Sudden change is hard to accept, especially when it’s enforced and you’re asked to conform with immediate effect. And this is exactly the reality we’re all trying to adjust to, since the whole country went into lockdown to try and limit the spread of the coronavirus. With the exception of our keyworkers, we all woke up on Wednesday 25 March trying to get our head around the thought of not leaving the house except for essentials.
The good news is that humans are incredible adaptable. At the time of writing this, we’re on day ten of lockdown, and things are already starting to feel slightly less alien. We’re getting used to having to be more thoughtful about what we’re eating, trying to find some semblance of home school for our kids and have mastered the art of crossing the road if someone comes towards us during our once-a-day walk. In short, what was new is becoming the new normal.
But when we think about the bigger picture, things can be overwhelming. Our brain keeps trying to flood us with scary thoughts – will we ever recover from this? What if someone I care about gets the virus? How will I pay my bills if my wages are affected? It all gets too much.
That’s why focusing on smaller parts of the puzzle allows you take back some elements of control during what can feel like a powerless situation. Focus on the things you can control and try to ignore the things you can’t. (Don’t spend all day watching the news, you don’t need to hear the daily statistics. Just make sure you’re sticking to the latest guidelines and that’s enough.) We know there’s a lot that feels unknown at the moment, but one thing you can control is your own routine. Here are a few tips to help.
If you’re working from home…
As much as possible, keep to a routine within your working hours. Start and finish at the same time as you would normally, be strict about lunch breaks and give yourself permission to stop and make a cup of tea once in a while.
Resist the temptation to stay in your pyjamas all day. That blurs the line between day and night and work and relaxation. We’re not saying you need to sit in your living room wearing your uniform, but have a wardrobe that makes a distinction between work and play. This will keep the elements of your life separate despite being in the same environment.
Temporary desks have sprung up in living rooms and dining rooms across the country, but it’s important to take steps to separate out the elements of your routine so they don’t blur into one. Not feeling able to switch off can lead to fatigue and overload, as well as reducing your productivity. Quickly tidy your work space when you’ve finished for the day, so it doesn’t spill into your relaxed time.
Be kind to yourself when it comes to productivity. These are unprecedented times we find ourselves in and we’re all just doing our best to cope. If one day is a bit less focused than usual, that’s okay.
If you’re a key worker…
Firefighters are used to routine in their shift patterns, but how strict are you with yourself on your days off? Do you let yourself properly unwind?
Even if your routine is largely unaffected, other people in the household’s may be, so be mindful of that. What is your partner doing while you’re enjoying a day off? Can you take any steps to help them maintain their routine? It’s important everyone get some down time to themselves, so rota out the living room so everyone can get an hour to themselves. Just because you want to rewatch reruns of old Football World Cup matches doesn’t mean everyone does. And while they’re watching Frozen II (again), go and take some time to yourself. Lie down and concentrate on your breathing for 15 minutes. Read your book. Exercise. Plan tomorrow’s meals. Whatever you want to do to unwind.
If you struggle with routine…
Whether you’re still working or not, when it comes to routine, one of the best things you can do is to break your day into bite-size blocks and try to stick to them.
Split your week into days and your days into hours or time slots that work for you. Have attainable targets for each time slot and reward yourself accordingly. If you’ve spent an hour on a conference call, go and sit outside in the sun for five minutes. Turned bare cupboards into a really delicious meal that makes one tin of beans go further than it was ever thought possible? Sit and read your magazine for a while, you’ve earned it. Cleaned the kitchen for 45 minutes and want to play CandyCrush for five minutes? Hey, we’re not here to judge.
Get up at the same time each day. Start the morning with 30 minutes of exercise if you can or go for a lunchtime walk every other day. And try to go to bed at the same time as well. Then your brain can get into its natural rhythms and properly unwind.
If you’re bored…
Let’s face it, despite this overwhelming feeling of anxiety, it’s pretty boring not being able to leave your house, and all members of your household may feel that at different times. Routine can help with boredom, so try not to do “everything” in one day and leave emptier days in the week with nothing planned.
There has never been more content out on the internet to entertain you. There are free audio books to download, music gigs to watch, VR museums to explore, zoo animals to watch via live webcams, virtual pub quizzes to host, exercise videos to work out along with and all the box sets you could ever want to watch. Work entertainment into your routine. Decide one day a week a different member of your family is going to decide on a board game or quiz you can do, or you’re all going to sit down together to watch the National Theatre shows each Thursday.
Any activity where the hand is active is a great way for your mind to process thoughts, information and the day’s events, which is especially important at the moment when there’s so much going on. Activities like jigsaws puzzles, baking, crochet, drawing, knitting or painting are all great for creating a sense of calm and peace that is so vital during such stressful times.
If you’re feeling sluggish…
It’s important to work exercise into your routine. Not only is this good for your physical health (because we know we’re definitely eating more biscuits than usual, and we can’t be alone) but it’s also great for your mental health too. Get those endorphins working for you.
Get out and about to enjoy nature (while observing Government guidelines, which permits one trip outside per day and only if you can walk / run / cycle there, you shouldn’t be driving somewhere to exercise). As well as being a welcome change of scenery, the fresh air is extremely good for you. Try and be more mindful of environment you’re in, take time to listen to and look at what’s around you. Can you hear birds? What can you smell? What clouds are in the sky? Are there flowers or plants to see? Take it all in.
If you can’t get out and about, work exercise into your working day. In between video calls with colleagues, march up and down on the spot or do a few laps of the stairs. Waiting for the kettle to boil? Do ten star jumps on the spot. We’ve also got some tips on chair-based exercises you can do, which you can find here.
If you’re feeling isolated…
Just because we’re in self-isolation doesn’t mean we’re alone. Schedule in phone calls or video calls with friends, family members and loved ones. Make that part of your routine. Phone your best friend every Friday evening. Or during the work day, agree to a regular coffee break video chat, where no one is allowed to mention coronavirus, online delivery slots or toilet roll shortages.
Or if you don’t want to talk to people over video, you could access the mental health forum via Togetherall, who we work with to provide mental health support to people who can’t visit us in person.
Have you thought about volunteering your time? Look into local schemes that are offering help to vulnerable isolated people, such as the Council or Citizens’ Advice. Many local organisations are looking for telephone befrienders to connect with elderly or isolated people in their communities.
You could also join our new regional Facebook groups, designed to celebrate our wonderful community, which has never been more important than in these times of social-distancing.
However it works for you, try working some routine into your day. If you’re in need of some inspiration, here’s Alan Partridge.
Set a routine to get through staying in. 😂
Posted by BBC Radio 2 on Monday, 30 March 2020