Habits in the time of Covid 19

The onset of Coronavirus tipped me into a freeze response: my default reaction to change of any kind, particularly where it has the potential for stress and anxiety. I stop moving, hunker down and make my world as small as possible in the hope that the predator will stalk on by without sniffing me out and forcing a confrontation. I no longer give myself a hard time for this. I've stopped comparing myself to those who have a different response; who immediately turn to face the foe armed with no more than a slingshot or pivot effortlessly into selfless action. Their reactions are equally valid and, in my case, I need time to process what's going on; to assess the threat; to ground myself and muster my energy. And that's okay too.

3 weeks in, family and those I care about still safe and well, I'm starting to thaw; the impulse to connect is twitching into life and I feel myself tentatively beginning to look outwards once more. My world has new boundaries, new rules, a new way of working. I find myself scrolling through my phonebook and calling people to find out how they are; email or text isn't enough, I need to hear their voices, or, even better, see their faces. My parents, amongst the first to self-isolate, download Zoom and we laugh at how quickly previously-unconsidered technology can become 'normal'. My heart is both sad and glad to see them; a country's distance away and here in my kitchen; embodying the cliche of "so near and yet so far".

The time I spent commuting translates into an hour walking the dog round the park; everyone we meet respecting the 2 metre rule, smiling, nodding, acknowledging. Dog walkers have always been sociable and now it's all sorts of people exchanging small acts of recognition and thoughtfulness; globally, not just locally. The small supermarket near my family gives my brother a bag full of bananas about to go brown because they know my Dad makes banana bread. Teddy bears and rainbows appear in windows (and on sheep...). Neighbours band together to help the elderly and vulnerable. Gestures like this repeated thousands of times every day across the world.

These are the things I chose to focus on: the positive changes to my everday, the acts of kindness and friendship I hear of and experience, getting the time I need for myself which seems to create the space and inclination to reach out to others. I know there are terrible things going on; I don't close my eyes or ears to the wider world and yet I concentrate on the things I can influence and control. I watch the news once a day. I get even more rigorous with social media: the time spent scrolling and the content I'm allowing into my consciousness. I take a good look at the habits I want to continue, those I want to create and those that have outlived their usefulness.

For my clients who are feeling overwhelmed and anxious I offer the habit tracker: especially useful for those whose whole routine has been turned upside down, or stopped altogether. The concept is that you list the activities you want to do on a daily / weekly / monthly basis and you mark off each time you've done them on a calendar. There are no rules about what you list: it could be having a shower, brushing teeth, putting on make-up, phoning Mum, doing 30 mins of yoga, going outside, washing up, posting a blog. The point is that you include things you want to do regularly; things that provide shape and structure to your day; and you tick them off as you complete them.

Simple yet very effective, the habit tracker provides visual feedback on whether you did the thing you intended to do and how often. It motivates you to keep going by playing into your desire not to break a run of activity and helps with the formation of new habits, or carrying on existing habits in a time of disruption.

If you'd find this useful, here's an example. Highlight the month, add activities down the left hand side, tick off when done. It might help whatever mode you find yourself in: fight, flight or freeze.

*Image courtesy of AC, one of my lovely clients: an example of the small delights that can be found every day if we keep our eyes open.


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