Exhausted. Burnt-out. Overwhelmed. An overbearing sense of relentlessness. We bet you are recognising many, if not all, of these feelings right now.
Over the last 12 months parents have been forced to put on an admirable, yet totally crazy, juggling act worthy of the best touring circus. However, no circus performer – however talented – can keep the batons flying in the air forever. In most cases, the first baton to fall is not that of home-schooling, childcare or work – it’s selfcare.
As we strive to keep our families functioning and our bosses satisfied, are we making time to look after ourselves too?
Here, the principle of oxygen masks on a plane – where we are asked to put on our own before helping others – fits perfectly. Even though it can feel like there’s barely a spare minute in the day, it’s essential that parents carve out some time, however fleeting that may be at first, to look after ourselves. This is not only essential for our own wellbeing, but also so we can continue to care for others.
There are still tough weeks ahead as we await the reopening of schools and gradual easing of lockdown, and with many of us already bearing the burden of weeks of built-up stress, now is the time to make sure we create that ‘me-space’.
We’ve pulled together some of the key ways we can look to do that.
Decelerate and pivot your priorities
For a racing driver seeking to win a pivotal race, knowing when and how to brake is as critical as being able to accelerate, explains Gib Bulloch, founder of the Craigberoch Decelerator programme. But it is this braking that, as a society, we are not so accustomed to doing.
Bulloch’s retreat programme “takes people off the hamster wheel” supporting them to slow down, focus on their wellbeing and reconnect, enabling them to create space for change and innovation both professionally and personally. Here he applies the Japanese concept of ‘ma space’ – creating an intentional pause in time or emptiness – which he believes could help overwhelmed parents to reset and find balance.
Many parents, he says, have lost their usual opportunities for downtime with the office commute no longer part of the day and reduced childcare options giving parents little timeout.
“Building in nothingness and forced gaps is even more important now. It’s so important to find ways of not doing but being.” This, he explains, can include making time for things like meditation, mindfulness or listening to music, and doing these without multi-tasking.
He advises parents that you have to “start by going inwards to improve your outer lifestyle” and when you are at your most overwhelmed, that is when you need to stop and create space.
Lifestyle pivoting coach Gilly Kennedy also believes in the need to create space to help parents “re-orientate” and take back an element of control over life.
The focus, she says, must be on uncovering “what matters to you in your life as an individual, not just as a working person or as a mum.”
“When we are wearing all these hats and are so busy, we don’t remember who we are underneath, that can get lost. We are just getting by, juggling and trying to do everything. We forget what’s important to us as individuals.”
She encourages parents to act as the CEO of their own lives. “What would you be doing now if you were the CEO of your life? You’d be coming up with a strategy to make adjustments.”
Taking the time to step back, start working out your future priorities and a roadmap to get there provides instant relief and a sense of fulfilment, she says, as well as creating additional time as you re-examine your priorities. Gilly offers a complementary 45 minute “Inspiration Chat” on zoom, if you are interested you can book directly here.
Unroll your mat
Yoga is renowned for its physical health benefits, but unrolling your mat even for just 15 minutes can make an incredible difference to your mental wellbeing and create the ma space that Bulloch recommends.
“Yoga provides an opportunity to not just move our bodies but to slow down, breathe deeply and focus our attention. That helps us find a place where we feel a little calmer, centred and more able to cope,” says Philippa Stevens, who runs Philippa Yoga virtual practices, with classes in Haddenham and Thame outside of lockdowns.
She explains that when we constantly reside in a heightened state of stress our immune systems and sleep suffer. This makes it harder to deal with the pressures we face. “Our breath is a tool we all have at our disposal that helps rebalance the nervous system.”
“As a parent myself, I have never been more grateful for my yoga and meditation practice than I have this last year. Yoga teaches us to find a steady mind and breath regardless of life’s circumstances.”
Lace-up those trainers
The endorphin-inducing capabilities of aerobic exercise in the fresh air, with a shot of vitamin D if the sun is out, are well known. However, this becomes an even more powerful mechanism for de-stressing when it’s combined with the opportunity to unburden on a friendly ear.
Exercise with a person from another household is permitted under current regulations, so whether it’s a trusted friend or a counsellor like Emma Smith, who runs (literally!) Oxford Wellness Running, lacing up those trainers could provide that much-needed release.
“There’s something about being outside that frees up your thoughts,” says Smith. “If there are silences they don’t feel awkward because you’re just looking around at whatever you can see and moving forward together. For some of my clients who find eye contact difficult or intimidating, the fact you are walking or running together, moving together looking forward, can be really helpful, and the connection between body and mind, and the movement itself, facilitates the flow of the conversation.”
Even if you don’t see yourself as the green-fingered type, getting out into the garden as spring approaches could provide a valuable reset button and chance to escape the day’s stresses.
“Just digging is so calming. It gives you time to put your thoughts in order,” explains August Bernstein, who through August’s Garden offers gardening tips and the Seed Explorers package to encourage kids into gardening, while also working at Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons’ kitchen garden.
“If you’re feeling upset, just go outside, listen to the birds and dig. Even weeding can feel amazing after just tackling a small patch. It’s something that you can do together with the kids or whilst they play in the garden. Otherwise, it lets you get away and have some of your own time. You feel free and unrestricted.
“Then watching the seeds you have sown come up out of the soil is just magic – it’s such a sense of achievement having brought so much to life from just a few packets of seeds. It’s amazing.”
And you don’t need to have a vast garden; she insists most things can be grown in pots and that you should start small. “Start with a little patch in the garden or a few pots and grow things you like to eat, or flowers you like to buy. Then each year you can add a bit more. Just go with the flow.”
Access your support network
If creating snippets of timeout still feels impossible, don’t forget that under current restrictions nannies are allowed into homes to help share the load. Virtual tutors can also help with home-schooling.
One of Inloco’s nannies, Sally Angus, who has 15 years of experience, explains how childcare providers can help create opportunities for parents to pause the juggle momentarily, focus on their work, a younger child, or just take some time to breathe themselves. They also come armed with a fresh approach for those days when your reserve of craft and game ideas feels fully drained.
“We all have to appreciate that we are not superhuman and we’ve never had to cope with things like this before,” she says. “We can’t do everything and it’s important to know when to reach out for help.”
Digital detox vs virtual connections
Timeout and selfcare doesn’t have to be a planned event. It could be a small adjustment in your day to give your brain a break from the constant stream of input. Counsellor Celia Flack advises taking regular digital detoxes from screens and social media, especially if you are working online all day or monitoring children’s home-schooling.
“Our diet is not only what we eat, it is what we watch, listen to, read and the people we see too. Be mindful of the things you put into your body emotionally, spiritually and physically.”
But when you’re not detoxing, staying connected is also vital. “Living through a pandemic we are all less connected physically to family and friends so staying in touch with a solid support network can do wonders for your mental health – we all need to laugh, cry, breathe and stay present and connected.”
A great way to do this could be through your local community. Why not take the night off cooking, get a takeaway to support your local pub, and log on to that pub quiz you’ve been meaning to join all lockdown but have always felt too frazzled.
Frazer Sutherland, who runs The Thatch in Thame, explains how the pub’s quiz and takeaway meals have kept its local community together during lockdowns offering “light humour in the middle of the week and a moment to switch off”.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which route you decide works best for you to carve out time to breathe, reflect and invest in yourself. What matters is that you do it.
No-one is superhuman, and we all need to press pause on the juggle at times.
Be kind to yourself.
Kat Spybey, Guest Writer