It is always important for us to check in with ourselves regularly and ask “How am I doing?” This is even more important when we are out of our normal routine, and now we know, as students and as workers, that this will go on for even longer. So… how are we doing? And what should we be doing? In this entry, I hope to be able to help you take a mental health moment as a student, parent, person, and as a family. We will all need a certain kind of strength to emerge positively on the other side of this time of house-bound isolation. Luckily, we have some experts who are thinking about this as well. I would like to paraphrase some tips I have been mulling from Dr. Lea Waters, psychologist and researcher from the University of Melbourne, in Australia. Dr. Waters is a friend of ASH, and she has offered us all a free care package of materials to help our staff and families work through this time together. Here are a few highlights to help you make sure your answer to the question “How am I doing?” is “I’m doing well!”
Strengths & Routine
Even if you normally work from home, having the whole family in the house day in and day out has likely been an adjustment. As my wife says, now she has people “popping into” her home office (especially since her office is right by the kitchen!) for visits that are welcome and pleasurable but different from her normal days. Have an open conversation about how this is going, how it will go in the longer term, and what each person in the family has to contribute to ensure all goes well. We all have individual strengths (like organization, or a sense of humor) that can be brought into the family mix and the family routine to ensure everyone is contributing to a happy, productive environment, even in a stressful time. Name these specific contributions and establish routines together as a family. Everyone feels better and has more energy when their specific contributions are acknowledged as playing a key role in family life.
Create Spare Time
Another way to ensure we are thriving during this change in all our lives is to seize the opportunity to create spare time. With less travel time to and from work, school, and activities, surely we should have time we can capture. However, with the transition to working from home, it is easy to fall into the trap of “always working,” especially since our “offices” are now right under our own roofs. Make sure you are intentional about walking away from that work space and attending to other projects, hobbies, or relationships. I read in the Dutch news yesterday a piece about the marked increase in sales of jigsaw puzzles and craft materials since the call to stay home. Yes, it is important to be productive, but it is equally important to pursue these other activities that re-energize us and give us an outlet that may normally have been filled by team sports or group activities that just aren’t available to us now. Or perhaps it is time to try something entirely new. Many organizations and companies are offering free online lessons, in music, language, cooking, and other areas during this period.
Practicing gratitude is a simple way to generate many other positive effects in your life. Simply taking time to think about the things you are genuinely grateful for, or better yet, expressing that gratitude, can help us in tangible ways. Research has shown that regular time reflecting on gratitude has positive effects on mental, physical, and emotional health. Clinical studies have also shown that people who take time to journal about what they are grateful for just before sleeping have significantly better sleep than those who do not. Good sleep is, in turn, highly correlated with positive attitude and strengthened immunity, which are crucial in times of stress like the one we are all going through now.
I know I am personally grateful for all the support the community has shown for our staff, our students, and the on-going health of the school during this time. It has been nourishing to meet some of you on walks in the neighborhood (always two meters apart!) and to hear how things are going with you. We are exploring ways to bring the community together on an even wider scale, such as a virtual town hall. Stay tuned for that. And stay positive!