Routine therapyApril 20, 2021
We all acknowledge that routine can be very important for children and young people especially those who may be described as vulnerable withing school, though it can often provide an anchor for any child or young person coping with stress or anxiety. But it doesn’t just help children!
I’m afraid out of respect for others involved I can’t go into detail but what I can say is that the last 3-4 years life has an array of different, quite enormous challenges towards our family. Coping with those varied challenges over a prolonged period of time has depleted our resources, physical and emotional.
During this time, I have identified a number of things that have helped me ‘regulate’ – deal with the immense, at times overwhelming stress that has seemed inescapable. Working on the assumption that if these things have helped me, they will help others it seemed a good idea to put down a few thoughts.
One aspect that I’ve only come to realise in the last year is that the routine in itself ‘feels’ therapeutic to me. Not having to ‘think’ about what I am going to do next – because when I have time to think without a specific focus there is a danger my thoughts stray to some very unhelpful places – has been powerfully helpful. My routine has changed over time and will change again I’m sure but the central components mentioned below will continue in one form or another.
I could have retitled this to a post ‘things I’m grateful for’ because I am so very grateful for each and every one of these, they have together created an anchor while we are traversing some incredibly rough seas.
Before the pandemic I was travelling a lot delivering training, something I loved. Many weeks I’d stay away from home one or more nights a week and this provided a degree of respite from some difficult situations, though it could also be lonely at times. After the pandemic hit, training moved on line and even interim consultancy work was completed remotely. But, the absorption of work, intense conversations, concentrating on delivering training, preparing sessions, running meetings, or as an interim consultant, managing others, writing reports and strategic plans, all were able to provide me with things to fill my mind other than the very sad troubling situations that were going on in our lives. I remember first discovering the ‘therapeutic’ aspect of work after my father died over 20 years ago. When I returned to work, teaching at the time after a period of compassionate leave I remember thinking to myself one lunchtime that I hadn’t thought about dad for a few hours and it felt like a relief. Obviously, the sadness and loss were still there but it was like having a bit of time off. Work, which I am lucky enough to love has once again provided some much-needed relief.
But if that work had been stressful if I had been worried I would fail, if it pushed me too far out of my comfort zone it would probably have had quite the opposite effective. Something to remember when dealing with children and young people in a school settings.
This has changed over time but always exercise has been an important part of my routine. Yoga and Joe Wicks sessions have given way to walks and this week I might be starting on a couch to 5K programme. The reason for the changes vary, but a physical condition I was diagnosed with during the first lockdown has enforced some changes others have been down to personal preference. Exercise is always important but if you are feeling emotionally ‘delicate’ you really can live without too many other challenges so do what feels good – pick something you enjoy that doesn’t feel like too much of a drudge. Walking has been a pillar of my self-care over the last year – it incorporates the benefits of nature and I’m lucky to live near countryside and some lovely woods, and often friends.
Growing up by the sea I have always enjoyed the calming effect of being in nature. As it happens, I live miles away from the sea now but the trees also seem able to help me calm, see beyond myself and my sadness and worry. But so too does the garden, listening to the birds sing, watching flowers as they bloom. Every day, in the winter even on the rainy days, I’d try to fit in some time outdoors and I quickly realised that for me this improved my sleep, very important as that is a time when thoughts can turn on you and when we are tired our resilience is often at a low ebb.
Again, this has changed over time and pre pandemic there wasn’t time for a lot of creativity (other than writing). It was during first lockdown that I decided to re visit crocheting, something I had loved in my teens. After an initial few week of intense frustration – I thought it would be like riding a bike but I definitely forgot how to do it – it is now a regular slot in my day often when watching TV. I’ve always enjoyed singing, often with my husband who is an amazing guitar player but he bought me a parlour sized guitar and I started to play guitar again, something else I had enjoyed as a teen but then it got squashed out of adult life- though I did start with the ukulele a couple of years ago. What a wonderful experience it has been. Most nights we spend 20-30 minutes playing and singing just for fun. Wonderfully regulating. There have also been times when we’ve enjoyed jam making, cake baking and we have both always loved cooking.
Over recent decades I’ve enjoyed mindfulness but as I struggled with quite major stress, I decided meditation may help. I tend to listen to a guided meditation to provide a focus or my mind will ‘pick up’ on my worries and sadness. To be honest I didn’t notice much of a difference at first. But then I missed it for a couple of days and I did notice a difference in the way I responded to some particular stress triggers during the day so it is definitely part of my daily routine.
As well as being essential for life and health we all use food as a comfort and as way of showing others we care. I have found there is a pleasure in thinking about food, planning meals, buying food and of course eating food!
Such great forms of escapism and both are firmly embedded in my routine. For me I have changed in my TV appetite I want things that hold me on the edge of my seat waiting for the next scene – if not sufficiently absorbing my brain will take me off to places I don’t want to go. But from talking to others, I know some are re-watching old favourites again, it’s about finding what works best for you. The same with books – I’ve never been a lover of crime or detective novels but I need suspense filled books that simply won’t let my brain wander at the moment and I always enjoy listening to music and sometime podcasts and radio can be helpful.
This should maybe have come first as relationships have been vital. Some friends I’ve seen regularly in a distanced way, walking together, with others the connections have been virtual but still vital having people that listen as I rant or cry those who validate me and my feelings and can show empathy. So many times, a hug would have been great but physical (distanced) presence with people not part of the situation has still been very important. And sometimes we talk about all sorts of other things which is kind of therapeutic in a different way – sometimes I listen to them rant or cry – I certainly don’t have a monopoly on the difficulties in life. Relationships are two way and while I’m not suggesting we share every emotion and situation with children they need to know some things about the adults to keep the relationships authentic.
Gratitude, kindness & positivity
Some days are much harder than others. But I make a habit of not getting up until I’ve been able to think of things I’m grateful for – never that hard really, it’s about choosing to focus on those things not the other things that are incredibly tough and often beyond my control. Gratitude, kindness and positivity are well within my control -deciding to do something kind for someone else choosing something positive in the midst of often quite negative situations to concentrate on have been massively helpful and to me it seems these three are like a muscle, the more we do them the easier they seem to become.
Each of these individual practices have helped me regulate and on the whole stay calm. Obviously, I’ve had my moments and that’s okay too. Sadly, the situations are ongoing so I’m going to keep hanging on to my routine and the elements of that are hopefully keeping me, if not entirely well, better than I would be!