This is the last day of January. For those of you that made New Year’s resolutions, how are they going? If you’re still going, then good for you! If you’re not, well maybe it was the wrong resolution. Don’t be hard on yourself. I didn’t make a resolution specifically, but I did think to myself, “you can do better than this.” That sounds rather harsh, so let me explain.
Last year was mostly about coping. Coping in a new and difficult situation and trying to help my children do the same. I relied on many of the strategies that got me through maternity leave. My standards dropped to what I call “survival mode” and everything else was a bonus. Was everyone alive, fed, and relatively clean? Did we have a roof over our heads? Was I paying the bills and putting food on the table? If it doesn’t have to be done today then it can wait until tomorrow. Primitive cultures were much the same, I think, and psychologists refer to this as the bottom level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This strategy might be effective at relieving stress and removing some of the pressures that we put on ourselves, but it’s certainly not a long-term strategy.
I CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS. It’s not harsh, it’s actually quite forgiving. It’s recognizing that short-term coping strategies have their place but aren’t healthy in the long term. It’s saying, “anything you do that is better than before, IS BETTER!” But like any transition, your potential for success is better if you take baby steps. So, I’ve spent the month thinking about what that looks like for me. My first step was asking for help. When the schools closed for one week in January, I wasn’t concerned. My priority was working and getting caught up after the holidays. Then the closure was extended for an additional two weeks, with no promises for return. Last year when the girls were out of school, I managed mostly because my hours were part time, my pay was good, and my hours were flexible. I didn’t worry about homeschooling because I couldn’t.
Now, it’s not just parenting and working that I have to manage, but a significant shift in “homeschooling” that is incredibly intensive and requires parents (especially of young kids) to be present throughout. In the spirit of doing better, I called in the big guns…the matriarch…I called my mom. And she came to the rescue in record time. She has taken on homeschooling so that I can hide myself away, do my conference calls in peace and quiet, and get my work done. It’s brilliant. How I’m going to break it to my girls that their new favourite teacher is only temporary, I have no idea. But that’s a problem for another day.
Beyond asking for help and freeing up my capacity to work, pay my bills, and put food on the table, this shift has also given me the space to consider what I need for physical and mental health. This is maybe the second level from the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, but you gotta start somewhere, right? Here’s what I came up with:
- drink more water (this is good for brain health too)
- do some exercise (any exercise will do, and living room dance parties count)
- spend time outside (even if it’s shitty weather)
- breathe (I’ve been doing this right before bed, 4 or 5 deep breaths)
- get a massage (it helps if your kids or partner are willing, I also have an electronic massager)
- meditate (there are lots of apps, just start with a minute or two)
- write (this works for me but might not for everyone)
- take a tech break (you wouldn’t believe how much tension you carry in front of the computer)
- laugh (funny movies, silly board games, videos, whatever it takes)
- listen to music (preferably something that makes you want to move and sing along)
The sticky notes in the photo above are on the wall right in front of my desk. When I start to feel a little stressed, panicked, or down…I can pick any of these sticky notes and just do one. That’s all it takes to do better, to be better, and to feel better. One sticky note at a time.