The soft digital dance of my alarm creeps in and out of my dream, taking me a minute to realize what the sound is. Soon it's overwhelmed whatever dream I was having, like someone repeating your name when you've zoned out. "Emma, Emma, Emmmmmaaaaaa". I gasp awake, fumbling to turn it off. I need 10 more minutes (or hours) at least.
Then, the tightness in my chest sets in. Anxiety spreading from my lungs, like pulsating bolts of lightning sending tension to the far reaches of my limbs. Like owls carrying invitations to attend Hogwarts, far and wide, except this invitation is to a depressing pyjama party in my flat, and I'm the only one invited.
My toes curl, my jaw clenches as I stretch my body out under the covers, before curling back into a ball as small as I can manage. I roll onto my side as I blink my eyes open gradually, my phone tightly gripped in my hand.
Headspace reminding me to meditate, Duolingo telling me I'm never going to learn French if I don't practice, Whatsapp, Twitter, Instagram comments on my recent post, and on and on.
I open Twitter. Why? Maybe because I hate myself? I don't know. I read the top COVID stats for deaths in the UK, Canada, and the US. I feverishly scroll consuming headline after headline, quotes from fumbling political leaders to downright monsters intentionally stoking the flames. My snooze alarm sounds and I swipe it away without blinking as I continue to scroll. I lock my phone, leaving the chats and happy comments for now. I need a minute.
Slowly, I bring myself to get up. One foot on the floor then the other. Blackout blinds are a blessing and a curse. I pull them open. Blue skies and sunshine in London, again. It's been so punishingly lovely out.
This is how I've been waking up most days since lockdown began in London some weeks ago. Slowly and tensely waking from a sleep that doesn't seem to make me less exhausted. Headachy. Tired. Anxious before I've even spoken, stood, or taken a proper breath.
All Aboard the Roller Coaster
Since the beginning of social distancing and lockdown in the UK I can only describe my anxiety levels as All Over The Fucking Place. Some days I wake up as I've described above. Other days I wake up and feel content, happy, warm and glowy, ready to have a positive day. Eager to accomplish things and focus on getting concrete tasks done.
These are the days proper self-care feels easy. Getting out for that 5km? A breeze! The energy to make a healthy meal? Boundless! Not all days are like that though.
Take Your Moods in Stride
For me, this pandemic has been an exercise in being patient with myself and others. Don't be too brutal with yourself if your moods and energy shift throughout the week or the day - and anticipate the people you care about are going through something similar.
Know that your mood may shift, from day to day, from morning to evening. You're not a robot. You're a human being going through some pretty crazy shit. It's okay to not be okay (I know, I know, cliche, but true). So, give yourself a break if you start the day off feeling positive and by dinner you want to cry. You haven't failed. You got through another day.
Go Back to Basics
This pandemic has made the world feel upside down. Routine and repetition make me feel in control and ease my anxiety. Whether you suffer from anxiety or not, you likely know things that make you feel better, and things that make you feel worse.
Does talking to your Mum on Facetime help? Great! Phone that legend of a woman EVERY DAMN DAY.
Does yoga recenter you and make you feel more in control of your body and soul? Fantastic. Put your mat out and keep it out. Stretch throughout the day when you need a minute or do a session before bed to help knock you out.
Does checking Twitter first thing in the morning make you feel hopeless? Then stop it. TODAY.
Whatever those things are, and you know them better than me, go back to them. Scrap the toxic ones, one at a time. The tried tested and true routines that make you feel like you are where your sanity is.
What Works for Me
The first couple of weeks I was running on a weird adrenaline high. I was fueled by buzzing nervous energy and very task-focused. We just moved to London at the beginning of the pandemic taking hold in England. Setting up the flat kept me anchored and distracted from the world around me.
Today, we NEED to find rice.
Tomorrow we need to get more TP.
We need to order a bed frame.
The day after that, IKEA arrives.
Next, we need to mail these forms related to our immigration (because even in a pandemic, life admin never sleeps).
As that to-do list shrunk and that busy energy faded with the weeks and weeks of lockdown, I slumped and started having some lows. After some tears and venting to my partner, friends, parents about how humanity is doomed, I acknowledge that something needs to change.
So here are the things I am returning to that make me feel better. Things that sometimes slip when I'm feeling shitty.
- Styling or, at the very least, brushing my hair.
- Doing a proper bedtime skincare routine.
- Writing daily affirmations in a journal. (This never ceases to feel corny to me, but it honestly works)
- Drinking water.
- Hearing the voice of a loved one.
- Drinking tea all the livelong day.
- Putting on a dress.
- Practicing yoga (even just one sun salutation).
- Wearing perfume.
- Writing with pen and paper.
- Looking at photos of past adventures.
- Reaching out to family.
- Lighting a candle.
- Listening to guilty pleasures on Spotify.
- Looking at cat and dog videos.
- Learning something new (not about the pandemic).
- Writing down things I'm grateful for.
- Going outside.
- Planning for the future, setting goals.
- Cooking something yummy.
- Spotting dogs from my window and sending them virtual snoot boops and belly rubs.
- Bubble baths.
- Taking photographs.
I don't do each of these every day of course, but I try and go back to these routines, bringing things back into my life I may have forgotten about, simple moments of joy and calm. This has worked in the past for me, without fail. So I am confident it will help me now, even though the circumstances are unprecedented.
The three I have bolded are ones I am focusing on more this week. Writing down goals and dreams for the future. Writing down things I like about myself, my life. Getting on that yoga mat, even if it's the last thing I feel like doing.
Trust me, I'm aware of just how good I have it. We managed to secure our visas and move to our new home before things really got ugly in the UK. We are able to work from home running our own business. We are able-bodied and healthy for the time being, something we remind ourselves of every single day.
Being grateful and reminding yourself of those things doesn't make anxiety go away with the snap of a finger. It's like telling someone who's upset to calm down. Or someone who's depressed to look on the bright side. It's futile. So, while I practice gratitude daily, there are still days where that doesn't calm me, it doesn't relieve the tight feeling in my chest.
Then comes the guilt. I feel guilty for being anxious when I know there are many more people on the planet who are suffering more, going through more, facing job loss, facing lost loved ones, managing an army of children on their own, sacrificing more to keep us all safe.
So I'm in a delicate balance and trying not to dismiss my feelings when they arise. I'm being gentle with myself and others as we all wander through this crisis, while also trying to maintain perspective.
Consistency is key for me as I start focusing my energies back on active self-care. Writing and posting a blog post like this is one of the ways I hold myself accountable, by sharing it with you.
I am also going to have to learn not to beat myself up if I fall out of these good habits. Instead, I need to remind myself what happens when I neglect these routines, I start to feel shitty, tired, which then drains my energy, making getting started on these routines again from scratch all the more daunting.
So, I am starting again from scratch today. I'm currently staring at my rolled-up yoga mat mustering the strength to unroll it, take my socks off, and breathe.
First thing's first.
Deletes Twitter from phone and puts the kettle on.