Overwhelm and depletion

Back to school parenting blues…Why didn’t the summer holiday work?

19 months into the global pandemic. Why aren’t we feeling better?

So we’ve had 18/19 months of this. We’re vaccinated. We’re double jabbed. Our parents are double jabbed. The pubs are open. We can go to restaurants. We’ve had the summer holidays…and survived…Best of all, the kids are back at school…Dare I say it life is starting to look…normal-ish?

So what’s going on? Why are so many of us feeling so depleted? And what can we do? Nearly every conversation I have been having with parents and professionals I coach, nearly every training webinar I deliver on managing the mind through anxious times, has featured this sort of reflection.

So a quick recap…
In the first 9 months of COVID 19, we lived with fear, dread, imminent present danger to life and health. We lived with lockdown and restriction of almost all activities that bolster our resilience, such as connecting with others or connecting with ourselves though hobbies. We supported our children through isolation from friends, the exuberance of play with peers, the structure of school, the validation of teachers and the sense of felt mastery and progress through the active and in-person feedback of their efforts. It took grit, adaptability, a lot of loo roll and flour to get us through!

Next we had the vaccination roll-out and the hopes, uncertainties, the gradual lifting of restrictions, rigour with social distancing. Masks, masks masks, and endless lateral flow tests – gagging and sniffling through those.

We started to acclimatise to working from home, upgrading our gear, desks, office spaces, devices, apps. We adapted to the camera phone and Zooming and WhatsApping – trying to read each other right with bad camera angles, poor lighting, pinging notifications and 3 tier online meetings where we see each other on camera, see contributions on chat and Q and A…

We’re having less sex and shopping online / scrolling social media more. Self-soothing with a tsunami of chardonnay or artisan beer…Amazing that wine never seemed to run out in the shops…Kids were in and out of school with self-isolating…We’ve worried about our kid’s telling tales of unsettled behaviour, meanness, friction…Maybe we’ve been told our kid need an assessment, some professional help and that’s another fire to put out…But in essence so long as we can turf them out to school and have some relative peace to work, then we’ve just been so bloody grateful…

We are STILL on bloody HOLD…and marinading in the injustice of nearly every customer service, financial service ‘help’line being understaffed and ill-resourced. HOW MANY hours have we spent listening with blood boiling to the aural assault of the ‘while you wait jingle’ – or – my personal favourite- the endless sermonising about how difficult it all is and if you want this that or the other you can’t have it – or you can go to the website which is the same thing. By the time you’ve got to option 9 on the keypad you’ve lost the will to live, mis-heard the options and are back to square one. Only now you also have burst a blood vessel.

Then we had the summer holidays. Yay. How do holidays work again? Do we do summer camps and risk a whole new covid cocktail? Where can we go? What does the green list, amber list, red list mean? What can we book? How can we manage the paperwork? What about the PCR tests? Will someone test positive or get pinged on the eve of going? Will it all be for nothing?

Many of us have moved house…more rooms, more space…relocations thanks to new working from home dynamics…readjusting to hybrid working…Adjusting to being in the house together ALL THE TIME…

Then there’s the anxiety about the potential of all this being roped back and having to go back to the office again…A newly appointed boss or CEO who prefers people in the office…so the grandstanding, the proving one’s self that actually I’m so much more effective working from home…Look how this adds value to what you get from me…And employers are often cashing in on the desire to make working from home work – because time saved from the commute is paid back to the job…AND MORE…the siren call of the notification draws home-office workers back to the grind-stone so easily and seamlessly…

And now – back to school amid the pingdemic… And vaccines for 12 -16 year olds…how do we feel about that? Big noises of threat about parental objections to the vaccine and the potential for being overruled…No mask requirements in schools.

So now, it’s nearly normal. Though it’s not. We’ve got to see the legacy of the return to school and how that works out after the post-freedom day summer of love…We’re told no more lockdowns…but we might have to revert to mask-wearing…We’re told that we have COVID-related death rates now that would have been unacceptable a year ago…

We live with change and dread still. We have not had chance to fully restock. We’re not quite running on empty. But we’re definitely less than half tank. And it’s a bloody long journey ahead.

