Interview, Lockdown, Self-care, Wellbeing in the home, Wellness | 28 May 2020
Making lockdown with loved ones work.
We asked Kate Southerby to give us the low–down on how to make being “locked–down” with loved ones work.
Kate is a leadership coach for creative minds. She supports entrepreneurs and leaders by helping them refine their skills and to navigate dead ends. She has over 17 years’ experience as a coach and mentor. She set up “I am me” to share her skills and facilitate others to breakthrough to new thinking, learning and behaviour. She’s a qualified brain-based coach and is fascinated by how the brain works and how it can hold us back.
The shame of sitting in a hula hoop (aka why I need Kate’s help).
The Kiss House Team has worked with Kate to understand our deep motivations and how to boost closer working, creativity and productivity by creating an environment where everyone can thrive and understand each other better. We’re fortunate to have worked with her prior to lockdown because it’s given us a solid foundation for dealing with the intensity the situation has placed on our closest relationships. It’s given us an understanding of the motives behind the behaviour we see. Why someone may be doing what they’re doing, why they may be behaving in that way. Helping us to understand the intent behind the behaviour and to see others with more compassion. As a result, when thinking who I might approach for some advice, Kate sprang immediately to my mind.
Before I continue, in the spirit of full disclosure and to demonstrate my need for Kate’s guidance, I must confess that for most of my video call with Kate, I sat inside a toy hula hoop! Imprisoned by my five-year-old son who resented my working and expressed it by capturing me. I was cast as the disconsolate clown, barely able to preserve my professionalism or dignity!
“I must confess that for most of my video calls with Kate, I sat inside a toy hula hoop! Imprisoned by my five-year-old son who resented my working and expressed it by capturing me.”
Fortunately, having met Kate previously I knew her to be warm and understanding, so we soldiered on! The point being that I, more than most, need Kate’s advice for achieving balance and control during this time of overwhelm. My conversation with Kate was remarkably positive as we considered how best to approach the ups and downs of the current situation.
We began by talking about threat!
Kate explained that when we break a leg or have an equivalent event or trauma, our natural response is to rest and take it easy. Eventually we’ll get back to normal and continue life as was. Similar to physical pain, it is highly likely that at some point, during this pandemic, our brains have been assaulted and are tired. Much like a physical injury. Our brains may hurt. Certainty and control are out the window. Many of us are worried about health, family, finances and community, and we crave certainty to stop our thoughts spiralling.
“To enable ourselves to focus and be productive we must manage our mindset, consider the threat in our brain and be kind to ourselves. ”
We have a fundamental need for human contact but can’t see loved ones (Zoom doesn’t count!), beyond those we live with (and for some this is not ideal psychologically). To enable ourselves to focus and be productive we must manage our mindset, our “brain pain,” consider the threat in our brain and be kind to ourselves.
Kate explained that Cognitive Scientist, Dean Mobbs identifies three levels of threat that our brains enter during a crisis. He uses the analogy of a lion to explain the 3 levels:
Level 1: We’re not in immediate danger. The lion is out there somewhere, but the threat is not present. For example — there is news of a pandemic in China, we might be apprehensive but we’re not fearful.
Level 2: The lion is prowling around our village and we’re feeling the threat. For example, the first cases of the Coronavirus have been reported in the UK. We feel distracted and the brain feels the impact as we hear stories of friends of friends who are being directly impacted.
Level 3: The lion is outside our door and we are in immediate danger! For example, the pandemic has spread, and the country is locked down.
We’re all currently experiencing different levels of threat which is making it difficult to think or act. It’s important for our health to recognise what level we may be experiencing (it could be different levels today v when it started or can change week by week due to our personal circumstances). It’s also helpful to use this level 1, 2, 3 threat knowledge to support those around us. It’s highly likely that this lockdown situation has triggered our own (and other people’s) motivations and sense of self-worth. Taking the time for inner reflection is helpful to us and to those around us. Doing what we can to remove negative feelings and give ourselves the opportunity for downtime and creativity to counterbalance this is essential. Ultimately, we’ve never been more purpose-driven than now to protect the health of others by staying at home.
The stress we’re experiencing means that our cortisol levels (stress hormone) are sky high but there are many things we can do to reduce cortisol levels and improve our mindset. Examples would be stop watching the news, focus on self-care, consider our individual goals and those we have as a couple and or family. We need to refocus and calm ourselves down and can use tools such as humour to help the brain.
Prioritising self-care habits.
Kate’s words immediately resonated with me, so I dived straight in and asked her about her suggestions for prioritising self-care habits.
“It’s not that I don’t want to look after myself but rather I feel like there’s no time or energy left for it at the end of my day. ”
As a working mother with two small children and a partner who is now home working full-time, I regularly feel like my self-care is non-existent. It’s not that I don’t want to look after myself but rather I feel like there’s no time or energy left for it at the end of my day. My burning question for Kate was “HOW?”
“At this time, we’ll benefit from anything we can do to develop a better relationship with ourselves. ”
Kate explained: At this time, we’ll benefit from anything we can do to develop a better relationship with ourselves. We all need self-love and compassion; we should prioritise the creation of self-care habits and not ignore our own needs. Put our own life jackets on first so we can support others. This will make our lives better, help us to better support others plus be connected — we won’t feel resentful like we’re running ourselves into the ground by looking after everyone else. Kate continued by explaining some simple things we can all do.
