If you would have told me two months ago what our lives would be like today, I would not have believed you. In my almost 35 years on this earth, I have never experienced anything quite like our current reality. No doubt, I have known a nation at war. Since 2001, my notion of war was a war fought on someone else’s shores, across an expanse of land and ocean, away from my home, against a tangible foe.
This war, however, looks nothing like that.
This war is happening at the grocery store around the corner. It’s in our homes, in our schools, maybe even in our own bodies. We are facing a foe we cannot see or understand. A foe we have yet to learn how to fight. And that, my friends, is utterly terrifying. Full disclosure—I’m scared. I am scared for my family, for my community, for our nation, and for our economy. A control freak by nature, I have felt completely powerless in the face of this virus. That has likely been the greatest battle of all–the battle against myself, against the urge to slip into panic and stress in the face of the unknown. Against the urge to bury myself in work or mindlessly watch television to keep my mind off all the crazy. (Thank you, Tiger King! Your show and the ensuing memes have brought great joy to my soul. Also, Carole did it.)
Perhaps you are feeling similarly. Perhaps you are struggling with worry. Perhaps you are needing some normalcy in our current environment. Or, perhaps you are simply needing a way to cope with social distancing and being stuck at home. No matter what our situation, there are some things we can do to come out of all this better, more fulfilled people.
Make a schedule for yourself and your family
If you are like me, you are learning to navigate remote work while also trying to ensure your own kiddo gets what he/she needs in the way of learning and stimulation. Your significant other may also be working remotely, adding another level of planning to the mix . The first week of this environment had me struggling. I felt as if I was in a tornado of chaos, messes, and constant requests for food with the ever-present, “Mom. I’m hungry.” If you are like me, you might appreciate structure and find yourself floundering without it. One of the first things I had to do for my sanity (and–therefore–my family’s sanity) was to create a “flexible” schedule–see emphasis on flexible. By creating regular boundaries on my time, I have been able to better ensure we are all getting what we need in this situation. Is it perfect? NO WAY! But, has it helped? Yes. Here’s a sample of what works in my home. Remember, while this is our plan, we are certainly flexible depending on what each of our needs are.
Create a to-do list for the day
When working on a normal day, the first thing I do when getting to work is generate a to-do list for the day, including must-dos and may-dos to ensure productivity in the day. The main reason I do this is that if I’m not careful, I could stay at work all day, working on things that need to get done. A wise, former superintendent gave me some really sound advice many moons ago. He said, “Bridget, there is always going to be something to do in this job. Always. Sometimes, you have to walk away and leave some things on your desk.” That is still hard for me to do but creating my to-do list aids me in accomplishing the most pressing items and getting ahead when I can. During the first several weeks of social distancing, I noticed that I was working well into the evening with little time for me or my family. Without the change from being at work to being at home, I found myself having a really difficult time turning “work” off. Enter the to-do list. While I am still having a hard time moving from “work” to “home,” I do find that the to-do list is helping me pay attention to the most pressing things first and saving the rest for another day. It also helps me feel less adrift in the day by focusing my attention on small bits of information rather than the seemingly insurmountable tasks that have come with flipping an entire school to remote learning.
Set small, accessible goals
In the wake of being home all hours of the day and night with less interaction with our peers who lift us up and make us better, it is possible that improving ourselves may fall by the wayside. Many people out there are telling us to dream big and reach for the stars and write that book and start that business during this “time off.” I hear those people. And to some degree, I get what they are saying. It’s not often that the whole world slows to a grinding halt. But, at this particular juncture, I have a diminished capacity for the big plans. I am in survival mode. I have been so consumed by fear of what is going on in our world and by the work that needs to be done to continue “school” for students in my district that I haven’t really had the capacity to develop and improve myself to the degree I would like. Not yet anyway. I am feeling this trauma to my core. And you know what? That’s okay. I am going to allow myself some grace here. It’s okay to slow down in the face of trauma. It’s okay to “be less” than we are accustomed to. To allow ourselves to feel and heal. To be consumed with protecting our families over making big things happen. I am not ready to write the book at this time. Not yet. But I will be. And I want to be ready when that time comes. Instead of setting giant goals with far-reaching impact, I am going to set smaller, more accessible goals, goals that can be met while my capacity is lowered. Goals that are still improving me as a human and will serve my big dreams in the future.
