Do you remember where you were during the weekend of March 13-15, 2020?
I remember well. My husband and I were away for my birthday weekend when we found out about this crazy virus called COVID-19. We were not only mystified, but filled with uncertainty and fear. (Happy birthday to me!)
Now, as we round the corner on the one-year anniversary of COVID-19, it is important for us to reflect, not only upon the challenges and losses we have survived, but also on all of the positive lessons and new routines we have benefitted from in so many ways.
Remembering life before the pandemic is easy, isn’t it? After years of searching for ways to maintain positive mental health, I had discovered methods for seeking and maintaining balance with work/life/family/friends.
However, maintaining that balance was, for the most part, an ongoing challenge. Why? Simply because there was never enough time in the day.
With the arrival of COVID-19 and all of the restrictions and lockdowns we have been forced to adapt to, many of us have so much MORE time.
But for some, including essential and front-line workers, as well as parents with children at home, the challenge of finding ANY free time has only increased, which is why recalibration of work/life balance is so much more challenging.
However, it is even more essential to find those moments wherever and whenever possible. This past year has highlighted how critical our “down time” is. Time has become a gift that allows us to define and prioritize all that’s most important to us.
Pursuing and reaching developmental milestones
Let’s go back…wayyy back. As small babies and children, we were expected to reach age-appropriate markers that showed our social, cognitive, physical, behavioural, and emotional development.
As human sponges, we learned how to eat, walk, speak, read, and write. At home, as well as at school, we were socialized to “fit in” and “keep up” with the “norm”.
That “norm” has always followed beliefs, education, social expectations, etc, that are embedded in us for generations as societal paradigms, curriculums, rules, and regulations have shaped the institutions we have become part of.
We grow throughout childhood, and throughout our lives, trying to meet the multiple levels of societal expectations. We learn from our parents, and absorb all they know from their own individual families of origin and social experiences.
We learn from school curriculums that have been in place for several decades, which are only now beginning to teach life skills and ways to manage mental health.
And as we reach adolescence, we learn to adhere to these expectations. When we don’t, conflict arises, relationships become challenging, and divisions increase.
In our twenties, we are expected to become financially independent, gainfully employed, get married, and own a home. Into our thirties, we are expected to expand our family…have one, two, three, or more children.
…AND we are expected to continue to balance our home life with work expectations and financial commitments. We are expected to keep up, find time to work, parent, nurture our relationships, exercise, and maintain household responsibilities.
All of these societal expectations have negative (as well as positive) effects on us, both physically and mentally.
We become exhausted and unwell. And while we will call in to our workplace when we do not feel physically well, we tend to ignore our mental health, and continue to move through our lives pushing away our commitment to emotional wellness, because we’re expected to remain strong!
So…how do we keep up?
Protecting time…a delicate balancing act
Many years ago, I thought about the idea of practicing hot yoga. I struggled with the idea because I had lower-back issues and thought I’d further injure myself.
But then, as I researched the benefits of consistent yoga practice, I learned that by strengthening my core, I would be strengthening the muscles around my sacrum/ tailbone, and would no longer suffer.
So, I decided to give it a try. At first, I doubted myself, and believed I would not last!
So, I created a plan: I chose to attend regular classes three times per week. I then added those classes to all of my online and written agendas. I knew if I scheduled my home and work life around my selected times, there would be a greater chance that I would practice on a consistent basis. I chose to protect these times I wanted to commit to.
Twenty years later, I still practice yoga at these times. My commitment became a routine, and one I came to highly value and prioritize. And to my surprise, not only did my pain disappear, but my mental health grew even stronger. I also became a yoga teacher. Who would have known?
I began to protect time in just about every area of my life. Even when my work or parenting schedule was too full, I became a member of the ‘5 am Club’: early to sleep, early to rise.
When doable, I found time to be with my husband and sons, family, and friends, to ensure opportunities for adventure and time to be with nature, time to exercise, breathe and meditate, read, write, and time to just do absolutely nothing. Total bliss…much of the time.
I came to cherish my chosen family: my girlfriends, who became my circle of nourishment and support. We would get together two at a time or in small groups, to share a meal together, go for hikes and bike rides, and find time to have mini-retreats where we could just “be girls” together. We would laugh, we would cry. And these women have always been there for me, in good times and in bad.
Happy dog, happy life
Upon reflection of all that came prior to mid-March, 2020, I realize that while I was great at protecting time, I had become busy. Very, very busy. So busy that there were times when I couldn’t find time to get together with my husband, adult boys, parents, or chosen family for weeks.
My agenda was too full! I was rarely home. My dog was on her own so much that I had to hire a dog walker for every day of the week to keep her active and surrounded by her own friends.
But since the pandemic hit, I’m now home ALL THE TIME. My dog is so happy! Soooo happy that I’m quite certain she will have separation anxiety once we enter post-COVID life!
But, while I am so aware of having the opportunity to work from home, where my children are independent, I know this is far more challenging for many others who have young children at home, and/or have to balance home life with long work hours.
Finding time for balance is difficult, but doable. Highlighting pauses in each day can become so much more meaningful, so that we can feel more resilient in moving through the mountain of responsibilities we may have.
As I embrace moments where I can prioritize the gift of time, I have discovered that my schedule and agenda have become more manageable than they have ever been in my life.
I now have more time to balance my days, which includes daily exercise and yoga, reading and writing, and more time with the cherished people in my life. I’ve come to appreciate the small stuff now more than ever. Going out for a walk or connecting on Zoom more often than before…such a gift!
Most important, with the gift of time I have found more and more ways to reach out and support others. While I have always done so in the work I do as a psychotherapist, giving back at times like these is the most important takeaway I have from this past year. As a member of the 5 am Club, I am now writing and sharing my pearls of wisdom, with the hope I can pay my discoveries forward.
Grateful for the gift of time and my beautiful connections, I have learned to surrender, to find calm, and, as Brene Brown would say, to “brave the wilderness”.