There is nothing like a worldwide pandemic and the need for social distancing to change every aspect of a well-loved routine. I thrive on routine, my family thrives on routine, my business thrives on routine. Now, I'm not so sure what my routine looks like. Do I even have one anymore?
Pre-social distancing, I was finishing up my last month of maternity leave, ramping up my OT business, working on a great project with some wonderful OT students. Life was great. Then my phone buzzes. I see an alert that all public schools will be closed for 2 weeks in addition to the scheduled 1 week for March Break. Hmmm...okay... I call my husband. He thinks I'm joking. We were already on Covid-19 alert but this really hit home. Shortly after, we are cancelling our March Break plans, stocking up on groceries (not toilet paper though, I promise!), and buying craft supplies to entertain my 4-year-old over an extended break. Then we hear that the University is sending students home and moving into remote learning. This means my husband is now able to work from home and the project I was working on has stalled for the time being. We realize things have gotten serious.
That one alert on my phone was a pivotal moment that sent my lovely routine crashing to the ground. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I'm fortunate to be able to stay at home with my two kids and husband. I know so many of my friends and colleagues who would love this opportunity. I don't take this time lightly. But I miss my routine. Everything is different; pressures to home school, making sure the kids get enough time outside and not a lot of screen time, still keep my business active while working from home and processing the constant Covid-19 updates.
I know that my friends and colleagues whose work is essential and on the front lines of health care are also suffering from a change in routine. Working longer hours, less quality time with their family, having to ensure safety precautions are being taken at all times and the stress of whether the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is going to be available to them. But, it's not just health care workers, its anyone who has to be at work during this time of uncertainty, it's retirees who are now isolated at home, it's people who are immunocompromised, it's people who suddenly find themselves laid off from their employment, it's people who are single with no family and are lonelier than ever as they now perpetually live 6 feet away from any other human being. Not to mention the added stress for pregnant women as they are preparing to give birth, unsure of what their delivery will now look like, the women who are just finding out they are pregnant and are now considered high risk for Covid-19. I could go on and on. At this point, no one is immune to experiencing change in routine and consequently the emotional response that accompanies these changes and losses.
With already heighten anxiety due to the pandemic and declared state of emergency, changes in our routine may affect us more than if we were under different circumstances. Our emotional responses might be stronger, a sense of hopelessness or despair may appear making coping through this time much, much harder.
What can we do? We need to increase our resiliency, we need to give ourselves compassion, we need to be compassionate to others. We need to accept that things are going to be different, we need to find a way to be okay with a loss of control and routine, we need to remind ourselves that things will get better. Stop asking when will things get better or return to the normal we are use to, unfortunately no one has an accurate answer to this. And that's okay! Be okay with the present moment. We need to stay mindful and present with what we are doing everyday. We need to create a new normal that we are okay with. We need to create new routines that we are okay with. We need to find connection in new ways, connection with ourselves, our family and friends, our community, and the natural world around us. We need to find the good that is coming out of this fear and uncertainty.
This is easier said then done, I know. To help understand these changes, I encourage you to write a list of all the things you did pre-self isolation. The list should include everything you are missing from your life now. Think about what made your day great. Allow yourself to grieve the loss of these activities. Find a sense of peace that these activities are not lost forever, they are on hiatus. Now write something beside each lost task or item that you can replace it with. Something that can now become part of your new normal, your new routine. For example, You may miss getting coffee from your favourite coffee shop. This may seem like a small thing to worry about right now, but for many people this is such an ingrained part of their day which forms their habits and therefore elicits a sense of calmness and security. Maybe this can be replaced with treating yourself to a morning coffee on the front porch if you are at home, or maybe you are able to start trying a variety of home brews, new brands and flavours that you wouldn't have thought to try otherwise. It is these seemingly small things that can help create a sense of normalcy and allow us to start tackling the bigger losses. Make sure you include items that will provide self care for you. And no, I'm not talking about our regular hygiene routine - of course this is still important! I'm talking about taking time for you through meditation, relaxation, doing things that are enjoyable, spending time in nature, exercising, and eating healthy. I'm a mom of two busy children and know that this can be hard to do. Try to find these moments through connection with your children or if they nap use this time for yourself, not doing chores. In a time of crisis, we need to re-prioritize. Chores can wait. Ourselves, our children, partners, family and friends deserve to be prioritized. Especially ourselves.
So, do I have a routine right now? Maybe...maybe not. And that's okay. Routines are important, our identities and habits can be deep rooted into our routines. But now is a time of re-creation. Now is a time to rediscover what is truly meaningful to us and what we can put on the back burner. Now is a time to allow ourselves to grieve these changes but come out stronger, healthier and feeling more connected with our new situation than ever before.
Ultimately, I hope you take away from this blog post the understanding that you are not alone. No one is living a normal routine right now. Finding a sense of common humanity will help in the acceptance process of a new normal. Routine will come back and you may even eventually look back on these days of chaos with fondness. Eventually.....
Please remember to breath through out all of this uncertainty. Regular deep breathing will help, I promise! Remember to relax your jaw and shoulders, and let your tongue fall from the roof of your mouth. It's amazing where things can end up when you are stressed and anxious! Don't feel like you need to be updated everyday from news and media outlets. Don't get caught up in the inevitable inaccuracies of information that are swirling around these days. Give your brain a break if you are feeling overwhelmed. Connect with other people through regular phone calls and video messaging. Not just texting. You need to hear someone's voice to increase the connection.
There are so many resources being published on social media and community resources to help you cope. Click on this link to see what the Mental Health Commission of Canada has published to enhance your mental well-being during the Covid-19 pandemic. https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/news-article/13920/choosing-sources-information-carefully-critical-covid-19-mental-well-being-says.
If you are in any distress, please reach out. The above link will be able to connect you to your local crisis line. Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington crisis line is 866-616-6005 or 613-544-4229.
Also, know that I am here to help. I offer a free intake phone call where I am happy to help you find the resources you may need at this time. 613-331-3414 or amanda@willowfamilyOT.com.
If you are feeling symptomatic, please call your family doctor, public health or seek help through your local Covid-19 assessment centre. For Kingston, this is now at the Memorial Centre. Please do not attend local medical clinics and if you need to call paramedics please let them know that you may be symptomatic. We need to do our best to stop the spread of this virus!
Please take care of yourselves, stay home, stay safe and remember to practice self-compassion first and foremost!