Most people are facing overwhelming daily challenges and changes, which are occurring as a result of COVID-19.
In a nut shell, Occupational Therapists (OT’s) focus on helping people participate in the things that are meaningful, which improves a person’s quality of life. OT’s love to offer help through considering three factors which can affect someone’s ability to carry out an activity: the person, the environment, and the activity/occupation itself. From personal care, to work, to play/leisure activities, we tend to be problem solvers by nature.
In saying all that about my wonderful OT colleagues, there are many things we can’t fix or solve right now. Many of our communities are grieving and processing loss of roles, responsibilities and routines.
My point being, whilst there will be some really practical strategies to change routines and adapt your daily activities, there is also a place to discuss giving yourself permission to process more complex emotions you may be having.
So as I put my OT hat on, let me talk about the importance of thinking about your environment.
As we are all spending more time at home and being responsible with our physical distancing, many people are craving alternative environments. So my tips today are about making the most of your limited environment/s.
Break your immediate environment up into zones. Our brains love associations, and if we do everything from one area (zone) our brain may get confused about what is required in that area. For example, if we study and work from our bed, then when it comes time to sleep, we will struggle to switch off.
What zones do you need? I would consider the following: down- time zones, (living room spaces/gardens) working/productive zones (desk/office spaces), meal zones (kitchen table or bench) and rest zones (bed). This is pretty dependent upon your living environment of course. For some it might be breaking up one room, which may mean being creative in zoning that one space and rearranging some furniture. Mats can be helpful in defining spaces, and you’d be surprised how useful a bookshelf can be in dividing up your room.
What do you need in each zone? If your space is limited, reduce the clutter, put things away you don’t need into cupboards/storage containers if you can. When setting up your zones, think of things that will help you carry out the activities in that space. For example, lighting needs (natural is always the best) and noise (headphones might be required for your working zone to drown out others).
Include shared zones (points of connection): If you are living with children or others, can I recommend that when you are planning your routine and setting up your spaces, that you also plan for times to come together into a shared zone. Any teenagers in the house may be comfortable to hide in their rooms right now, but connection times are really important for everyone and allows opportunity to check in with each other. A great example of a shared zone, is your eating space. Your down -time zone might also be a place for shared time together, e.g. watching a family movie. If you are living on your own, then you have the freedom to define your own space, but remember the importance of connection (e.g. phone calls, online chat groups).
Variety: If you need to get out of the house to change your environment, consider the bubble of your car if you have one. A good old fashioned car drive can help you feel freer than you think! If you are travelling with children, make sure they have gone to the bathroom before you travel. Bush wees are always an option, but remember we are trying to minimise all public contact points such as public toilets. Again with children, try and think of some games in the car, like eye spy, this is grounding and makes the car trip fun for them.
Acceptance of the bits we can’t control
I’m going to use an example for me, regarding working from home, which I know many of you are already managing and familiar with.
Remember the old rule of thumb, don’t push your feelings down or away
My workplace made the announcement today that my team would now be working from home in order to keep us and our young people safe. I knew it was happening, but strangely I felt teary and a little anxious. I had to remind myself that it’s ok to feel vulnerable and uncertain. Personally, if I don’t look at my initial emotional response then it usually twists itself into irritability and defensiveness, which is not ok for anyone. So, I had a cry instead. Moral of the story is, give yourself permission to process the first emotion before it becomes more complicated.
When you feel high levels of any emotion, take some time to consider your response or action
Once I knew that I was working from home, I had to decide about schooling from home. I knew I needed to let my feelings settle a little, prior to jumping into making any decisions. I gave myself time to talk to my trusted colleagues and family, then I made decisions I needed to for myself and my family. When we are anxious our body’s response is often to go quickly. Slow down, even if you give yourself a few hours to make a decision, it will certainly help to ensure you’re less reactive.
With lots of opinions in the community comes fear of judgement and blaming language
When you make decisions for yourself right now, whether it’s the way in which you’re schooling your kids from home, or if you a juggling both work and schooling, don’t cast your opinions out upon others. As long as we are all being responsible in our physical distancing and listening to what our local leaders are asking of us right now, we don’t need to cast blame or judgement onto other people. What’s more helpful right now is be responsible AND also be kind.
Take care everyone, I’ll end with the three R’s from one of our amazing local primary schools.
Remember we can all be Responsible (in our physical distancing) Respectful (of others choices and decisions) and Resilient (permission to process our emotions).