Mental Health, productivity, Wellbeing

How to Take Life at Your Own Pace in a Post-lockdown World

The past 18 months or so have seen us constantly adapting to the changing rhythms and expectations that life has thrown at us. There have been some real positives to taking life at a slower pace and being able to reassess what are the most important things to us. However there have also been some huge challenges to our mental health, family relationships and adjusting to a restricted daily routine whilst locked down.

What have been the things that you’ve most appreciated from lockdown? And what are the lessons you’ve learned that you want to keep applying now that life has become crazy busy again? It may be helpful to think about the current pace of life and whether this is suiting you?

My Own Recent Experience

For me, I know that the pace of life has become too fast at times and I’ve had to choose to step back and reflect on what I want to do differently. What is a manageable level of busyness and what is too much? My warning signs have been letting go of my usual self-care as I’ve been too busy and the odd moment of overwhelm where the level of activity feels like too much for my brain to manage.

The wake up call for me particularly was my catching the freshers flu a few weeks back and suddenly being forced to stop and rest for a week. I’d been attending several large scale in person events over 2 weeks and hadn’t been planning too far ahead. Before I knew it, my energy levels dropped as I fought off tiredness, achiness and a stuffy nose. I couldn’t concentrate for long and knew I had to stop.

There was a relief in acknowledging this and giving myself permission to rest. It was only then that I realised I’d been pushing myself too hard and that I wanted to slow down my pace.

Another warning sign was feeling I didn’t have time to do some things and was rushing – a sign anxiety was setting in. As I took some well-earned rest, I enjoyed watching The Good Wife on catch up TV whilst munching on some favourite snacks. I felt my mind unwind and I was able to breathe easy again; just be without having to think much about what to do next.

As I started to prioritise ‘me time’ and planned to catch up with a few friends, I started to get my energy levels back. Also I began to realise that a rest day per month would be beneficial to my wellbeing. More than that, I began to reflect on my recent business projects and saw that I’d been spreading myself too thinly. I was able to step back and reassess what my priorities were and where attempts at certain work streams were unproductive, an inefficient use of my time. Having discovered some free printables, I used the brain dump sheet to write down all of the work tasks that had been swirling around my head. I began reprioritising , focusing on what was urgent/ important now, whilst letting go of the other tasks for a later date.

I found the courage to action some tasks that I’d been afraid to confront, that had made me feel fear of being a failure before. As I addressed these , a new sense of purpose arose and I let go of unhelpful mindsets that had kept me stuck. I started to recognise the hard work I’d been putting in and praised myself for taking that much needed break.

As I recovered, I gradually started to focus more on work tasks again, doing only what I had the energy for. Slowly I started to feel better and had more energy to focus on the priorities. A sense of enjoyment surged inside of me and I felt ready to move forward.

Now when I start to notice I’m putting myself under pressure, I ask myself if I really need to. Using positive self-talk, I recognise what I’m doing well and think about what self-care I need instead. As I do this , my energy levels improve and my mind starts to relax somewhat, ready to face the new challenges ahead.

Dr. Kate Middleton, in her book, Refuel, talks about the importance of self-care, especially when we are looking after others around us. It’s easy to forget our own needs in all of that. Having recognised what activities tend to deplete our energy levels, finding other activities that re-energise us helps to compensate. Diarising rest times in also means we’re more likely to apply these if we’ve committed them to paper!

Finding Your Own Pace

Take some time to reflect and ask yourself:

  • What level of busyness works for you?
  • What are the warning signs to look out for when you’re starting to do too much?
  • What helps you relax and switch off from being busy?
Mental Health, Wellbeing

How to Manage Anxiety Better Post-Lockdown

Have you noticed that the pace of life seems to have sped up since the lifting of lockdown restrictions? Does it feel anxiety-provoking, adjusting to meeting up in person again after such a long break? Or have you chosen to ditch social distancing and mask wearing in public?

Credit: @katies.self.care.diaries from Instagram

What are anxiety and stress?

Anxiety is a stress response to a situation that can bring on flight/ fight or freeze reactions when our bodies sense a possible threat.  Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released to help us respond quickly and put our nervous systems into a state of high alert.

Stress can be defined in numerous ways but the Mind UK website describes it as “being pushed beyond our usual emotional / physical capacity.” Small amounts of stress can be beneficial but if experienced over a longer period, known as chronic stress, can become difficult, such as we’ve experienced during Covid. It can lead to burnout if not addressed in the long term.

