As England is about to join Wales in a National Lockdown, I thought it might be time to write something about how this year has changed my life and how I deal with the tricky bits.
Tip number 1: Focus on the good things
I really struggled with this one during the first lockdown and I’ve often slipped since. In the beginning I followed all the news closely, I thought about the worst case scenarios and prepared for them, I worried about things being cancelled and about money and about how my life was about to change enormously.
Did life change? Yes it did. Was it all bad? Nope. Was some of it really awful? Yup. Did focusing on the bad stuff make it easier to deal with? Nope, not at all.
This isn’t about pretending things are better than they are, this is about looking for the good bits. One thing I loved about lockdown was that I wouldn’t have to travel and stay in strange places with my play, The Duck. It was heartbreaking having all my work cancelled, but on those mornings when I was sipping tea sat on my own doorstep whilst my diary told me I should be waking up in a pit of anxiety in some dingy hotel somewhere, I can’t pretend it didn’t raise a smile.
I try to focus on finding what makes me happy and to bring more of that into my life; going for a walk – even when I don’t feel like it I feel so much more awake afterwards – watching something light and funny, reading a book, watching the birds, playing a game, meditating, writing a poem, singing a song; there are so many tiny things that can make me feel more at peace. It doesn’t change anything except my mood, but that is what makes it all the more bearable.
Tip Number 2: Distance yourself from group panicking
It was a QI episode that introduced me to “The Great Sheep Panic” of 1888. In an area of England covering around 200 miles, an enormous number of sheep panicked, broke from their folds and ran amok. Why? The belief is that one sheep panicked and the panic spread. That’s it. No wolves, no monsters, just a ripple of panic from flock to flock that led to a mass stampede.
Social media can feel a bit like that at the moment. Everyone is angry or anxious or terrified or cross with everyone else for being any of the above. Don’t take on other people’s emotions.
I know how empathetic we can be; if you’re like me and can’t help absorbing other people’s feelings when you see them, then step away. I have been limiting my time on social media since March. I couldn’t cope with the floods of feelings that built in my chest every time I logged on. I deleted the apps so I wouldn’t have a list of notifications demanding my attention. I now only go on when I am feeling able to and I feel so much calmer for it.
Focus on what you need right now, don’t take responsibility for anyone else’s feelings unless you’re up to it. Take a break from the panicking sheep and find your own trail through.
Tip Number 3: Find your core.
If you’re someone who needs to problem solve the situation and prepare yourself, then do that.
If you’re someone who needs a strict routine and it’s about to be disrupted, build a new routine as soon as possible around the old one.
If you’re someone who needs daily interactions, plan how to do that remotely or realistically.
If you’re someone who needs space and your home is suddenly filled with people working from home again, find time to be alone, find peace in noise cancelling headphones, find time for yourself.
I heard a wonderful archaic word today, oneliness. It’s not in use any more but I think we should bring it back. It’s being alone without the connotations of being lonely. You can be lonely around people and you can be alone comfortably.
This year has been hard on everyone and with no defined end we cannot say what normal will look like next year. All we can do is find our own rhythms and patterns to get us through.
Tip Number 4: Learn from your mistakes
Whilst everyone was exercising in the Spring with Joe Wicks and getting fitter and losing weight, I was busy eating cakes and drinking gin and homemade lemonade.
I had that same feeling as I get in the run up to the Winter; I’m hibernating, I need to lay down some body fat for the long cold nights ahead. Except it wasn’t Winter and the hibernation was more conceptual than real.
This time I’m being a bit more sensible, I’m taking up Yoga (again – this might be the fourth time I’ve taken it up and dropped it again, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel better when I’m doing it). Adrienne on YouTube suits me just fine and I do find it helps my anxiety.
I’m taking up writing down my worries. I was advised to do it recently and I think it’s going to help. My husband and I already do something called “Emptying your head”, which is great. All we have to say to each other is that we need to empty our heads, and then we say all the things that are worrying us out loud.
The rule is that the problems aren’t there to be fixed, they’re just there to be emptied. It’s often a random list of tiny things and huge things – ‘I need to weed the veg patch’ can sit alongside a fear that a loved one might die, it’s not about judging the importance of those things going around your head, it’s about expressing them.
The advantage of writing them down is that you get to see how the patterns emerge. What worried you yesterday may still be there next week and then you can see that it’s something you really care about. I’m hoping it will help me prioritise things and understand what is important to me and what isn’t. I’m not going to make the mistake of keeping things in and letting them percolate around my head, tainting all my thoughts with their weight.
Tip Number 5: Getting to the End IS the Achievement
So you haven’t written your lockdown bestseller, your house is a tip, your hair is a mess, you haven’t learnt how to play violin or learnt a new language, your masterpiece never got further than ordering the oil paints, your running shoes lie spotless in their box, you haven’t wrapped any Christmas presents (or even bought them); well done! Good! Fantastic!
This isn’t about becoming a better person, this is just about carrying on as best you can. See this blog? I’ve written hardly any articles since March, my sharing is way down, the things I’ve written are not my best work and I’m really pleased with that!
I wasn’t up to doing more, so I didn’t do it, and that is the key to a successful lockdown. Forcing myself to write would have made me miserable so I only did it when it felt right. I wrote the things I wanted to write and lived the life I needed to; sometimes it went well and I felt settled, sometimes I was an anxious mess and needed to hide away. I was successful because I did what I needed to do based on how I was feeling – not other people’s expectations or achievements.
Now is never forever, today is just one short day; find your patterns, live by your rhythms. Let’s make this lockdown a time of oneliness and not loneliness.