While the future is uncertain, we can plan ahead to have a few tools in place to take care of ourselves, and remind ourselves to reach out and connect with others.
The Columbia River in the Tri-Cities of Washington State, near to where my cousin Jana lives.
Note: This week’s post is guest-authored by my creative, thoughtful, amazing cousin Jana Hardman. Jana lives in the Pacific Northwest with her engineer husband and her two kids (daughter, 4, and son, 1). Before staying at home with her children, Jana worked ten years as a public educator (five of those ten years she was also an elementary reading specialist). Jana’s life happens to be quite similar to my own (engineer husband and two small children), and when she shared her ideas for getting through the winter this year, I was grateful. For others who might find themselves in a situation like ours, she has agreed to let me share her thoughts, here.
We know that in this Covid storm, there are many “boats” (we’re not all in the same one). If this advice doesn’t apply to you, the overarching idea does: take care of yourself this winter. I heard recently that moms are having nervous breakdowns around every 10 days right now, and every time I mention this, the moms I know say “Oh really, that infrequently? I think I have one every other day!.” Those of my readers who are not moms with small children, I bet it’s similar!
But if we are having nervous breakdowns every so many days, that means that there are days when we aren’t having a nervous breakdown. When one of us falls out of our boat into the storm, we can reach out to her (him/them, etc), and pull her back in. And then when it’s our turn to fall out, someone will pull us back up. Remember to reach out!
Here’s what Jana says:
This winter feels heavy, with restrictions on our normal gatherings and the harsh affect Covid-19 has had on our world, and here in the US. I’ve been trying to think outside of the box this winter, preparing myself to be ready for these cold, dark days.
I’ve never been someone who loves the winter; I do not like being cold and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD/Winter Blues) has been very real for me in my adult life. The things about winter that usually brings me life are the gatherings with family and friends. To my family, those large gathering/events aren’t worth it right now until we have a vaccine and/or our Covid case numbers go back down.
In the meantime, I made a winter mental health care plan. This plan includes all of the different ways I’ve insulated myself in previous winters to make it through, and some new ideas I’ve added to make a Covid winter easier. I obviously will not do all of these things, but I wrote them down to refer to on days that I’m struggling to have as tools to make it through.
I hope this helps those who are reading and may find themselves in a similar situation to mine.
-Take a walk during the sunniest part of the day. At least 30 minutes.
Kat's note: I am always surprised (surprisingly!) by how good it feels, especially these days, to get out and breathe fresh air and see some natural light. While it is often hard to get out of the house with two small kids, I'm always glad when I do.
-Write for 20 minutes in your journal in the morning with no expectations. Just a way to practice mindfulness and set intentions for the day.
-Set up a bed time/wake up time for yourself versus waking up when your child wakes up. Especially during the week days. Weekends can be more relaxed.
-Be ok with taking a nap while your child naps. Sleep is important and don’t feel guilty about sleeping.
Kat's note: Here I am, not sleeping while my baby sleeps (or maybe I did fall asleep that day). I have personally discovered that lack of sleep triggers some pretty intense anxiety for me, so I love Jana's suggestion here: sleep is just as important as eating and drinking for basic health, especially now. TV shows, social media, and the messy house can wait.
-Make a plan with your partner on who gets to sleep in on Saturday/Sunday. You get one day, he gets another day. I’m planning to order in breakfast on Sundays because that’s my favorite meal out. I’m going to make it a thing.
-In dealing with the Sunday blues, make a list of people you aren’t able to see right now and write hand written letters to them.
-Buy your favorite coffee/creamer for the week. And your favorite wine to drink on the weekends.
-Think of local gifts to give for Christmas. Take the time to put thought into them to feel connected to others.
-Invite friends to do a zoom meetings for crafts and wine maybe once a month. Maybe do a zoom game night with friends once a month.
-Organize outdoor play dates with one or two other moms. Establish wearing masks and going to less populated parks to play.
-Create a simple schedule for your kids: get up, brush teeth, change clothes, make bed, breakfast. Play time. Put all toys out of site in bins and bring one set in at a time. Have kids help put away. Baby goes down for nap, Big sister gets screen time, you get free time. Then lunch. Have Big sister make her own. After lunch, get outside with kids/take a walk/play in cul-de-sac/. If it’s too cold outside dramatic play and crafts. Afterwards, come in and do reading/writing/math activity with Big sister while Baby plays. Make dinner. Eat. Do a workout with kids or partner plays with kids. Bed time routine, kids to bed.
Kat's note: I personally love this suggestion of getting out only some toys at a time and being sure the kids help to clean up. I don't know about you, but having a perpetually messy house does not help my mental health. Now, just to operationalize this plan... (maybe I'll also rely on the other tip, below, giving myself some grace)
-Plan 1 to 2 trips in January/February/March to head to a cabin out of town. Maybe one trip with partner/kids. One trip without.
-Make a reading goal every month/year. Be ok with just doing audio books right now in your life. Put books on hold at library because it takes a while when you’re on the wait list.
-For holidays, make a plan to make unique recipes that you haven’t tried. Share your extra food with your neighbors. Start a new holiday tradition you can do even after the pandemic.
Kat's note: We actually tried this piece of advice for our nuclear-family-Thanksgiving this year. Here is a salad we tried for the first time: it was bright and full of many kinds of herbs (parsley, cilantro, mint, dill, arugula) , as well as almond slices toasted in butter. So, healthy and fun! We shared some of our not-so-healthy-but-very-fun cheesecake dessert with a neighbor.
-Find a safe friend with whom to process Covid and the things you are afraid of.
-Buy a propane space heater to use outside while your kids are playing in the back yard if you hate being cold. Make sure you/your kids have the appropriate winter attire.
-Think of one hobby you have wanted to learn and make a plan to learn it this winter.
-Think of the best ways to support local food banks and also ways to stay politically engaged now that the election is over. Don’t feel like you can do it all. Just choose one thing that can help and encourage one more person to do the same. Remind that person to encourage one more person, making a chain reaction.
-Take vitamin D every morning. Continue to see a counselor if you do, or consider finding one if you don't. Don’t be afraid to talk through anti-anxiety/depression medication use and if it’s right for you. Sit under a happy light in the morning from Labor Day to St. Patrick’s Day.
-Do a free workout challenge with one other friend for accountability.
Kat's note: Maybe you don't have exercise equipment available next to your nearby stream (I mean, what?!), but the point is that exercise, like sleep, is another amazingly necessary part of physical and mental health. And, like getting outside, it may not be easy to get started, but it nearly always works to lift the mood.
-Give yourself grace when motivation is low.
-Look into if you want to invest in house plants or if that’s too much to try right now.
-Don’t over schedule yourself.
-Buy a cribbage board to play with your partner/find a podcast you both like so you don’t have to resort to watching tv every night after the kids go to bed.
Kat's note: On my wedding day in Costa Rica, I decided at the last minute to cancel my hairstylist because I really didn’t like his plan for my hair and makeup. So I did my own makeup, and luckily enough for me, Jana was there, and she did my hair! This is who Jana is: calm, generous, and talented. She cares deeply and writes beautifully. I’m so glad to know that she’s there as we go into this Covid winter.
Who do you have in your life that you know you can lean on?