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Bringing order out of chaos

“How on earth am I going to do this?” gasped the extrovert.
The introvert replied, “I will be in my happy place. I’m so going to enjoy it”

The truth is that most of us lie somewhere between the two.

Moments of peace, internal serenity polishing our halos. Other days? Not so much. More akin to, well, let’s be honest, an almighty mess of the two thrust together.

Tension, cabin fever, short fuses and those kids shouting next door? Gees, I wish they’d quieten down. Hang on! Where are mine?

Ah…Um…. “James and Sophie, please stop shouting now. We can glue your favourite cup back together for ‘art class’ this afternoon. We have to do calc… calcu… calcul…. calculus…. calculations? first”. [Where’s the vodka? That looks like water in my glass right?]

Welcome to Coronovirus lockdown.

Never have we seen the world so divided nor so united at the same time. Freaky huh?
There’s a wonderful balance in that. Very yin and yang.

Coronavirus is forcing our coping strategies to enter new heights of adaptation, transition and the unknown.

As expats, we are masters of transition, living apart from family and friends, making tough decisions, learning a new way of life and needing to be flexible.

I think we have a lot of skills and experience to share. Are you sharing your insights with your family and friends elsewhere? You might not realise the positive impact you can have. Sharing the things you’ve learned could be the difference between someone you care about, coping or not coping.

My 9 tips for separation, isolation and staying sane during lockdown

1. Take the pressure off

This is an extraordinary time, so be kind to yourself. There is no perfect way to get through this. You’re doing your best and that’s all you can do. Tears are fine. Meltdowns are fine, just don’t stay in that space. A good cry is a great way to release tension, especially if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, the kids are playing up or the dog has just pooed on the carpet and you’re in lockdown with no carpet cleaner. Just breathe. If the dog really has pooed indoors though, I recommend breathing with your mouth not your nose. Trust me. I am the voice of experience.

2. Create a routine

Given the changes to your life now, it’s likely that you will need to modify your existing routine or create a new one. Adhering to a routine fosters habits and allows us to feel more in control as we find comfort in meeting our goals and aspirations. That goal could be as simple as managing to get the kids to brush their teeth each day or eat breakfast and do an hour of home-schooling. It helps bring order out of potential chaos.

Be sure to get enough sleep. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each day. Regular and enough sleep will help you to last the distance, keep positive and reduce stress levels. You’re also likely to eat less, which you might favour if you’re unable to complete your regular exercise program.

3. Connect regularly

Living apart from friends and family is hard, especially if time zones make phone calls difficult.

Humans are social creatures. We need connection. You will know how much you need to feel enriched but get creative with how you do this. Anything that strengthens your sense of connection will benefit you.

* Write letters to each otherTalk on the phone a few times a week
* Leave voice messages or silly gifs via WhatsApp/Messenger etc for your people to wake up to
* Reminisce with someone about times you’ve shared together. Really re-live the feelings of joy, amazement and awe that you felt at the time
* Do things together online – watch a film, listen to music, do a crossword, cook a recipe…

4. Do things you love

It’s hard to feel stressed or upset when you’re doing something you love. Build that thing into your every day. It will feed your soul. If the thing that you love doing is not possible because you are in lockdown, how can you adapt it? If you meet a friend in a coffee shop once a week, why not video call your friend, make coffee and sit and chat in your kitchen like you would normally do in the café. Maintain the things you love, just find an alternative method.

5. Exercise

Exercise helps me process my day. For me, my success in living well through the next few months of isolation, will be making this time different. I’m actively choosing to live my life differently, rather than responding to an enforced lockdown. If I continue with thinking it’s normal life, I will expect to be able to do what I normally do. That sets me up for disappointment. So, I’m doing different things.

As I can’t get to the gym, I’ve set up a home gym. For the first time in my life, I’ve signed up to a 90 day home-workout program. Day 2 and I can barely move! At the end of it I’m either going to be rock hard or dead!

So, what’s something different for you? Dancing around the kitchen? Doing some gardening?
Stair jumps? Sit ups? Vacuuming? Lifting tins of beans?

6. Keep informed – with limits

The internet is a great source of information for updates and guidance about the virus, but social media also has a propensity to foster fear and anxiety. Whilst this time feels uncertain, we can gain ground ourselves living 100% within the environment we are in. This means checking the internet for updates, chatting with some friends, but communicating and living with the people that share the room in which you are sitting.

Turn off the news, turn of the internet and talk to each other. At that moment, the only thing that is present is you and whomever else you are with. By being overly connected to the outside media you run the risk of making your safe internal spaces (your home) feel stressful, when in fact they need to be our safe spaces. Now, more than ever, when we can’t go out, we need the spaces we retreat to and are isolated in, to be emotionally safe and calm.

7. Live with purpose

I have decided to see this time at home as an opportunity. Yes, everything is up in the air as we navigate a new way of being. None of us know when it will end, but we can choose what we do with the time.

At the end of this lockdown/isolation period, what do I want to show for it? If I’m at home much more than I would be normally, how can I use this time productively?

I know personally that I will feel better if I’ve achieved something. Achievement is different for everyone though. For some, achievement will be getting through this time being with your family 24 hours a day and still liking each other at the end of it. Others will be home-schooling their children, successfully.

We may need to lower our expectation of what we can achieve in this time as there are additional pressures present that may not be normally upon us (household finances, limited outdoor time, no in-person socialising etc)

Some opportunities and resources to explore:

UDEMY – online courses
Future Learn – online courses
Central Synagogue (New York City) live streaming services
Jstor online – 6000 ebooks and 150 journals
Scholastic for Kids – Learn at Home
Museum virtual tours

8. Establish new rules

With couples now both working from home, I’ve seen some hilarious twitter posts about from people realising how their partner behaves at work.

One guy said he was horrified to realise that his wife was that woman who always asks a complicated question right at the end of a meeting!

Seriously though, we’ve all suddenly been thrust into working together in our homes. Spare a thought for the introvert who now can’t cope with partner and kids home all the time… or the spouse whose desk has now been taken over for the partner’s paid work and they’re stressed because they’re not getting done what they would normally do.

It might be worth you setting some new ground rules so that you can all work together happily in close quarters. Hold a family meeting and establish new ways for working time, lunch time, and play time at the end of the day. It’s early days for many of us and we need to develop systems for longevity.

9. Plan your exit transition

When lockdown and isolation restrictions start to be lifted, we will need to adjust to another new scenario.

Have you considered how you manage the return to ‘normal’ life. Pre-thinking a range of feasible options can relieve the pressure for when you have to make some decisions in a few months time.

How will you manage if schools are still not open but your employer wants you to return to the office? At what point will you need to consolidate financial resources from lost income? Are there other resources available to you? If you returned to your passport country during the pandemic, at what point will you return to your host country? If it’s almost school holiday time again, is it worth attending the last 2 weeks of school or should we stay in our passport country for the holidays?

There’s a million and one questions that will need thinking about. Planning your coronovirus lockdown exit strategy ahead of time, just may be as valuable as the thought you put into keeping your family safe during the pandemic itself.

And for expats who are reading this….
Think about your skills and experience in transition. Let’s start an online EXPAT RIPPLE EFFECT of wisdom and guidance.

So I’m calling for us all to:

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