Socialising

After nearly a year and a half of lockdowns on and off here in the UK, restrictions have all but completely lifted here in England. For me, the start of lockdown easing initially filled me with dread. We’d become so used to staying at home in relative safety, wearing masks in public places and being restricted in the numbers of people we could legally mix with. Suddenly the public was back out in force on the streets and I couldn’t quite get my head around being out there again. I tend to process situations a bit slower so my brain takes a tad longer to adjust to changes. My flight response started to kick in when finding myself amongst crowds, and the beginnings of a panic attack, shallower breathing and high anxiety, would cause me to remove myself from the situation, hopefully before overwhelm reared it’s ugly head. I’d only go into the town centre when at its quietest, usually first thing in the morning as the shops opened & limit myself to buying priority things only.

Being out again socially has been more tiring, exhausting even, at times. The first bigger gathering I went to was an outside prayer event at church. I’d underestimated how much it would impact me! It’s important to give our minds time to accommodate being more social again and do so at a level that feels comfortable and achievable to us.

Risks from Covid

Perhaps for some of us the fear of catching Covid is still very real, especially if we’re clinically vulnerable and feel more at risk. Some friends have shared how uncomfortable they were to go to church when singing was allowed again which meant they were more likely to stay home and watch online, missing out on the face-to-face fellowship. Mindset plays a big part in how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us and it may be helpful to reassess our current circumstances as to the current risks.

I had to do this a few months back as Freedom Day, when everything fully opened up, crept closer and closer. My friend really helped me address what my fears were around going out and to reframe them to be more realistic, particularly:

  • Most of the population that’s been offered the vaccine have had at least 1 dose, increasing herd immunity for now.
  • The risk of being hospitalised with Covid decreases with having had the vaccine.
  • Covid is a disease that is here to stay. The risks are lower than when the virus was first recognised and continuing to apply good hand washing hygiene rules and mask wearing inside and in crowded places continue to be good preventative measures to catching the virus. See this BBC news article that discusses living with Covid after lockdown eases for further advice. I have heard some scientists say that it is the number of deaths that we should be more concerned about rather than the current number of cases as an indicator of COVID-19’s current status. This doesn’t deflect from those who are currently ill with Covid though.
  • accepting that there’s only so much of our environment that we can control. We can’t control whether people around us will still choose to be cautious and wear masks in public areas, especially indoors or on public transport. We can only be responsible for our own actions.
  • Not judging others for having different standards to our own particularly now that restrictions have almost ended. Some people have embraced all that freedom day has brought in England. However others of us are more cautious and are still limiting our behaviours, e.g. how far we may travel and avoid public transport as much as possible.

For some people, agoraphobia, the fear of people or going outside, has settled in, leaving them housebound or very anxious to go out. If you’re struggling to adjust to being around people again, a constructive way to do this is to gradually expose yourself to new situations over time. 

If it’s about getting out socially again you might want to start by:

  1. Just going to your front door and breathing in some fresh air.
  2. Try walking around the block near your house.
  3. Go to a busier place in terms of numbers of people, e.g. your local park at a quiet time.
  4. Try somewhere a bit busier like a shop. (Have an escape plan in place in case of overwhelm or the start of a panic attack).
  5. Then keep building up your exposure to larger groups of people until you feel confident again in crowds or socialising with a group of friends.

For me, I’ve used this technique to handle busier places, e.g. my local town centre.  After getting used to quiet times at the shops, I’m slowly building up my tolerance of crowds.  Spending time doing my work in a local café has helped, starting in a quiet period e.g. early morning but gradually getting used to busier times and making decisions as to what I can and can’t tolerate at the time. 

If you do find yourself getting panicky or needing to escape, be kind to yourself.  So maybe it didn’t work out as planned this time but you can try again.  Being self-compassionate and recognising your limits is also important and you’ll get there at your own pace.  As restrictions started to lift several months ago, I attempted to do several tasks whilst out at the shops.  I’d underestimated how long long the queues would be in one shop that had only opened the previous week, and then realised I wouldn’t have time to do all I’d planned.  Being kind to myself, I had to choose to miss an online activity after and leave some of the shops out to take the pressure off myself as I was feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of tears.  By deciding on this more realistic schedule, I was able to just get the most important tasks done and escape the busy shopping centre, taking time to give myself some positive self-talk and let go even of the online Pilates which had been really important to me. Some deep breathing also calmed me down in the moment & talking to someone about what had happened when I returned home.

What is causing you anxiety post-lockdown? Can you need to break it down into smaller steps to gradually overcome that fear? The examples above may help guide you.

Needing further help and support? Get in touch with me to set up a 30 minute discovery call to discuss how I can help you put together your own anxiety toolkit to better manage your anxiety better long term.