Updated: Apr 23
As we huddle together staying home to save lives for many of us it's topsy-turvy. Okay some days, not so great other days, and an occasional roller coaster in between. Our routines have escaped in the night and something else entirely has emerged.
While it's very tough, many of us are also taking in the bright spots - my friend and fellow leadership coach Valentina, who is on very strict lock-down with her family in Spain, has a gratitude jar that she and her husband and kids add to during the week, then one night a week, they take each out the gratitudes and read them out loud.
She’s also making time for herself to meditate, and after she was sick for the first three weeks of quarantine (she doesn’t know what she had as she was not tested), she appreciates the freedom of movement within her home, and not just the confines of the room she laid in while recovering.
She’s also grateful for their rooftop patio for real fresh air, inspirational reading, and the closeness of really getting to know her neighbors as they gather for a weekly happy hour from their roof tops Friday nights. It helps to offset that the kids haven't been outside the home in more than 30 days, and that there is always uncertainty in the air if she chooses to dwell on it.
Another friend here in Oregon lives close to a river, and she’s able to head out in the early hours of the day to get on the water to paddle her surfboard, connecting with nature and keeping in shape for when she can surf on the coast again. It helps her as she also juggles figuring out how to turn her very in-person job into a virtual one 30 hours a week, while also helping three kids navigate online homeschool.
And yet others of us are experiencing the sensation of never being able to stop or rest as another person described to me. She has an intense job that hasn’t slowed down since she started work from home, and the couple nights a week she used to just stay late at work to finish up before coming home, has spilled over into feeling NEVER done while at home.
They have young kids and her husband also works full time. They don’t quite have that flexibility of one parent being “on” while the other works, or vice-versa.
Finding 20-minutes for a walk at lunch are her recent bright spots, as are family bike rides, socially distant from others, on the weekend.
In thinking of the multitude of experiences we are all feeling right now, and exploring what might come as helpful, I've put together a simple guide here with explanations for what we can do right now.
Whether you are overwhelmed with kids, work, and quarantine, or feeling at loose ends with so much time on your own recently, these can help all of us.
For today's resources, I’m especially grateful for my in-depth conversations with friend and leadership coach Valentina Orantes and Dr. Tia Ho, PhD, founder of Finding Mindful Now (catch my interview with her on my podcast, Inner Light with Ellen), as well as my friends, clients and colleagues who have helped shaped these thoughts over the past few weeks.
Without further ado, here they are:
1. Discern where and how you want to put your attention, and set healthy boundaries around it.
I think this is most important because it’s about where you want to put your attention on useful things as well as difficult things. It's also for people and relationships, though they can be more challenging, you can still do it during set times of the day that you outline.
Typically we let our attention focus on auto-pilot, and we are carried along with it. Or we allow ourselves to be carried by what's pressing, now, without thought to what's necessary for our energy, later.
As I dove in this week with Tia, our mind’s job is always to think, survey, and pay attention, and most often to react (respond if we practice it). However, if we choose, we can partner with our mind and remind it to focus in certain areas that can support us, rather than keep us in a stress response.
Managing where we put our thoughts with healthy boundaries is a form of being mindful, and can be as simple as setting a timer for how long you will allow yourself to look at news headlines or scroll through social media.
It can be by lovingly letting folks you care for know that it's you-time as you head out for a walk, or sit in the bathroom for a few with the door locked. (I'll raise my hand on this one, when I know the kids are safe on my solo parenting days this is where I'll take 5-10 minutes for a personal break.)
Or, to focus on something desired, turn off all devices and sit with a book you've wanted to read for 30 minutes instead. Or something even as small as making a cup of tea and sitting in a sunny window to watch the clouds roll by.
2. Choose something to do, once a day, that brings your body and mind into the present moment.
After you’ve set yourself some healthy boundaries and priorities on where you want to put your attention, next find something to ground you back into the present moment.
For me, this is almost always writing and taking a few moments alone to just breathe deep breaths. This can also be dancing to music you love, doing a yoga flow, or going for a walk outside. Physical things we can do to connect our bodies to the present are a great way of also inviting our minds to still.
Valentina shared that making sure she has time for yoga and movement every day, along with a couple hours personal time when her husband is on point to parent really helps her to reconnect with her body and get her out of her head. And Tia shared a simple exercise which is in my podcast interview with her, but I loved it so much I’m going to lay it out for you right here.
First, with light pressure, put one hand on your chest, and one hand on your belly. Gently close your eyes.
Then, take a few deep breaths.
Allow yourself to feel what moves through your body as you give yourself light pressure on your chest and abdomen. Allow the feelings and sensations to be just as they are, and if thoughts arise, allow them to flow by as well. Your body was made to think, feel, and sense, allow it to just be while you rest with your hands lightly pressed, and breathe.
