Just about every adult in the world would love to take a break from reality this week. And just about every one of those same adults, can’t. We’re somewhere between wanting to know all of the details of what’s going on around us—and wishing we could somehow escape it all.
Here we are at home, though, many of us in uncharted waters with homeschooling, teleworking, or perhaps wondering how we’ll make this work financially. These are tricky times, to be sure.
For many of us, our stress levels are reflecting our intense need to take care of ourselves – but how in the world do we weave in “self-care” when we’re practicing social distancing or, in some areas, quarantined? We can’t just take a break because we feel like it.
Of course, I’ve never been through a COVID-19 pandemic before. No one has. However, I have experienced a micro-version of social isolation. For a good long while, it was just me and my small child, 24×7. We were about as isolated as we could be by the world’s previous standards and I was lonely as heck. So, this doesn’t feel completely foreign to me right now.
With this experience, I know some ways to take a break when you really can’t.
I don’t claim it’s even remotely the same as the world’s current situation, but it’s the closest I’ve got. Here’s what worked for me – ways I’ve truly taken care of myself – when I simply couldn’t take a break.
It’s almost impossible not to breathe deeply while you stretch. The combination of deep breaths and stretching “stimulates receptors in the nervous system that decrease the production of stress hormones.” (source) Hold your stretching position for as long as you can. The more you can relax into it, the better. If it’s uncomfortable, still wait there as long as you can. You’ll feel better for it.
Take a break from the screens.
At the moment, screens aren’t really allowing us to take a break. We’re not coming up refreshed after looking at them. Further, it’s highly unlikely that anything urgent will appear in our newsfeed while we take an hour (or a day) offline. We’d be naïve to understand that screens are linked to anxiety and depression in kids but think they have no effect on us. The screens will be here when you get back. Take a break and see what good things happen.
If you find yourself feeling symptoms of anxiety or withdrawal from your screen time, it might be time to do something about it.
Enjoy a small change of scenery.
Go in the other room as a family. Eat dinner in the living room. “Camp” in each other’s bedrooms or swap beds for the night. Do whatever you need to, to get out of a funk and feel like you’re creating a safe emotional space. Even taking your laptop into the kitchen rather than the bedroom – or wherever you normally work – can give you a fresher perspective. Look out a different window.
Choose your mental happy place and go there often.
Do you have a happy place? Go there. In fact, I recommend choosing about three of them so you can change your mental scenery as often as you need to. Daydreaming is definitely not a crime. It can prove incredibly beneficial even if you just zone out for awhile amidst the physical or emotional noise around you.
Imagine the details–do you feel the warm sand between your toes? Is there a breeze blowing the trees ever so gently? Are you warm or comfortably cool? What does the air smell like? You know where you feel best. You have the power to go there anytime you’d like. Add enough detail so that it’s vivid and relaxing.
Lower your standards.
Two nights ago, I went to bed frustrated that my house wasn’t clean. I woke up stressed, still looking at the mess around me and wanting the clutter to just.go.away. It didn’t. I got really snippy with my family about it and no one was better for it. I spent most of the day repairing the emotional rupture I’d caused. The next night, I took another approach. I went to bed in a messier-than-usual house and told myself, “My house will still be messy when I wake up in the morning. I am going to sleep knowing this and I make peace with the mess.” You know what? I was a nicer person the next morning. I legitimately felt better with that attitude. I decided that with everything else going on, some clutter was not a big deal. Paradigm shift.
I often hesitate to share my personal journey with prayer since it’s, well, personal. I can tell you with certainty, however, that when I turn over my worries to the One I believe is always listening to my heart, it gives me peace. Maybe it would give you some peace, too. A good friend of mine who prays recently reminded me that once we turn our cares over to God, we should release them entirely. She has a good point — if we’re handing them over, why would we engage in a tug-of-war to try to pull our worries back? If we’re going to trust, trust.
Know what sets you off and create some boundaries around it.
We know where we need boundaries because every time something frustrates us, the message behind it is “This isn’t working for me.” Think of the quiet message of frustration telling you that whatever topic comes up that consistently irritates you is one that you need to address. Perhaps you address it within yourself; perhaps you address it with your children.
Remember what makes your kids antsy.
If we know, for example, that too much screen time causes behavior issues for our kids, the onus is on us to limit the time they spend online or in front of the TV. To be sure, a lot of kids are going to be spending a LOT more time in front of screens in the coming weeks. If that’s your plan, make peace with it. What you can do, proactively, is decide what times are going to be designated as screen times and which aren’t. My child, for example, does much better with screens if we’re done with them before noon.
If it’s too much indoor time that makes our kids antsy, build in backyard time or a walk on a nature trail away from others.
Remember that playful parenting is your friend.
Playful parenting helps lighten the mood for everyone when people just aren’t getting along (or aren’t as well as we’d like). It’s an absolute win/win situation for you and your kids.
Let the others who live with you chip in a bit.
If any other adults live in your home and are able to lovingly care for your children for awhile, even a five-minute breather where you have no responsibility whatsoever can help. Schedule it at a consistent time every day so you know you can count on it. If those “adults” happen to be the characters on an iPad (and your child is old enough / safe alone with it), it’s okay to walk in the other room and fetch a cup of tea. Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard is “hold your warm cup with both hands.” I don’t know why, but it’s incredibly grounding to do that.
You can also take a break by letting your kids chip in, in ways they usually don’t. Let your 5-year-old make lunch for the family. Your only job is to make sure it’s actually edible. Cereal is totally okay.
Keep the perspective that not everything about this time is uncertain. We still know a lot. Take a break, at least mentally, and let that sink in.
It’s tempting to jump on the bandwagon of calling this chapter of our lives “uncertain times” – because, frankly, they are. I detest the message that phrase suggests, however. It’s as if it’s saying we know nothing; we’re just generally “uncertain.” That’s gaslighting. That’s fear mongering. Those are the words that get us to click on news stories.
Personally, I choose to reframe them as “tricky” times because I can deal with “tricky” or “interesting” or “character building” much better than I can “uncertain.” As adults, we manage tricky situations all the time. Wording matters to my heart. I choose the one that causes the least anxiety.
Take back control of your mental health by not buying into catch phrases, or anything else, that causes undue anxiety. Then use the information about what you DO know to make smart choices about the time you’re spending with your kids. Take a break whenever you need to, even when you’re sitting right in the middle of everything else.
Sarah R. Moore is an internationally published writer and the founder of Dandelion Seeds Positive Parenting. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. She’s currently worldschooling her family. Her glass is half full.