Hello lovely humans in all of the places you are in this really complex time. Perhaps you are trapped at home with small children, feeling disconnected and isolated, or finally connecting with your hobbies and interests. We all respond differently to unprecedented circumstances. Personally in this moment I’m letting Youtube teach my almost 5 year old Pokemon yoga while fending off my 2yo who is smashing two large metal spoons together while crawling all over me.
This has got me thinking about how to respond in this time. Beyond reaching out to my clients in the not for profit work I have offered some free sessions to front line health care workers. An additional place I want to offer some comfort and care is addressing how to support those of us who are stuck at home and feeling the slow (or perhaps fast) accumulation of stress and mental strain.
This could look like feeling numb and foggy or feeling unsettled or edgy. When we are suddenly out of our rhythms and consuming a lot of frightening information it can cause a shift in our nervous system. We are designed to be more alert if there is a new piece of information in our environment. If we see the same dog every day likely our nervous system will cue us that it is not a threat, the same as a car door shutting or the sound of passing traffic. The shift in these times is that it is much harder for us to be regulated because we have stopped our regular routines and rhythms that we have become attuned to. Every weekday (before the virus) I would brace myself for the one horrifically stinky elevator I needed to take. I would start to notice the aversion… the mental chatter as I approached it how I tensed in anticipation of holding my breathing in ways. One day it didn’t smell as bad but still carried on with the same response until another person in the elevator commented that it smelled better.
I realized that they were right, it did smell much better than it had. I was still in that pattern. Psychologically we are protected by a baseline of predictability in our day. What can happen as our days blend on without structure is that we lose the cues of safety and rest that we all need in order to have a baseline of wellness.
I noticed how impactful only 3 days without routine were on my almost 5 year old and how emotionally unregulated he was becoming. The simple act of making a very gentle structure quickly shifted his distress to a more manageable state.
For me my structure is looking like getting the kids out of bedtime and into daytime (out of pjs, teeth and breakfast). Free playtime after breakfast and some creative activities unstructured.
Baby has a nap
2-3h in nature
Home for 6, dinner bed and stories
Screen time on weekends for half an hour and one treat each day.
Most of this has allowed us to carry on more life as normal. Talking lots to the kids about the virus and how we are all working as a team so that people can take turns at the doctor so that not as many people die.
If your nervous system is getting little hits of adrenaline and cortisol every day the impact of this can manifest in exhaustion and general feelings of fatigue. If you are not sleeping well this can compound if you are consuming too much caffeine which also activates your nervous system. If you are too elevated that nightly drink of alcohol can release your physiological (body) stress and relax you but it can also simultaneously block your depth and quality of REM sleep. REM is critical for many functions, immune system health, stress response, neurological function etc.