Keep Calm and Carry on Differently

Only a fortnight ago I was writing about the inevitability of self isolation. Well, here we are March 2020, along with most of the world, New Zealand is in lock down to slow spread of COVID-19.  Enforced self isolation with social distancing thrown in for good measure. 

Like most things COVID-19 related it’s all unfolded pretty quickly. One life changing announcement to adapt to, swiftly followed by another announced only hours later.  Implications bouncing around my overwhelmed, only human brain.  Like the rest of you, I’ve lost sleep, shed tears, been driven to the point of obsessed with fixing what ever small part of this that feels within my control, felt numb, been easy to upset, to anger.  I’ve been lost in dark thoughts about job security, finances, what our post COVID-19 landscape will look like but I’ve been equally buoyed by acts of kindness, by our strong leadership here in New Zealand across the board, from our prime minister, to our ministry of health, dental council, dental association and the dental family that I work with, by gratitude for my health, fitness, family and the privileged place of preparedness that we face this stretch of lock down from.

Something that might seem a bit strange to include in my list of gratitudes is the devastating earthquakes Christchurch endured in 2011. During this time amongst many other things, we were all home for at least a fortnight, followed by living a very different daily landscape for years.  Whilst it wasn’t identical to what we are facing with COVID-19 it brought many lessons on resilience and preparedness, lessons that felt cruel and unnecessary, lessons that have left their scars but in their healing have left me better prepared for the next once in a lifetime disaster I will endure.

Here are some of those lessons:

1. Limit your exposure to media

Yes, there are current situations and instructions to be kept aware of but generally you don’t need to see the news more than once a day, you don’t need to see every source’s interpretation of the same facts, you don’t need to see the same stock footage, same regurgitation of the most dramatic elements.  This will just keep your anxiety levels high.  Establish boundaries with what news and media you will access and when.  Then stick to it.

2. Set boundaries with your social media

This is hard, especially in isolation when social media can help provide support and connection but don’t forget there can be a lot triggering things within social media too.  You’ll see only aspects of the media people want to share, from sources that may be questionable, only the view in to their bubble that they want to share, never the full picture.  You may need to mute friends, unfollow pages, leave discussions.  Their dialogue may be unintentionally fear mongering, sensationalising and distorting the facts. It may feel judgemental, accusatory or worse, keeping your anxiety levels unnecessarily high.  In this category I include, social messaging groups like What’s App.

3. Establish a routine

Any parent knows that upsetting a baby’s routine is really disruptive to sleep patterns, behaviour and general mood.  We’re no different.  So, you’re at home and blobbing out for a bit might be just what you need but creating a routine will aid sleep, mindset and so much more.  Set an alarm for a weekday, get up and dress as you would if you were leaving for work, timetable in some movement, set a lunch time, a dinner time, a bed time. Plan your day’s routine with your bubble.  Have a rough weekday and weekend plan, differentiate between the two.

4. Plan something to look forward to

This could be the chocolate bar sat in your pantry, a board game or movie with the kids; a glass of wine and favourite tv show with your partner in the evening; a zoom coffee date with your bestie; a walk outside listening to a podcast.  Plan for the short term but also for what you’ll do when the restrictions lift.

5. Let yourself feel and acknowledge where you are on your emotional rollercoaster

It’s ok to grieve the loss of even the smallest things from pre-lock down living. That might be your job, your walks with your friends, your gym, the mall.  Just because there a big losses to grieve doesn’t mean the little ones don’t matter too. It’s ok to experience the full spectrum of emotions within a day and it’s ok to feel down. Be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up for not feeling a way you expect or want to.

6. Hydrate and eat well

There is a strong gut mind connection, not only will eating and drinking well boost your immune system but it will help boost your mood.  Comfort eating high sugar, high processed carbs, highly caffeinated and alcoholic foods and drinks might feel great in small doses but should be kept to just that, small doses.  Look towards whole foods where you can, eat enough protein, drink plenty of water.

7. Focus on what you can do

‘God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference’

Reinhold Niebuhr

We’ve had many basic liberties pulled out from under us overnight but instead of focussing on what we can’t do, lets focus on what we can do. The opportunities that living differently will present to us over the coming months.

8. Be Kind

Show self compassion alongside compassion for others.  Give to others in any way you can, be that slowing down to play a board game with your children, phoning your neighbours daily to check in on them.  Do someone else’s groceries, Skype your co-worker who lives on their own, reach out to someone over 70.  Compassion to others may come easier than self compassion, don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t set massively high standards for how you expect self isolation to go, what you plan to do, to achieve.  Some days might feel all go and some a big no.  That’s ok.

You’ve got this team, see you on the other side.

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