Tia did say that this might not suit everyone in the same way, (personally, this really helped me feel deeply at ease), but if it doesn't work for you, that's okay. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to explore gently what supports us, and then find ways to practice it in small amounts, every day. Your body knows what feels good.
3. Set small goals for yourself that are smart, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
This is my favorite one, and it’s what I’ve used to reorient myself in the past 15 days.
As many know, my life post-quarantine is not as drastically different than before. I work from home or a co-working office, half-time, and my husband works three days a week as an acute care med/surg nurse at the hospital. (If you’d like to catch up on how we address the tensions that come with a partner in the healthcare field during COVID-19, you can head to this post here.)
We already homeschooled our son, and in tandem created an ad hoc early-childhood program for our daughter as well.
That said, when we went on our own work-from-home situation on March 16, something in me shifted. The work I’d done over the past two years since I started working for myself (and my kids were no longer in full-time preschool programs) unraveled a bit.
My home workouts suffered suddenly when my ability to also work out at the gym evaporated. My good habits of going to bed at a reasonable hour also disappeared and I started to binge-watch any old thing (well, 30 Rock, it really was a great show...)
Because even though my day to day isn’t THAT different, it’s still REALLY different.
Suddenly we don’t go out like we used to, we don’t have playdates like we used to, and the swimming, gymnastics, science and woodworking classes the kids were in just aren’t happening.
My work has shifted in how I get it done, and for the first two weeks, I was in a near panic about the lack of PPE in the U.S. (I spent a lot of time on YouTube trying to figure out how to make the best masks with custom cut vacuum bag HEPA filters for the barrier layer.)
That’s when I started to put the previous two items we’ve talked about into action.
Choosing where I put my attention with healthy boundaries, and finding a way to be present, every day.
Even after that, a few days later I realized I was still not serving myself well because I was still staying up until I was exhausted by zoning out with TV after the kids were in bed, and I wasn’t exercising, like, at all.
I knew it wasn't going to go well if I didn't change it. So, I set one simple goal and it really helped me come back to feeling much better in my day to day. You’ll see as an example here of what works for me, you may have to explore what works for you.
FYI, I’m very goal-oriented, I’m motivated from within, and I like having a checklist.
Goal: Go to bed by 10 p.m. for 28 days
The goal is SMART because it’s:
Specific: It’s clear that I have a goal to be in bed by 10 p.m.
Measureable: I have 28 opportunities to do it
Attainable: There is nothing preventing me from doing this other than my own distraction or stubbornness
Realistic: This is not a herculean feat, this is a very doable thing
Timely: This is time-bound and can be done in the time provided
After 10 days of this, when I was feeling much better, I felt I had the reserve of energy to set a second goal: Work out for 12 thirty-minute sessions over the course of a month.
The goal is also SMART for the nearly identical reasons above.
For the goals, I simply drew 28 little boxes on the whiteboard in my kitchen and wrote “bed-time goal” above it.
Below those 28 boxes are 12 boxes with “work out” above it.
I have to admit - it is VERY satisfying to put a tic mark in the box when it’s completed.
In the past 15 days I’ve gone to bed by 10 p.m. 10 times. I’m batting 67%, and that's okay, because it's about PRACTICE, not perfection.
The all-or-nothing does NOT work well for me, so when I reframe what hitting my goals looks like, I know that progress helps me heaps and keeps me going, while perfection stops. me. in. my. tracks.
This is also why I didn't set 10 goals at once.
When I try to do something 100% and don’t make it, I feel like I have failed and I usually give up whatever it was I was trying to change. Add the pressure of multiple goals on top of it, and usually, nothing gets done in the end.
I’ve learned over time that this doesn’t serve me. I have had to shift how I build habits and change. It’s incremental, and bit by bit, I arrive.
If I made my bed time goal for one night, I was 100% better than I had been the entire previous week before starting the challenge.
It’s about improving and practicing, rather than achieving enlightenment and perfection on the first go round. I needed to rebuild my going to bed on-time muscles, and literally need to rebuild my working-out muscles. Ha!
Today I’m feeling really good.
I’ve been feeling a lot better since the bedtime kicked in, and my workout plan is more recent so I’ll maybe post an update a few more days out to let you know how that’s been going, but I've done two since I originally drafted this post, with one more coming later today so it’s already waaaay better than last week!
So, now, what about you?
What have you been doing to help yourself feel better during the pandemic?
What are some of your successes?
Do you think some of these things here can help you with your challenges?
Let me know by signing in to post in the comments section, or sending me a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.