We often remind each other to breathe in during times of stress and anxiety. What we forget to check is whether we are breathing out as well. Breathing out is important. Without releasing our breath, we can’t take in fresh air, we can’t move, and our bodies remain stressed and anxious, making It harder to think creatively or solve problems. When we are managing laundry, deadlines, children, meal plans and mess, we can lose touch and forget to breathe out! This has never been truer than in our current state of lockdown.
At the moment, everywhere we look, we come across articles, blogs and statuses on what to do, or not do, during the crisis we are facing. We have never before faced something of this magnitude in our life time and things are changing fast. Strategies in dealing with COVID-19 are being tweaked daily by the Government’s advisory committee. The tension of managing ourselves, our families, our need for social interaction as well as work commitments is overwhelming at times, as is the uncertainty of what will happen next. Yet we need to breath out. Julia Cameron, in her book The Sound of Paper, asks what is it that you need in your everyday life to remind you that you are okay. It might be that first cup of tea, or some movement or 10 minutes of solitude. It doesn’t need to be anything big, but something that brings you to a place of breathing out. But how do we do this?
Lockdown has brought about a sudden change for everyone. A change in the choices we need to make, a change of our daily routine, a change in the way we are able to interact, a change in employment status, a change in school attendance and learning circumstances, a change of expectations on people worldwide. Change whether anticipated or forced, for good or unexpected reasons, induces feelings of grief and loss. This is important to acknowledge as we begin to figure out how to breath out.
The grief & loss cycle helps us to make sense of where we are at. The stages of grief including Shock, Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance are all things we may cycle through. Remember thought, that grief is not a straight line, and different triggers may set off a different part of the cycle. The challenge in this is that each person living in our home, including our children, is going through their own grief cycle. If we are not aware of where we are at a given time, it is far harder to be empathic and kind to anyone else, including our children. Hence a call to breathe out. Stop whatever you are doing, take a break and breathe out. There are many expectations of us and our grief may be triggered based on our responses. But how we respond is also normal at this time. So breathe in AND breathe out and be kind to yourself and your family.
Arise advocates for thriving families, beyond just survival. We can’t care for others if we aren’t caring for ourselves too. It’s important that we are aware of what is triggering us, how we respond to it and the strategies that we choose. This might mean telling someone you are not coping, asking your partner to give you the ‘me-time’ you need or some prayer time. Once we are able to help ourselves, we can then take care of those around us, including our family, but it is vital that we start with ourselves. When we are able to identify where we are at, it is easier to choose a response to what needs to happen for the day. It is easier to plan and know that we need to do certain things in order to breathe out.
Children are feeling the stress too. They might not voice it but will show it through their behaviour. Identifying our own feelings and helping children identify their feelings is something that helps them know that we understand and relate. It is a form of connection and being present with each other. Connection in this time is valuable – try to find ways of connection throughout the day. Find ways to giggle and have fun – it might be a dance party, telling jokes, reading stories or trying a new game. Try to keep some structure to your day, like regular mealtimes, bedtime routines and consistent story times. These things help us all to breathe out.
As we face this crisis together remember that it is new territory for us all. Keep trying to be aware of your own grief and loss cycle, and that of your family, put structures in place to assist with connection and remember to breathe out (the anxiety and stress) and take in some fresh air!
Written by Alexa Russell-Matthews, with input from the team