ACTifying our way out of lockdown

We’ve all been living in lockdown for about 3 months now in Scotland. We’re now on a phased plan out towards a ‘new normal’ and it’s a good time to reflect on who we want to be in the process – with our values, our family and friends, our education or work and in our community. We have a lot of choice despite what it might feel like if you read too many news articles so I thought I’d share some ACT themed reflections.

Noticing the struggles then letting them go

Since we’re all human, all of us will struggle with some aspect of coming out of lockdown at some point. The hope is that the virus is suppressed but until we have a vaccine, life as we know it will stay a bit different. We might find we have different views on how closely to follow government guidelines from our family and friends and find ourselves in conflict. We will all have our own mountain to climb, each with its own unique challenges and sunny seasons. Some of us will feel more anxiety about leaving our cocoons – some of us never really stayed cocooned anyway or only had broken cocoons. Some of us have vulnerable family members to shield whereas others will perceive their household as healthy and safe. Some of us have secure jobs and others are unemployed. Some of us will be able to juggle the uncertainty of the new childcare arrangements for nursery and school, others won’t. Some will have busy social lives to reclaim after enforced loneliness while others will be confronted by legitimately avoided but now grown bigger social anxiety lurking in wait. Some children will have missed the chance to finish primary or high school with their class and be facing unprepared and unprecedented transitions onto their next steps. Some children will be grateful to escape to the place of safety that school might be from a chaotic home life. The point is, everyone’s path and priorities will be unique to them and include both highlights and lowlights. It helps if you can notice yourself struggling with something, because noticing gives you choice about how to respond. You can choose to keep struggling, or to let go.

Accepting what you can’t change

There have been a lot of losses and sacrifices for everyone during lockdown, ourselves as a family included. We’ve missed attending a family funeral, had my husband’s inaugural lecture to celebrate his promotion to Professor postponed and won’t be able to celebrate his 40th birthday as planned in the Norwegian mountains either. My children haven’t been able to play with other children for months, and my daughter’s start to pre-school nursery is delayed. My maternity leave has been a lot less sociable than planned and my son won’t get the chance to go to any baby classes in the way my daughter did. I’m aware of feeling sad and frustrated about these losses but have chosen not to focus on them as I value keeping my family safe and healthy more.

Committing to doing what works

We’ve followed the government guidelines so far and all stayed well, so will keep doing the same. We’ve also benefited as a family from my husband working from home so we’re planning to continue that for the rest of the year too. Working from home with two little people certainly has its challenges but we’ve been able to work it out. It would have been A LOT trickier if I wasn’t on maternity leave or if my husband’s sense of humour or ability to tune us out was less well developed. I’m enjoying watching my son turn into a daddy’s boy with the extra bonding time. I’ve also been enjoying learning about web design, blogging and mental health campaigning so will aim to keep those going in post lockdown life, although I’ll admit I still prefer seeing people face to face and am looking forward to reclaiming some form of non-virtual social life.

Mindfulness

Regular mindful activities have helped me stay attuned to my children and help my daughter particularly in learning to regulate her emotions so I’ll be committing to maintain that practice as we leave lockdown.

Compassion

It can be hard to take a compassionate stance all the time and I sometimes catch myself talking in frustration about other people acting in ways that I see as unsafe for others – for example, flocking to the beaches in Brighton and covering the Meadows in Edinburgh in litter. I do try to catch judgemental thoughts as they start though and partly from the selfish angle that I’ve noticed they make me feel more frustrated if I engage with them so I do try to let them go. I haven’t walked in the shoes of other people so I don’t have the experience to judge their choices. We’re all human and will all make mistakes on our way into a new normal. I want to be someone who tries to let live and forgive rather than carry resentment or grudges.

Thoughts on how to move forward

Try to notice the little things that bring happiness – they come and go, but the more present you can be in the moment the more you’ll catch.

Try noticing what you have that you’re grateful for in your life – write notes on your phone or in a notepad if it helps.

Try to find something kind to do for someone else every day – if you have children, get them involved too.

Allow yourself to feel whatever you’re feeling when you notice you are – feelings aren’t the problem it’s struggling with them that traps us.

If you notice you’re struggling with a feeling you don’t want, remember you have choices about how to respond – what do you want to do?

If you notice your mind criticising, judging or arguing ask yourself ‘how important is it?’ or ‘will engaging with this thought make my life better?’ or ‘is acting on this thought going to get me anything of value?’

Consider your parenting and life priorities as we navigate out of lockdown – what matters and what can you let go for a while?

What have you missed during lockdown – did anything surprise you?

Is there anything positive that has happened for you during lockdown that you might not have got to have otherwise? How could you keep that going?

What do you want your children to remember about this time in their lives? Young children might remember how you made them feel more than the details of what you did. What can you do to make those memories?

Resource links

https://contextualscience.org/resources_for_helping_children

Useful if you’re looking for resources to support children with worries or anxiety about leaving lockdown

https://contextualscience.org/act_for_the_public

Useful if you’re feeling anxious or worried yourself

Published by Mummy ACT

Qualified Clinical Psychologist blogging about pregnancy, miscarriage and parenting in the early years using tools from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Compassion Focussed Therapy during a pandemic

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