So let’s look at what we can do to uplift ourselves instead of chasing ourselves down the drain…

  1. What of the above resonated? Recognise and accept that your situation – how you are feeling – is totally normal. Turn away from shame and guilt and lean in to taking action to re-fuel.
  2. Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments. Mark the pebbles that will make the landslide in the right direction will help you feel that you are moving forward somehow. Create something for the fridge door – the pathway to Christmas…like a ‘church tower fundraising thermometer’. Look forward to a goal. And mark little steps along the way. The whole family can join in with this. The ‘things we didn’t do’ list comes readily to mind. Flip it. Celebrate the small stuff – do it together. Wire in your appreciation of every step in the right direction – no matter how small. On a personal level, set yourself a time limit and write your own 2 lists of everything YOU have accomplished for work, and for home. How many meals did you cook? Calculate it…Reward yourself for managing to not lose it that time when…Let the mind rest in what you have DONE!
  3. Say goodbye! List all the things you can let go of. Make cards with them on…Eg ‘The lack of childcare during lockdown’. Mark off various stages of family life and professional life that are now complete. If you want to ramp it up, create rituals to say farewell. Again, this is something you can do collectively with your family or your partner. Read out and rip up the cards. Bury them, burn them…Seal off those experiences.
  4. Visualise what it is you want next – out of the next phase of pandemic living. Or by the end of the year, by the end of the term. Really build a 3D image of what it would look like, feel like, be like if you achieved that. Why does it matter to you. What is important about it. What might the obstacles be? What resources do you have to overcome those obstacles? Focus on the aim, not the things getting in the way, the problem that lies in between. Talk to people about it. Go public. You’ll hold yourself to better account. Make sure it’s a goal that is really intrinsic – a positive desire that speaks to your WILL power. Not your WON’T power. Plot out the milestones, create a symbol of what the goal means to you and make it visible / accessible to revisit in your mind and your imagination.
  5. Do a ‘Worry Filter’. Sort out all the things that preoccupy your thoughts – big and little worries. Sort them out – which are ones that are in your power to change, which are beyond your control. Label them, look and reflect on them. Mark Twain famously said “Some of the worst things in my life never happened.” And this is true. The vast majority of what we worry about never happens – but causes unnecessary suffering. Let go and work on accepting what’s beyond your control and focus your attention on the steps you can take regarding what is. Action binds anxiety.  
  6. Identify some job or some activity that is a simplifier for you – it brings you to a single point of focus. It might be as mundane as jet-washing the car, ironing shirts, cooking dinner, folding clothes, sorting your wardrobe, Kondo-ing your underwear drawer. Things that engage but don’t drain you. Left brain activities. Sorting, organising, filing. Bring these to bear as ways of just doing one thing and coming back to your point of centre. Or actively create time to do a hobby or activity that puts you in a state of flow. Optimal challenge for your abilities. Something that totally engages and absorbs you such that you lose a sense of self and time. This is a great way to refuel and top up the energy tanks. In a world where the sands shift, plans change, disruption happens…let something be a single point of control and purpose.
  7. Create time to connect and enjoy – when having breaks at work, plan for some to be nice and sociable. Whether it’s a coffee and a Zoom with a friend or relative, or actually sitting down together and making/ having a nice lunch or going out for a walk together if you’re both working at home. Or similar if you are at the office.
  8. Have a journal that you use for professional reflection. Let’s face it, in survival mode of the past 18 months, we’ve been on the treadmill, we’ve been driven by the tasks that have had to be done. Create a short time each week when you will focus on paying attention to your relationship with your work, and where you want to go with it. So think about resources online and access those in the time, looking at opportunities, looking at what people in your professional network are doing, and instead of berating yourself for treading water, look for points of satisfaction, and opportunities to expand on that, or consider what now, and what next.

It’s all been a bit of a blur for us as working parents…home-school-work-family-self…Life has been fraught and the strands of our lives have become entangled. Time to step back, and step into finding ways to be -and feel- good. Both professionally and personally.

And hurrah for that.

I hope that maybe even just one of the things above has helped and resonated. Try it out. And get in touch to feedback, or to let me know what’s on your parenting mind.

Do at least just one thing to fill your own cup. It’s the oxygen mask thing all over again.Remember the rule of too…If you’ve felt too different / difficult / down, too intensely, for too long, and it’s impacting on your work or your relationships, seek help. How are we defining too long? 2-3 weeks?Get in touch if you want an initial session to see if coaching might be for you. We’ll explore what’s going on, look to understand the nature of the problem, and design some things you can do about it straight away.With love and gratitudeEmma.

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