complex thinking and planning. Sooo no thinky brain!
Still – I do have some insight into being on my own A LOT and I have lots of coping mechanisms that I've built up over the past couple of years. So I'm going to share some of these with you in the hopes it will keep a few others sane for a while.
This is one of THE most important things. If you take just one thing away from this then let it be this. The way we talk to ourselves during difficult times is even more important than usual. There's likely to be a lot of emotions flying about. You might be sad, angry, anxious or frustrated at times. Telling yourself off for having these emotions is just going to make you feel worse and heighten the bodies flight or fight response. It's natural to feel these things during a worldwide crisis. Or even at any time in your life when things are a bit hard. Try to talk to yourself as you would to a friend. Or imagine a friend or compassionate other speaking to you. What would they say to you? I like to write down how I'm feeling and then imagine a compassionate other or friend speaking to me – and write down what they say.
There are a lot of self-compassion meditations out there too. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer are two experts in this field and their website www.self-compassion.org has a variety of self-compassion resources and meditations accessible for free. A good one to start with is the 20 minute Self-Compassion/ Loving Kindness meditation. Paul Gilbert also has a lot of resources on his website www.compassionatemind.co.uk.
There are also quite a few books available on self-compassion. I'd thoroughly recommend The Compassionate Mind by Paul Gilbert – I came across this when I was really struggling with anxiety and it changed my life. It explains how our brains work with modern life and in stressful or anxious situations and gives some exercises to help to rebalance our brains to be less reactive. It's not just meditation either – there's science and practical exercises in there.
If you can connect with friends and family via the internet, phone calls or messaging then schedule it in at least once a week (more if you can). I think this is the one that people are getting to grips with more as a lot of us are getting very familiar with video calls now whether it's via WhatsApp, Facebook chat, Zoom, Skype or any of the other apps available. This great for me as it makes connecting with friends and family so much easier!
There are also a lot of yoga classes, exercise classes and meditation classes etc going online via Zoom, which could be another way to connect.
Try to be mindful of how you're using all this technology. I have found all the new opportunities to connect a bit overwhelming and haven't felt able to take advantage of them much. Opportunities to connect are great, but I think we do all also need to be mindful we don't go overboard and get overwhelmed by having too much of a good thing – we all need balance in our lives!
If you're still feeling isolated, don't have many friends or don't feel you can connect with others in this way then you could try a connection meditation. I have done these many times when I have been too exhausted/fatigued to connect with people in person or online. The meditation app Insight Timer has a variety of different connection meditations, I'd recommend Recognising Human Connection by Vidyamala Burch.
Now when I say routine I don't mean a strictly timed schedule or timetable. If that works for you then that's great but it won't for many (and doesn't for me!). On a basic level it could be just getting to bed and getting up at the same time if possible, and eating around the same time every day. Our bodies are creatures of habit and we don't want to put more stress on them!
My personal morning routine is get up, brush my teeth, go and sit by the patio window and drink a pint of water whilst looking out at the garden, do some gentle physio, get breakfast, write in my bullet journal and then meditate for 20 minutes. Having the quiet space in the morning to come round and ground myself is vital for me. I also try not to look at my phone until after I've done all of this. In the evening I have an app that stops all notifications and access to the internet on my phone from 8pm. I try to have some wind down time before bed, which for me means more writing in my bullet journal - which includes tracking some healthy habits and doing a gratitude practice - and doing a self-compassion/self metta meditation. Try to figure out a routine that fits with you and your life.
Limit news & social media
Try not to check the news and your social media feed constantly throughout the day. The current advice from experts is to allow yourself a time of the day to check on the news and limit it to once or twice a day. Checking it more frequently could lead to raised anxiety levels and probably won't leave you any more informed.
Also be aware of how much you're using social media and what you're getting from it. I've found it can get quite overwhelming at times and whilst I go on to get some form of connection I often come away feeling a bit deflated – especially of there are a lot of negative posts or repetitiveness. I don't have Facebook on my phone anymore and try to schedule in time once or twice a day to check in – it has been once or twice a week at times. What would your ideal relationship with social media be?
Time to yourself
Try to schedule daily time for yourself to do something that doesn't include sitting in front of a screen or on your phone. This could be just 15-20 minutes in your day and can be anything you enjoy. Some suggestions are time in the garden with a brew, reading a book or magazine (I use audiobooks if I can't concentrate as well), going for a walk (if you are able), pamper time, engaging with a hobby such as arts & crafts, colouring in, playing a musical instrument, listening to some relaxing or fun music. Just anything you find relaxing or fun. We all need a little time to ourselves!
Eat healthily & hydrate
Eating healthier can boost your mood! I'm not talking about going overboard here just try not to go mad on comfort eating. I know I've been craving 'comfort foods', cake and chocolate recently and I have been indulging a little. And that's ok – we're all in an adjustment period here whilst we get used to what's going on in the world and how our lives are changing because of it.
Just try to be aware of what's going on with your eating habits. I learned recently that eating too much sugary foods and processed foods creates inflammation in the body and this heightens stress in the body. If we're aware of this and try to have some balance in our diets then this is much healthier. Also hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more – and I'm not talking alcohol here! Drinking 3-4 pints of water a day increases energy, regulates temperature, boosts the immune system, improves skin, removes toxins from the body, improves brain function and protects joints and tissues.
