As the lockdown continues, frustration is creeping in. Whether it’s the person who’s walking up the aisle in Tesco (or any other well-known supermarket!) THE WRONG WAY and bumps into you, or watching people congregating in groups when you know they’re not related, or watching our politicians quibble over who announced what first, it’s easy and understandable to feel ‘on edge’ and a wee bit tetchy. Our lives are so different. I’m sure I’m not the only person who watches tv programmes, filmed pre-lockdown, with a sense of longing. They all look so relaxed about being together, laughing as they brush past each other with no concern about being less than 2 metres apart. Living alone, I also find myself out on my daily exercise, watching couples or families laughing together, before calling out my larger than life ‘Good morning, lovely day!’ to anyone who looks like they might reply!! Yes, we are continuing to live in strange times. We have reacted or responded to this new way of life in lots of different ways. I know I have personally gone through several different ways of reacting or responding, often within the same day!
Some of us have started to learn a new language or to play a musical instrument. Others have done wonders in their gardens or redesigned and decorated various rooms in the house. As we find ourselves in the second month of this lockdown, we find that we can’t continue at such a pace, we are exhausted and can’t understand why. People who are usually competent, high achievers find themselves unsure of what to do next. Those, who have continued to work, especially those who are working from home, find the lack of boundaries confusing and draining. Then there are the keyworkers who are at the frontline. They are people like us, who have families and other family members to care for but continue to place themselves at risk. The mental and physical demands on all of us are huge. We are living through the same challenge, however we are NOT experiencing it in the same way. Some have lost family members to Covid-19 or sat with someone as they take their last breaths, some have lost their job or their family business, whilst others have been able to increase their hours because what they offer is in demand and business is booming.
There is good science behind why most of us are all feeling exhausted. In 1943, Abraham Maslow shared his paper, ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’. Here he shared what he believed to be a hierarchy of needs. Although his theory has been tested, it is still recognised as relevant today. If our most basic needs are not met, we are not in a place to focus on the other aspects of our lives. It is something I witnessed in schools and was what influenced the way I worked with staff, pupils, and the wider community. If we didn’t have children and adults who felt cared for, felt safe and happy, then we would not have learning at any level. At school, like now, it was not a level playing field and that was my driving force, as it still is. My work with families continues to be so important to me. Currently, I hope that I am providing some respite, sharing new skills and strategies to support families, as they work through their individual challenges. Providing skills and support for school staff, also continues to be high in my priorities.
Let’s consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, remembering that we cannot expect anyone to feel confident and ready for the next level until the first one has been at least mostly fulfilled:
Physiological – Our most basic needs include our body’s need for water, food, a place to lay our head and a good night’s sleep. Without those, we cannot begin to think of anything else. We might have the occasional blip but think of the homeless and the children in homes where food is scarce, at best.
Safety – If we are fortunate to have the first level fulfilled, we are now considering ‘safety’. Children need to feel safe, which is why we bring them up with love and understanding and with safe, secure boundaries. For them to grow up without fear and anxiety, they require a level of predictability (some more than others). As soon as that predictability wobbles and boundaries disappear, children will react in lots of different ways. I would suggest that many of us will find this level a stumbling block right now. The ever-present discussion on Covid-19 can be unsettling, worrying and anxiety provoking. We will find ourselves reacting to the lack of predictability, lack of boundaries and the unknown. We prefer to know what’s going on!
Love and belonging – So, here we are. I hope we've all made it to level 3 (check the diagram). It isn’t necessary to have the need at every level completely fulfilled. At different parts of our lives, we may experience changes and challenges, but at some point we all have a need to feel accepted and loved. This doesn’t just apply to our family and intimate relationships; it applies to friendship and other social groups. It works both ways, feeling loved and feeling love for others. It is increasingly documented that our physical and mental health is improved when we experience a sense of belonging. It feels good to belong! The converse is also true. Our physical and mental health can be detrimentally affected when we find ourselves alone and on the ‘outside’ of society.
Esteem – I’ve written this blog, not to cast doom and gloom, but to help people understand why they, or people they know, are finding life so hard right now.
We need to feel good about ourselves. There are two sides to this. One is feeling good about ourselves and the other is feeling valued by others. When these needs are met, people are more likely to feel confident and recognise themselves as valuable to their families, friends and work colleagues. If these needs are not met, there can be a lack of self-confidence and feelings of inferiority.
Self-actualisation – WOW! We’ve made it to the top level?! How many of us reach this point? How many of us feel truly fulfilled? How many of us believe we are living up to our perceived potential? Are we living the life we are meant to be living? Is now a good time to consider what is important in your life? I leave that with you to ponder.
In summary, we don’t live in glass bubbles. There are so many variables and we don’t have control over so many of them. Do we live in a fair, just society? Are we being educated in a holistic way? Can we begin to understand our place in a global context? We are on a lifelong learning journey!
So, what can we do to feel better?
Back to basics! Go back to Maslow’s first level. Are you eating well, drinking wisely and getting enough sleep? If the answer is ‘No’, then take time to make changes. Eat ‘clean’, drink lots of water and establish a routine in the evening that encourages a good sleeping pattern to evolve.
It’s all about selfcare.
Mental Wellbeing: One way to ‘defrag’ your mind is mindfulness.
“Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”. Jon Kabat Zinn
Mindfulness ‘practice’ is exactly that, it is a skill that must be practised regularly, but make it manageable. Don’t commit to one hour every day but do set yourself a realistic target. That will be different for different people. Daily is ideal for about 5 – 10 minutes to begin with, building up to longer practices.
We tend to focus mostly on breathing during mindfulness practice but there are other ways too, including focussing on sensations within the body. It’s also possible to pay particular attention whilst we are completing everyday tasks, like brushing teeth, eating meals and going for walks.
I offer different sessions throughout the week for personal wellbeing and mental health check-ins. In these sessions I share different tools to nurture mental health and wellbeing. You are welcome to come and try these sessions out without pressure to attend every week. There are other tools that I share as AndBreathe. Check them out at www.andbreathe123.com or on social media.
Create a special place in a corner of a room that you go when you are taking time for yourself. Add a candle or two, a blanket, a cushion or chair. Care for yourself, just as you would care for someone you love very much! Be kind to yourself. Patient. Gentle.
Social Wellbeing: Keep in contact with friends and family. We are so lucky to live in these times with so many ways to keep in contact. Yes, it can get a bit overwhelming at times, but make sure you touch base with people every week.
Physical Wellbeing: Again, this will be different for different people. You don’t have to pound the streets in running shoes for an hour. The emphasis is on regular exercise, a mix of gentle and more strenuous, whatever that means for you. Ideally, go outside for exercise. At the moment, when we are so confined to the indoors, it is even more important to get outside. The leaves are beginning to burst into blook, birds are singing, lambs are leaping around and being outside reminds us that nature is a constant. Being physically active also creates endorphins which are the ‘feel good’ hormones.
Most of all, be kind to yourself. We are going through challenging and difficult times. And please remember to keep in touch! I would love to hear how you are getting along.
Thank you for reading this far! AndBreathe... is a very exciting venture and I am glad you have joined me on the journey!