As summer winds down and the pandemic grinds on, safe to say, many of us are heading into the fall with a sense of unease about what lies ahead. Getting a handle on how to move forward in the midst of constantly changing circumstances is something that just about everyone is struggling with right now. Vaccination, masking up and following CDC guidelines are essential. But after that, what?
Despite pandemic fatigue, you simply must take good care of yourself and your loved ones and be as safe, physically healthy and mentally well as possible as we push through the next phase of the pandemic, whatever that turns out to be. No backsliding.
So, whether you’re going to be doing the working-from-home/home-schooling combo for the next few months, or diving back into the in-person work and school routine, here are a few ways to tame the justifiable jitters, and manage life in these very unusual times:
1) Reconnect with your sleepy-time groove.
In summertime, with its long days and late sunsets, it’s easy to lose track of time. Dinner and bedtimes tend to slide later and later, so the entire family may be somewhat off schedule when back-to-work-and-school season arrives this month. To make the mental transition easier, the time to start turning the seasonal ship around is now.
This week, start the evening wind-down process a bit earlier. Try to move your turn-in time forward in 15-30 minute increments. So, if you’ve been staying up until 11:30, set an alarm on your phone for 10:00 p.m. to remind yourself to start powering down, with an in-bed/lights-out goal of 11:00 p.m. Keep pushing lights-out earlier until you get to a bedtime that aligns with a normal work and school week schedule, and allows the entire family to get enough rest. While it may take a week or two to adjust, the mission is to more gracefully handle those mildly disorienting first few days back in the early fall routine.
2) Greet the day with calm, not chaos.
Whether you’re heading out into the world, or facing a day full of Zoom calls, mornings can feel more like being shot out of a circus cannon than relaxed preparation for the day ahead. To get things off to a more relaxed start, instead of peeking at your phone, roll out of bed and straight into a brief meditation. Just five minutes will help tame nerves and blood pressure. Over time, try to work your way up to 15 – 30 minutes of meditation first thing to maximize the benefits. Even if you have to get up a few minutes earlier, before the family starts to stir, grab a cushion and sit on the floor, legs crossed, or in a straight-back chair, eyes closed, and set a gentle timer alarm to let you know when time’s up.
If you’re new to meditation, try tuning into a meditation app, like the handy Insight Timer – to keep you on schedule and prevent falling back to sleep.
Got kids? Invite them to meditate. To get them started, try one of the 10-minute meditations on headspace.com that are specifically designed for parents and children to do together.
3) Stretch — and move — your groove thing.
If you have another minute or two in the morning, get your energy up with a yoga stretch or two and my favorite energizing yoga pose. Got a few more minutes to spare before the day gets underway? Stretch, stretch, stretch! To limber up for the day and get your blood flowing, try this short routine made up of four simple stretches that will also help build strength, help take the edge off stress and anxiety, and help combat some of the deleterious effects of all that sedentary time at the desk.
Got kids doing remote learning? Try teaching them a few of your yoga moves to help them calm and center themselves for a day of in-home learning. Or try one of the many short, super simple yoga routines designed for little ones on YouTube.
Also, keep reminding yourself to move more throughout the workday, no matter where you’re working. Set a timer and at the top of every hour, get up and, for five minutes or so, walk around the house, around the block or climb a flight of stairs a few times. If you’re working from home, try doing a few old-school calisthenics – think push-ups, jumping jacks, jumping rope — to bust a little stress, get your circulation flowing and help refresh/reset your brain, a great boost for your creativity and productivity as well.
4) Cut morning chaos.
With commutes and school drop-offs having undergone some major changes in recent months, your new morning rush may be a bit less chaotic than in pre-pandemic times when everyone was racing out the door at the same time. These days, whether you’re leaving home for the day or gearing up to work from inside it, a little organization still goes a long way to keep stress levels down. In other words, do as much prep as you can in the evenings – and encourage the kids to do the same. Before calling it a night, everyone — parents included – should lay out their work stuff (notebooks, schoolbooks, pens, etc.) as well as their clothes for the morning, right down to shoes, socks and undies. That way, there’s no morning panic or time lost searching for the missing parts. If you’re heading out into the world, then make sure school bags and work bags are pre-packed too, with house keys, car keys and phone chargers at the ready.
5) De-stress your breakfast.
One way to de-stress your breakfast is to not eat it until lunch, in other words, practice time-restricted eating (TRE). If, on the other hand, you’re a more traditional first-thing-in-the-morning breakfast person, then after dinner, while you’re still in the kitchen and in a cooking mindset, do as much breakfast and lunch prep as possible, so there’s less culinary confusion in the morning. Set the coffee up in advance. Prep veggies, crack, mix, season the eggs and store in the fridge overnight. Premix the paleo pancake batter or whip up a bake-ahead egg dish – anything you can do to shave a few minutes off the process in the morning will make for a calmer start. Partial to morning smoothies? Then toss the dry ingredients in the blender cup and store in the fridge overnight. In the morning, toss in frozen organic berries, veggies, water or nut milk and hit ‘blend.’
6) Get comfortable saying ‘no.’
Boundaries. Everybody needs them, and if nothing else, the pandemic has certainly clarified where our boundaries lie. It’s made many people more comfortable with the phrase ‘no,’ delivered as graciously as possible and without apology – and that’s not such a bad thing, particularly if you were relentlessly over-booked (and likely exhausted) back in before times. Use this still-somewhat-paused time to determine what’s really important to you, and how you want to spend your time. When action is needed or requests are made, offer to help down the line, perhaps in October when you and your family have gotten your bearings, but give yourself a break during those initial back-to-school weeks – and don’t feel guilty about it. You have a right to be in control of your time (not the PTA).
7) Gift yourself with an extra helping of summer.
The return to work and school, in whatever form it takes, can feel pretty abrupt. One day you’re swimming in the sea and the next you’re back to the grind, feeling like summer never happened. It can be a bit of a shock to the system for both kids and grown-ups alike. So, instead of saying farewell to summer, extend the season a bit by planning a few weekend get-aways or day trips to the beach and take advantage of the lovely weather, smaller crowds and the more relaxed, post-season pace. While you’re playing in the sand you’ll also be gifting your mind and body with the beneficial, calming benefits of the sea. Simply by spending time in ‘blue spaces’ – like the seaside or in areas where much of the sky is visible – helps reduce stress levels and make us feel happier.
8) De-stress your nights.
To help wind yourself down from a busy day, before bed, spend a few minutes in a restorative yoga pose, like Supta Boddha Konasana and/or the Reclining Open Chest Pose. Restorative yoga help quiet the body and mind, while also setting you up for a good night’s rest. Need a few more unwinders? Check out these 8 relaxing pre-bedtime yoga poses.
9) Show yourself more kindness.
In other words, cut yourself a little slack. We’re all still getting used to these most unusual times, and many of the things we did before are different now. Everything is a little more complicated. A trip to the grocery store, or dinner at a restaurant may take a bit more time. There are some roadblocks and inconveniences in places where they weren’t before – so cut yourself – and others – some slack. Does it matter if the dishwasher isn’t emptied right away? Or if the summer clothes stay out a little longer? In a word, ‘no.’ What matters is keeping yourself and those you love healthy and safe, and being grateful for all that we have here and now.