Time outside/ in nature
Time outside in natural light is important. We get vitamin D from the sunlight and if we get the natural light in the morning it can help to regulate our circadian rhythm which can even help us to sleep better at night. It's also been shown that time in nature is good for our mental health. I can't get out for a walk due to my fatigue levels but we do have a garden I can sit in after breakfast whilst I'm doing my bullet journal. If you do have a garden then take advantage of it if you can, if you can walk then do that. If you aren't able to do either of these then maybe sit by an open window and listen to the birds and feel the fresh air.
At times when I've not been able to go out in the garden due to the weather or fatigue I have found other ways to connect with nature. I sometimes sit and look out at the garden. If I'm not able to do that then there are a lot of natural soundtracks out there on meditation apps and on Spotify (and I'm sure many on YouTube). Sounds of birds, rainforests, the ocean etc. There are also some led meditations visualising walks or being in nature.
Time to reflect and process
Most of us don't allow time for this but I find it's an important way to keep my mental health in check. If we can take time to process what's going on in our lives – especially in times of hardship – then things can seem a lot easier. I like the term that Breathworks use “What we resist, persists”. The more we try to push away difficult feelings the more they tend to overwhelm us. If we can accept the feelings and give ourselves some compassion for things being difficult then this can make things much simpler. For me time to reflect and process comes in the form of meditation and journaling. The meditation helps me to realise how I am feeling and whether my mind is calm, frantic or anything in between. It also helps me to connect with the present moment and with my body. The journaling helps me to process some of this further and bring some more self-compassion to it. It's about connecting with yourself and allowing yourself to be human. If you take this time to process then it can be much easier to relax. And if you can relax then sleep is also easier!
Maybe for you time to reflect and process will look quite different. Maybe you process your thoughts whilst exercising, or whilst knitting or crocheting, during a walk or just sitting in the garden. Any form of quiet time may work for you. I would advocate journaling or some form of creative writing too though as writing things down can give a different perspective on things. If you'd like to get into journaling I'd recommend reading The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll as I've found his system for journaling life changing.
If you think meditation may help then there are many meditations apps out there. Headspace or Calm might be a good place to start. I now use Insight Timer – which has a lot of choice of meditation styles. Maybe start off with 5-10 minutes and try that for a few weeks. A simple breathing meditation or body scan might be a good place to start, or the compassion or connection meditations I mentioned earlier.
I hope the at least one or two things in my rambling will help you in the coming weeks/ months. Remember folks that this is temporary. It will pass and the world will go back to something resembling normality. In the meantime look after yourselves and each other.
Everyone has it, but some people's shouts louder and more persistently. That voice that's constantly judging you and criticising you. My inner voice demands perfection from me – anything less and I'm a failure. If I'm tired and I eat unhealthily then “I've failed”, “I'm fat”, “I'm stupid”, “Why have I got no will power”, “I'm never going to lose weight”, “what's the point in trying”, “no one will ever love me”. It goes from bad to worse and within a matter of minutes it's gone from I've eaten a cake to no one will ever love me – extreme! But in those seconds I believe it. And sometimes I believe it for longer than a few seconds or minutes. In fact my mind loves to tell me these stories, and if I'm not careful they can take over my life and it's exhausting!
“no one likes me”
“I'm worthless, a failure”
“I'll never get my own place”
“WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME”
I've found that the only thing that keeps this voice at bay is a consistent mindfulness practice. If this practice lapses I really notice – it's the difference between having some control and being run ragged by this voice that just shouts abuse at me and has me running round in circles believing all sorts of nonsense.
I'm now training to become a mindfulness teacher. I thought this would mean I would become 'better' at my practice. Though it turns out it's given the voice a new target “how can you teach others when you can't even keep it up yourself”. It seems that the inner critic now wants perfection in my mindfulness practice and I'm not good enough if that's not achieved.
Now I know that perfection is not an achievable goal. It's setting yourself up for failure. I am good at many things – but perfect? No one is perfect.
I also know that when I do practice regularly my mind seems different – I see everything from a different perspective. Things seem calmer and more in balance. And I know that even the most experienced practitioner has lapses in their practice. Life happens. We all get tired, or have things that get in the way. It's how we deal with the challenges and with the lapses that matters.
I am only human, I make mistakes – we all do. But when I realise all I can do is admit to it, understand it and move forward with my life. I can start again. I can schedule my meditation practice. I can go back to basics and re-teach myself. And I may need to do this many times. Ultimately this teaches me a valuable lesson every time – if only that this is essential to my being. That it's not a lifestyle choice or a fad, that it's part of me. That it frees me – and makes me able to live my life without the voice shouting quite so much. And that means so much!
Hi, I'm Sleepy Knights - the exhausted creative. Thanks for visiting my blog! I'll be sharing my creative output - poetry, photography and crafts projects - insights into mindfulness training, coping strategies to deal with life and my own struggles and successes - Read the about section for more info!