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We are NOT “fine”. Look after yourself.

Can we stop acting like this is okay? Can we stop acting like nothing has changed? Can we stop thinking that we should just carry on as normal? Please.

I read a headline recently that said we are the “this is fine” meme come to life, and I really think this is the case. One of the many commonly used phrases to come from the pandemic is  ‘unprecedented times’. Can we actually start acting like we understand that these truly are unprecedented times, and therefore we should NOT be expected to carry on as usual and we should NOT be expected to feel okay all of the time. I feel that businesses expecting staff to work as normal are way off base, and need to take a much more compassionate and understanding approach to both their business as a whole and their staff.

The pandemic has impacted everyone in one way or another. I think that’s what makes this so unprecedented- this is global. Rarely do we live through something that has such a large scale impact. Yet here we are, acting like “it’s okay hun…”

I’m writing this to very much emphasise that THIS IS NOT OKAY- but that is okay. Let’s actually allow ourselves to feel not okay, and sit with the uncomfortable feeling that this may bring. Being able to sit with uncomfortable emotion is so difficult; if it was easy then we would all do it and probably put counsellors, psychologists etc out of a job. I recommend that each day you allow yourself some protected time to sit with your emotions, whatever they may be, and just let them be. If you are sad, feel sad; if you are angry, be angry; if you are fed up, take break and be fed up. We are so used to trying to move on from these emotions, going into problem solving mode or trying to ignore the feeling until it passes by busying ourselves with other things. Likely at the moment these things aren’t too healthy either e.g. alcohol, junk food, binge watching Netflix, sleeping more. Whereas outside of lockdown we may have met a friend, made a plan to go out for the day, visited somewhere new, went to the gym. We are lacking in so much right now- connection, activity, travel.

Exercise number 1- plan some time in your day to allow yourself to sit with your emotions. For example, aim to have 15 minutes per day where you aren’t on your phone, watching TV, doing anything at all. And just have a seat, with a cup of tea if you fancy, and allow yourself to feel your feelings for that designated period of time. (I’d say around 10-30mins to allow this to be practicable).

I think we are so mindful of people around us and how they are feeling at the moment- checking in on elderly relatives, video calling with our friends who may be living on their own, sending shopping to those shielding or isolating. This is great, because we are so generous and thoughtful, however where does our generosity and thought for ourselves get left? Often behind. We are a society that deems self-care self-ISH. This needs to change. Self-care is so important, and after all if we aren’t healthy ourselves how can we be helpful to others anyway? Self-care can mean so many things, and it does mean different things to different people. Spend some time trying to think of ways in which you can engage in self-care for you. Are you someone who enjoys a bath, do you love nature, do you thrive on exercise, do you value time in front of the TV watching something really easy? I guess the ultimate goal of self-care is to engage in something that during and after this engagement you feel rejuvenated in some way; whether this be in energy, emotion, or head space. For me, I enjoy a walk with an audio book, a bit of mindfulness, exercise, or an episode or 2 of Modern Family. When I do these activities I feel as though I am spending time on myself, giving my body and my mind what it needs- a break from everything and everyone else around me.

Exercise number 2- have a think about what things feel like self-care for you and make an active plan to factor this in every day. This doesn’t have to be a big activity, it may only be 15 minutes to sit and drink a cup of tea in silence; or it could be bigger like going for a walk for 1 hour (government guidelines of course…). Be non-judgemental in your approach to this, there is no “wrong method” of self- care, however also be mindful that this is healthy as we can easily fall into overdoing this e.g. drinking several bottles of wine!

We need to be kind to ourselves during this time. Let’s not pull ourselves down if we didn’t do something that we had intended to do today, or if we were less productive in our work day because we weren’t really feeling in the mood for it. Notice this, and move on from it. We can be aware of our actions and feelings without having to judge them. This can be quite a hard task, because we are so programmed to make judgements all the time, and we are particularly good at making judgements of ourselves. How often have you said to yourself “I shouldn’t have eaten all those crisps”, “I should really have written more than 200 words for that assignment today”, “I’ve been inside all day, I really should have went for a walk and got some exercise”?. I know I make these statements all too often, and I know for a fact I make judgements of myself daily. Why not try and frame these differently, and see how this impacts on your wellbeing? Instead, try “Ooops…that was a lot of crisps, but I don’t do that often and I enjoyed the taste of them!”, “that’s 200 words more of my assignment completed than if I had done none of it today!”, “it’s been nice to have a cosy day in the house today”. See how easy those phrases can be turned round?

Exercise number 3- try and notice the judgements you make each day, and see if you can flip these around to make them positive or less judgmental. Just like those above. If you want, you could write these down and notice any common ones that keep appearing. Or you can just notice them as they come into your mind and flip them on the spot. This should become easier with practice.

Overall, I just want to send the message that the situation we are in is not okay and we need to stop acting like it is and that we can continue on as normal. Businesses who still expect their staff to work 9-5 at home, taking a 30minute unpaid lunch break, and churning out the exact same workload need to revisit this idea. The 9-5 work week is old and outdated (and originally invented by car manufacturing companies, so why so many other companies still use it I don’t know..). Productivity appears to have increased with at home working anyway, so those micro managers who feel everyone needs to be at a desk working their set hours are also outdated and missing the positive outcome of this way of working. Frontline hospitality (bars, restaurants, hotels etc.) has shifted massively, businesses are closed with staff on furlough or they are open and adapting to takeaway-only within very strict guidelines. Be kind to your business and to yourself, notice the adaptations needed, the creativity of teams and the support of local communities. The impact of the pandemic on our industry is devastating, and unfortunately we do not yet know the long term effects of it. All we can do just now is look after ourselves in the present moment.

One final exercise- click this link (https://youtu.be/KrxaWcw3i0Y) for a guided imagery practice, which can allow you to relax and imagine somewhere very far from where you are right now, and to give you that little break that you will be very much needing I imagine. Hit play, close your eyes, take some deep breaths and relax.

Take care and be kind.

Katie McIntyre

Trainee Clinical Psychologist / Treasurer, Hospitality Health

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