Monday, March 30, 2020

Corona-Virus Lockdown. My Six Step Survival Guide

We are in tricky times. Corona Virus has taken a grip in Italy, Spain and the UK with cases world wide. While the USA struggle to cope, China seem to be getting a handle on it which shows that there is hope but we are yet to reach the toughest point in this virus outbreak. I'm classed as higher risk and so I thought it best to self-isolate. I have two boys who are home now the schools are all closed.Their school is doing a great job of providing learning opportunities online via their chrome books and I'm keeping it low key as they have a series of things to do each day and the rest of it is spent online with friends. These are strange times and they're trying to get their heads around it as much as we are.

There is a hidden community of warriors who are currently feeling like the world outside has suddenly been dealt some of the same cards those with chronic pain conditions exist with, namely pain and isolation. For me, watching the UK in lock-down has been stressful worrying about how everyone will cope but this unique situation also illustrates to me how far I have come in handling my health issues and life changes. I find I can advise family and friends with little snippets of information, handy hints and life hacks to make life over the next few weeks and months more bearable. These steps help me and I hope readers will find them useful. They are a mixture of pain management techniques, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy strategies and meditations I have been taught over the years. They may help. I thought I'd share them with you and let you take away anything you feel may support you in the weeks ahead.

1. Live in the present. 
Fretting about the future and chewing over the past is a waste of limited energy, particularly if you become ill. So just focus on the here and now. Allow yourself to consider things you find difficult but manage these difficult thoughts rather than ruminate. I use a river visualisation which really helps. I close my eyes and imagine I am sitting by a river. My concerns and worries are floating down that river. I watch them all and see them as separate entities. I watch them float away. This helps you see problems and concerns as separate to you. Your concerns aren't YOU. You will deal with them when you're better equipped to sort things out. I tend to write a list of the things I need to deal with after I've seen them float on down that river. I give myself time to deal with these issues as a kind of Life Admin each morning and deal with them as I can practically. Some worries are out of my hands so I let those go. But that's another technique!

2.  Declutter
You are having to stay at home for the foreseeable future. Make your home a pleasant place to be. Take one room at a time and declutter. It will give you a purposeful activity to work through and will help get rid of all the stuff you don't need! Some rooms will take longer than one day so do it at your own pace. I always start with my bedroom as that's my sanctuary and once that's done I feel so much better. My house is still on the cluttered side - it's full of books, cats and buddhas - but the stuff I just kept for no good reason has gone. Bag it up and put it in a garage or back room until you can give it away to charity shops. If you're better organised than me, pop it on eBay and make a rainy day account.

3. Give yourself a little routine.
I lived with timetables for twenty years as a teacher so I'm no longer a huge fan but I do create light order to my day. With me, it depends how well I'm feeling yet I still get up at 6.00 am for medication. For the first week, me and my youngest son were unwell so apart from making food at set times, there was very little routine. This made me feel quite down and hopeless if I'm honest as there was no structure. So now I'm over that flare up, I'm trying to stick to a little routine which includes learning, creativity, contact with my parents and friends and also limits my social media time. Social media is great in short bursts but can just add to anxiety if you're not careful. Set yourself time limits.

  6.00 Get up and go downstairs for a cup of tea. Admin, social media and music
  7.00 Reading/research
10.00 Make breakfast for me and the boys
10.30 Writing
 1.00 Lunch
 1.30 Film/music
 3.00 Preparing tea
 5.00 Tea with the boys
 6.00 Clean kitchen

The evening is my own! I usually read, write, catch up with friends or watch films/boxsets. Mine is very flexible as I've learned doing too much in one day knocks me sideways for the next! But these parameters do help mentally.

4. Keep your body active. 
Throughout the day I do stretches, exercises and breathing meditations from my time with my physio but also Buddhist and mindfulness teachings that I come across. Keep aware of your breathing. One exercise I like to do if I'm feeling worried or anxious is to put one hand on my stomach and breathe in for the count of four then breathe out for the count of six. This helps me connect with my body and stops me living in my head which is how panic attacks usually happen in my case. If anxiety gets the better of you, your body becomes battle ready and it's 'Fight or Flight' time even though you're not actually in mortal danger (hopefully). This exercise is really good for grounding and bringing you back in to your own body.

5. Online Shopping
Ensure you don't run out of essential foods and household goods. Online shopping can be your friend and I've had to accept that going out shopping isn't always possible for me these days. My health often gets in the way and I don't like asking for people to bring me shopping although it's not unheard of! I resisted for a long time as I felt shopping was something I wanted to myself but I save my energy for more creative pursuits these days! I have selections of  essentials saved with a few supermarkets and I find that it's best to book deliveries either late at night or early morning when they release new time slots. In lockdown, be realistic about what you need and what you can use though. I wasted a lot of fresh produce in the early days of being oftentimes housebound. Only buy what you need. Save your money and the planet!

6. Stay Connected
Become familiar with Facetime, Messenger, Skype, Zoom there are many different ways for you to stay in contact with the outside world. These methods of keeping in touch are so important when you can't leave the house. It can be very lonely even for the most insular of us, particularly while you're self isolating and even more so now we're in lockdown. No one is exempt from feeling low mood when being stuck at home and there is no shame in that. My friends say I will 'go to ground' and I really disappear, not wanting contact with anyone. But after a few days this can take a grip. I implore anyone to ensure they have at least one person or even a Facebook group that does face to face contact to connect with during this time. Seeing someone else (albeit virtually) and having a conversation is hugely beneficial for self esteem, good mental health and boosting those endorphins with a good laugh hopefully. I've learned to keep topics balanced and make sure I share news, concerns and positive reflections about the day - what you're grateful for is always a good one. There may be times where you need to share difficult thoughts but try to save the last 5-10 minutes for positive exchanges. It may sound contrived but its always good to leave people better than we found them either by boosting them, showing kindness or and sharing your positive thoughts. You might be that person who makes a positive difference to someone's day.

I hope this helps. Stay safe!

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