Eat food that fuels you
For the bulk of my adult life, I have done every manner of diet that existed under the sun. In effect, my health and weight have gone up and down, up and down. That is, until the last three years. I decided that I was tired of feeling like garbage, and I started doing some research on food and exercise. I read books like The Whole 30 and Eat Happy, and I researched as many peer-reviewed health articles as I could get my hands on. (Here is where I will offer you my disclaimer–I am not a dietician, and I do not claim to have infinite knowledge about food science. I can only offer you what has worked for me.) What I realized was really quite simple. All of our bodies are different, and depending on our chemistry, we need different things. We all have to find out what works for us. I started focusing on foods that fueled me and my spirit–happiness food. I looked for foods that gave me energy and the strength to work out regularly–food that helped regulate my sleep cycle. I tried to focus on eating fresh food and veered away from processed foods in boxes. I started operating by the 80% rule–80% of my meals in a week are foods that are considered healthy and good for my body. The other 20% might be considered “cheat meals” by some. I don’t call them that because that language is unfair and negative. Even though foods like pizza and pasta aren’t the “best” by society’s definition, they still bring me joy. If I have them in moderation and only occasionally, I find I feel less deprived and have found it easier to maintain my healthy food journey.
So how is all this related to our current reality? Simple. It will be very easy to slip into depression and negativity without our schedule and our peers. Having food within arms reach at all hours of the day makes it easy to grab the Oreos instead of the carrots. I’ve noticed myself slipping into that pattern over the last week. And I felt sluggish and grouchy for several days as a result. I wasn’t fueling myself with happy food, food my body need to thrive. I am fixing that today! Below, you will find my shopping list. Each of the foods listed have research backing their impact on brain and body chemistry. Don’t take my word for it; spend some time researching what will help your body soar!
Another disclaimer: I am not a fitness expert. But, I am someone who has vastly changed her habits and life in the past three years, so I think I can speak to it with some measure of credibility. Most important thing I can tell you about exercise? Just do it! (Insert Nike Swoosh!) I feel so much better when I am active. When I don’t exercise, I spend the day feeling sluggish, and my focus isn’t nearly as sharp. And I feel sooooo lazy. To be sure, I started the exercise journey with the intent of losing weight. The happy side effect was the energy and happiness regularly coursing through my veins. Cue Elle Woods, “Exercise give you endorphins, endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands.” So much truth in that…haha! I am markedly happier when I am active, and I am more tolerant of my husband and less likely to punch him in the face. And to me, that result is far more important than the results on the scales. Some days I do cardio, some days I do weights, some days I do yoga, some days I do Just Dance with my 5-year old. The important thing is that I try to do something active every day, even if it’s as simple as taking a walk outside. Research says that 20-30 minutes a day can drastically improve mood and health. But let’s say that mood isn’t your only reason for getting active, maybe you are hoping to see a change in your body shape and on your scale while you are social distancing. (Side note–the scale isn’t always an accurate indicator of success.) A few tips for you: cardio burns more calories than weights during a single workout session, but weights build muscle and muscle burns more calories (and fat) while at rest. So, I try do do a healthy mix of both during the course of the week. Since we are at home and can’t really get into the gym, take a look at Youtube to find great at-home workouts for free! If you would like to spend some money, I love Beachbody OnDemand, and my results have been great! (Down 30 lbs and tons of inches!)
Do fun things
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t forget to have some fun! For the first time, our entire world has slowed down to a stand-still. The fast paced “here and there” that often comes with being a working mom has petered off. No doubt, I am just as busy with my work as I was before this pandemic, but it’s in a different way. I don’t have to spend time “getting ready” for work, driving to and from work, getting to work early or staying late. I can put my work away and come back to it later. I am afforded some flexibility in my schedule that I’ve never had before. So, I don’t plan to squander it. My 5-year old has had the big dream of becoming a famous Youtuber for quite some time (not sure what that says about my parenting…) Anyhow, he also loves science and books and cooking. With our time at home, we have created a YouTube channel where we daily post science experiments and other fun activities we are doing with our time. (Go check out Kanon TV if this is something you might be interested in seeing.) We have made homemade ice cream in a baggie and a putty-substance called “Moon Dough.” We’ve read books and built pizzas and made a lava lamp. We are having a ton of FUN! But, I’m also reading books and writing a little bit and watching TV and sitting outside with a nice, cold beverage. And I am making myself take time to relax and breathe a bit, something I’ve been desperately needing for a very long time.