Good afternoon and welcome back to this week’s Mental Health Monday post. This week I am covering something which I feel is very relevant to what many are experiencing in lockdown at the moment, but is also something people with chronic illness experience on a regular basis.
There have been so many parallels drawn between lockdown life and chronic illness life and it has been a great way to highlight to people how our lives are so often lived. As a spoonie, lockdown life is not new to me. I often live like this, unable to leave the house, see friends and family or even do simple tasks like shopping for myself.
One of the things I have heard so many people saying, is that they feel so much more tired, even though in lockdown we are tending to do much less. We obviously have many amazing key-workers who are going out to work still, but lots of other people have either been furloughed or are working from home. There is no school run and children are learning at home. We can’t go to the gym, spend a lot of time outdoors or go to play-centres at the moment.
The answer is – because we are emotionally exhausted!
Emotional exhaustion is the feeling of being drained due to severe or long-term stress. One of the common feelings that people with emotional exhaustion have, is feeling that they have a lack of control – which is completely understandable in the current climate! None of us currently have a lot of control over what we can and can’t do which is really difficult.
When you are diagnosed with a chronic illness you will also feel this lack of control as you have to deal with something which is now a huge part of your life and impacts on your every day – whether you are flaring, taking medications or facing surgery for example. And you definitely didn’t ask for it!
Some of the symptoms of emotional exhaustion include:
As well as the current Covid-19 pandemic with lockdown and chronic illness, some other causes of stress which can result in these symptoms can include work-related stress, having a new baby and big life changes.
A few of the things we can do to help lower stress in our lives include:
That’s because you probably have. This list of ideas is often the advice given to people when looking to gain a better sense of well-being for many different reasons. While people can genuinely benefit from them, you may be looking for some more specific ideas and advice related to how you can change your attitude.
Eliminate the stressor
This can sometimes be possible and sometimes not. We can not get rid of a chronic illness and we can not get rid of lockdown. In these kinds of situations it is important to remember and focus on what you can control. There will be many things in and throughout life that we cannot control and worrying about it will not do us any good, as we cannot change them.
When we focus on what we can change it helps us feel more in control. By actively making changes we can feel good for doing something which can have a positive influence n our own life when it can so often feel out of our control.
Managing the work-life balance at home
This is particularly relevant with many more people working from home at the moment. You may be having to juggle other responsibilities alongside this such as home-schooling. It is also great for people with chronic illness and if it is an option in your role, should be discussed with your employer.
A good plan/schedule is key to managing your time during the week. Setting yourself times to work and times to rest, eat, exercise etc. is really beneficial. As your home is now your workplace, work can eek into your every day and you can end up working until much later than you would normally. Switching off is very important to maintain your well-being. If you do not have set times to be at your desk, make them yourselves.
A schedule will also be beneficial if you are having to home-school, especially if you are juggling this with work. Rather than 8.45am till 3.15pm regular school days, children only need around 2-3 hours of focused home-school per day. They have their teacher all to themselves remember! The rest of the day make sure you plan some quiet time – your child may spend this reading or watching a movie in their bedroom. Nobody gets much time alone at the moment so it is really important to get a bit of space and this gives you some time to have a cuppa, do some housework or if you are trying to work from home, catch up on some work. Crafting is also a great activity and there are loads of ideas on Pinterest if you are struggling to think some up! Ensure they (and you) are getting plenty of exercise and burning off some energy by doing the Joe Wicks PE lessons on YouTube, playing in the garden and doing their daily hour of walking/scootering or bike riding.
Personally, I find getting up and dressed in the morning really helps me separate out my time, as I spend so much of it home. Don’t get me wrong, I love the odd PJ day but for the most part, i get dressed daily. I also like to keep a to do list going. I try and pace out my days and not go too mad all in one go, but this keeps me consistently busy and makes sure all the things I need to do get done in a timely manner.
Comparison is the thief of joyTheodore Roosevelt
I love this quote and it is so true! I have heard so many people comparing lockdown experiences, saying one person or another is ‘doing lockdown better’ than they are. I am not sure we will be graded for how we spend this time and you really should not be doing that! Many will have heard that we are all in the same boat – well, not really. We are all in our own boats, in the same storm. Because everyone’s situation is totally different. We do not need to compare ourselves to anyone else – just keep doing your thing and what you need to do to get through the day and keep your boat as stable as can be.
When you have a chronic illness it is also very easy to slip into the comparison catch. Looking at others and feeling less of a person for not working, not exercising as much or keeping a spotless home. Remember, that social media platforms, although brilliant for people like us in sense of a network of social support, are merely a highlight reel. You may be seeing a few minutes of a person’s 24 hours and not much more. They may have cleaned up one corner of their house to take that photo.
Not being able to work is not easy. I miss it terribly but I am awaiting for two more surgeries, after which I will be hopefully able to return. Remembering that not being able to work is not a choice I make is important. I would be physically unable to hold down a job at the moment which would not only affect me, but affect any employer I had. This links back tot he idea of working out what you can and cannot control. What I can control is working towards being ready for work when the time comes. I keep myself as healthy as I can ready for surgery and recovery. I am studying at home so I can hopefully find a job in a field I am passionate about.
Keeping yourself in the present
Looking back to the past or too far into the future can cause a huge amount of stress which can then trigger emotional exhaustion. We can always learn lessons from the past but cannot change what has been, so don’t let it affect your mood today. We don’t know yet how lockdown will end or how that will be managed, so stop worrying abut how you are going to work if the kids don’t go back to school first – until you know more and can start planning, don’t focus on it.
Especially in times of high stress, staying in the present will help you keep moving forward, even if the steps are small. Concentrating on one day at a time and doing what you need that day can be really helpful. Mindfulness practices help you focus on a particular moment and can be helping in keeping you in the present moment.
Accepting that negative feelings will occur
A huge part of escaping a cycle of stress or depression is accepting that, at times, we will feel sad. We cannot be happy every single moment of the day. Having a wide range of emotions and feeling them all is part of being a human. Many people also say that if we didn’t feel sad, we wouldn’t enjoy the good times quite as much.
While accepting that sadness is a part of life, it is really important to remember that for every down there is an up. We should accept feeling sad for whatever reason – missing our friends and family in lockdown, being in pain with your chronic illness, for having to be in hospital – but remember that things will change and we will see happier times again.
As someone who has struggled in the past with depression, for which I am on medication, I had a really insightful conversation with my GP a couple of years ago. When the boys went to live with their Dad, I was heartbroken. There were a couple oi times I contemplated suicide. I went to see my GP and asked her to increase my antidepressant medication. She told me no. She said what I was experiencing was a normal type of pain that anyone in my situation would be feeling. It made me realise that we cannot expect to be made happy, or even wish for some level of comfortably numb because that is not life. She didn’t just send me on my way by the way, she was lovely and we chatted and then she referred me back to talking therapy. Although it still isn’t easy with them not here as much, I make sure we enjoy our time together and have found a bit of myself back, rather than being solely ‘Mum’.
I really hope reading this will help you understand what may be going on, especially at the moment for everyone struggling with lockdown. Be kind to yourselves, nobody has ever faced anything like this and we are all muddling through. Practice some self care – not all bubble baths and manicures, but some real care for yourself – make sure you are getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, getting fresh air and socialising – even if it is only over a video chat. Taker care and keep safe,