Q I used to be so fit and healthy and organised. Now I am completely overwhelmed, even when I shouldn't be. I have two children, aged two and eight, and I work about 15 hours a week - my husband works full-time and I am happy to take on the domestic and childrearing duties as I really enjoy it all. On paper, I should have all the time in the world to exercise and eat well, but I never do. I feel like I am always chasing my tail and half-doing everything. Can you give me some guidelines on becoming more disciplined and getting more out of my day?
I'm going to ask you to pause for a second and let that sink in. I'm going to make an assumption that you would be much kinder and gentler with a friend. Are you a striver? Are you feeling the frustration that seems rife within pandemic perfectionism and pushy productivity?
Let's put your day on paper. I'm fully aware of where your time goes as you have a moving feat in the shape of a toddler and an eight-year-old who would normally be at school.
The 15 hours you worked, can I ask did you do this without your children before lockdown? How many hours do you think are eaten up every day between washing, cooking, cleaning, prepping and making dinner in the roundabout that circles kitchen table to sink?
The pressure, the frustration and ultimately the inevitable overwhelm is written on the paper you've described. Even if previously you had from 9am to 2.30pm per day for even one child at school, that time is now gone. As you now side-step into the role of teacher. That is 27.5 hours gone from your week, add in 15 hours for your work and we're at 42.5 hours; this is not including any cleaning or eating or the other basics. How many hours do you think they take up?
My point is this, do the maths please, put your week on paper and all the invisible chores that eat into each day, week and month. The multitude of these unfinished or repeated tasks build into a whooping sense of frustration and lack of productivity, even though you may never stop.
The following link is a worksheet to quantify this for yourself: https://app.box.com/s/93j6kc6qui2t9wbjiu4k
When you see how your weekly time-sheet breaks down in reality, give yourself a serious clap on the back.
Now, and only now can you begin to carve out, make and take some time for yourself. In terms of food, it's all about preparation. Can you batch cook? Would you like to make a menu up for the week, to help with the shop and get in and out of 'that' experience as quickly as you can. Do you like getting inspiration from good cooks online? Bring some joy back to your kitchen.
There is a not-so-subtle food and fat shaming happening right now that is making me very uncomfortable, as the constant fat memes laugh and rile at how we will all come out of lockdown. It's not funny though, as lockdown has polarised people into fiendish productivity and perfection or a resolute resignation to the couch and its comforts in liquid or food form.
I'm saying this to give yourself a break. You are organised, you are managing a lot, this is a deeply challenging time. Pre-Covid people were anxious with the overwhelm of life, and now it's multiplied.
When there are no more hours in the day, it's about ending your day earlier, by going to bed earlier and getting up earlier.
There is no head-space at the minute, so the quietness of getting into your own bed and reading for a bit or stealing out of the house as the day begins will make you feel like you have won all day long.
With your calendar, sit down on your own and then with your husband and mark out when you are thinking about doing your exercise and ask him likewise when he'd like that space.
Make a list around 4pm each day of what three tasks you need to get done tomorrow. It could be to order the school uniforms, change the sheets and whatever else is top priority and then three tasks that need to happen for work. Add in one thing for yourself, such as doing polyvagal breaths whilst you put the kettle on, by breathing in for four and exhaling for eight and to do this five times. Choosing to focus on you, your breath and being in that one moment will help you feel clearer and calmer.
Please note every time you say 'shouldn't'. Tune into what you are feeling which is overwhelmed. Stop comparing yourself to the baking brigade. You are enough, you do enough and bring that concept of good enough into every decision and experience of your day.
Breathe space into your body, mind and heart. Take a few minutes with a cup of coffee/tea and sit outside for the three minutes it takes to drink it. Look around, listen, let down your shoulders and give yourself these reparative soothing breaks.
Connect and listen to what your mind is saying if it feels like the thoughts are racing or if you feel out of control or if you just feel you haven't completed a single task and recognise how immensely anxiety-inducing that is, our brains hate loose ends.
Break everything down into smaller tasks and bring praise to each of the many jobs that you have done that day.
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