“I am finding that my life is going at a zillion miles an hour in this remote learning/working/teaching existence. Not sure how good it is. Also had a great chat with my Year 12 Book Group at lunch today about this, out of all the remote learning days, has been a collective low-point. Pupils seem to be struggling to motivate themselves – and these are highly motivated kids. It is interesting because teachers are saying the same things!”
This was in an email from an experienced teacher in a school in the south of England recently. As it happens, in the week that begins with the really annoyingly named Blue Monday. Bearing in mind that moods are contagious and also that we all tend towards confirmation bias, this is not a helpful concept!
I’ll start by saying how wonderful that the Y12 students were self-aware and able and willing to vocalise their thoughts. This is how we should deal with the negative bits of life: notice, talk, share.
I asked her if I could blog about this and she said yes. And added:
“My body is screaming at me right now – DO SOME YOGA! GO TO BED! My kids are like squirrels high on nuts. It isn’t pleasant!”
There are three opposing things going on here and I think many people of all ages can relate to them especially at the moment:
- We are exhausted by feeling low and worried, by the negative stories, by just how long this has been going on and how we don’t seem to be coming out of it soon. Even those of us who are not clinically depressed are feeling dragged down, which is the literal meaning of “depressed”.
- We are on constant alert, the stress response triggered by every negative story and negative thought.
- And, while on the one hand being dragged down and exhausted, we are full of pent-up energy. We are like coiled springs. Or racehorses raring to go. But with nowhere to go.
Given all this, the following is to be expected:
- We struggle to motivate ourselves.
- We struggle to concentrate.
- We are snappy or badly-behaved. (Pick the one that applies to you? Or is it both?!)
- We find it hard to sleep. And get up in the morning.
The first step is:
Recognise that this is normal. Understandable. A common reaction. Go easy on yourself: this is a difficult thing we’re all dealing with!
You might be feeling guilty for feeling like this when, perhaps, you’re not front line health workers or people whose life is obviously difficult. Don’t feel guilty: being unable to put anxiety into action can be as debilitating as being overworked and at the coal-face.
Then it’s easier to put in motion the second step:
And/or help another person take action.
I have three bits of advice.
- Accept and then talk/do
1. Talking is about the power of sharing a problem
The teacher and students in the comment above were doing this. They shared the fact that they were all feeling bad. Knowing that either someone else feels as you do or (or and) that someone else knows how you feel because you told them, is helpful because a) you feel reassured b) you can help each other c) those who aren’t feeling exactly the same now have the useful task of trying to help motivate those who do. It becomes a shared, communal mission: how do we get ourselves/others out of this?
2. Doing is about simple actions we can take or suggest to others
The actions depend on the situation but they should where possible be:
- Simple enough to act on now – not “Start a new hobby” but “Draw a picture of a heron” or “Do your first origami shape”
- Measurable – not “Do more exercise” but “Go for a 15-minute walk in the next half hour”
- Healthy enough – not “eat a cake out of a packet” but “bake some flapjacks or make a delicious meal for the family”. This doesn’t mean actions should be at the saintly end of the healthy, just that they should be more healthy than unhealthy.
- Satisfying in the longterm, not just pleasurable in the short term – not “lying on a sofa all afternoon even though I know I haven’t achieved enough to feel satisfied” but “spending an hour curled up with a book because I’ll really enjoy it AND not feel guilty at the end”. Rewards are satisfying – although it’s also important not only to relax when we feel we “deserve” it.
Alternatively, you could plan something BIG, especially with a friend or group.
- Is there something you’ve always wanted to do but never got round to?
- Is there a charitable cause you could support?
- Is there an online event you could organise?
But small things are often best for these times when we can’t look ahead easily or far.
Going back to that teacher’s cry: “My body is screaming at me right now – DO SOME YOGA! GO TO BED! My kids are like squirrels high on nuts. It isn’t pleasant!” Good idea: do some yoga WITH your kids and then go to bed! You’ll all sleep better!
EXTRA TIP: HOW TO SWITCH OFF YOUR SCREEN/PHONE
Take your finger – any finger will do but the usual one is the forefinger. Check it’s working – give it a wiggle. Apply it to the off-button. Press.
You did it!
3. Accepting is about acknowledging that at the moment you do feel lacking in motivation, aimless, low
It’s about noticing the signs in yourself and knowing that this is human and natural. That it will pass but that if it doesn’t you can ask for help and help will be there. (Even if you have to ask twice.) It’s OK to wallow for a bit, too. It’s OK to curl up on the sofa once in a while or to eat cake or read a magazine. But if you do those things too much you won’t help yourself because a) those things don’t ultimately help and b) you’ll probably feel bad.
But, once you’ve acknowledged that your life is a bit rubbish right now, pick yourself up, give yourself a talking to if you want to, and get on and (either or both) TALK to a friend or trusted adult and/or DO something simple, measurable, healthy and satisfying.
Which will it be? You task right now is to think of five things you’ll do to pick yourself up over the next week.
Here are mine. I have more than five. They just keep growing once you start to think of them!
- I’m going for a long walk. I live in the country so this is easy to do without meeting anyone. I’m walking with one other person.
- I’m doing an 8k run either Saturday or Sunday.
- I’m making marmalade. I’ve got the oranges, sugar and jars – no excuse!
- I’m going to hang the pictures we took down during a building project that finished just before Christmas. This task has been glaring at me since then.
- My husband and I are having a meal offered to take away from a local restaurant. And a glass of wine.
- I’m writing letters to three friends. Actual handwritten letters. It feels good.
- I have a small list of gardening jobs – I’ll pick sunny moments if possible but, if not, I have a coat.
- We will light a fire and I’ll read for at least an hour one evening.
- Last episode of the Spiral Series 7 ready to watch!
- Feed the birds – I’ve bought new seeds etc.
- Talking of seeds, sort my seeds to start sowing very soon. I’ll make dividers for each month.
- Phone my daughters and Zoom my 14-month-old grandson, if he’ll sit still for long enough.
- Make a video of our house, which my parents have never seen.
Actually, just making that list and looking at it makes me feel motivated again!
We can do this. Together, we can do this.