1. Learn to love the bits you don’t like.
The brain loves to celebrate what is going well. Start with these simple exercises:
- Reflect on 5 ways you’ve helped the people around you. This will motivate you to keep going and will make you think kindly about yourself
- Feed positivity. Train your brain to think about 5 things that you’ve achieved during the day and celebrate your achievements. This will make you see you’ve done well
- Practice gratitude. There are lots of ways you can do this, like having a gratitude jar. At the end of each week you and your family can write down what you’re grateful for and put it in the jar. Appreciating what you have will definitely enhance your wellbeing
- Define your purpose during this time to give focus. Linking your purpose to your values always makes it more meaningful which will make it stick. If self-development is an important value for you a purpose that supports this would make sense. For example, “my purpose is to ensure I’m stronger at the end of lockdown than I was when it started.” You can then set goals for specific things you want to achieve
2. Easy and practical things to do to improve your wellbeing.
- Create a self-care list v a non-self-care list. For example, going to sleep early v watching TV
- Try to exercise twice a day even if you can’t get out twice a day. It will reduce cortisol levels
- Get out of the house to get more focus — this is especially effective if you can get into nature
- Go to bed early and take naps
- Create good habits by setting an implementation intention. Think about the things that trip you up or where you feel blocked and set an intention to change by using this simple technique: “When X happens, I’ll do Y instead.” For example, “when I think I will just watch one more Netflix show, I’ll tell myself to turn it off and sleep so I feel good tomorrow.” Or “when I feel I can’t be bothered with self-care, I’ll remind myself that my purpose is to look after myself so that I have more energy”
3. Make yourself feel good during the day.
“Set habits that will bring you joy.”
Set habits that will bring you joy; this will help you eliminate the bad habits that fall outside of your self-care list. She suggests starting with activities that are just 5 minutes or less.
- Dance to your favourite song, this is a mindfulness practice. Literally shake it out and dance it off
- Listen to a feel good song you haven’t listened to for a while
- Take time out to “sit and be still”
- Seek out things to see, hear, feel, taste and smell. For example, find the wonder in your home or in your garden. This helps you to reset and reframe
- When you’re feeling overwhelmed, refer to your sense of humour, it will snap you out of a darker place quicker than anything else. Watch something funny for 20 minutes to restore your sense of wellbeing and creativity
- Read an inspirational novel to spark creativity
- Use essential oil in the shower to relax or perk you up
- Take a look at the Street Wisdom app for great ideas to spark creativity on your next walks
Easing the pressure when working from home.
“The best way to remove our sense of threat is to ease the pressure we put ourselves under.”
Kate explained that being anxious creates a lot of “noise” in our heads and that is why it’s important to tune into mindfulness. It’s also important to find happiness during each day. “The best way to remove our sense of threat is to ease the pressure we put ourselves under.” Understanding how the brain works can really help during times of high stress, especially when we’re working. Insights are created when we’re not trying to think, but when we are quiet, and the best insights come when we’re not sat at our desks, often when we’re being physical.
“A-ha moments” can happen when we’re playing or switching off completely. In fact, only 10% of A-ha moments happen when we are sat at our computer. So, during lockdown it’s helpful to embrace downtime and playtime with our family. It may even lead to more idea generation.
“When we have quiet time, we are in a state of heightened happiness.”
Thomas Edison’s best ideas always came to him when he was relaxed and nodding off; as his mind was wandered into a dream-like state. When we have quiet time, we are in a state of heightened happiness. So, if we lean into the present and look at reducing our level of threat by having more down time and more fun, we are more likely to work creatively and productively (and potentially get less annoyed due to the many interruptions we may face).
Simple things we can do to work from home more effectively and with less pressure.
- Change things and don’t be confined by set working hours. Find what works for you based on your situation
- Make time for connecting with others — take pressure off yourself. Play with children, it relaxes you and breeds creativity and happiness
- Take brain breaks when you’re under pressure
- Make sure you exercise as it’s important for cognitive self-care
- Have a break and then reward yourself with more focused work, instead of the other way around
- Don’t over-schedule your day
- Create a transition ritual to move from one state to another. For example, meditate or jump on the trampoline with your children before working, or dance to a great song (no one’s watching)
- Define the spaces between being with others and being at work clearly
- Stimulate daydreaming and spark insights by reading an inspirational book
- Be still and embrace the opportunity to have downtime and feed creativity
Working from home is one thing, but for me working from home and having very little opportunity to go anywhere else is quite another! Naturally I miss much of life as it was before lockdown and I recognise that I’m just not getting the chance to reset myself like before because I’m always in the same place, with the same people, doing the same things! So, I asked Kate about the tools we need to manage relationships while we’re at home 24/7, especially when we’re in constant close contact with others. I wanted to know how to better understand our relationships and manage conflict!
The pressure on couples.
Kate explained there’s a lot of pressure on couples during lockdown. According to The Spectator, Wuhan, China experienced a surge in divorce rates following lockdown. Reports from The New York Post reveal that divorce lawyers have been inundated with enquiries. Relationships are being put to the test, many couples are having to spend more time with each other than ever before, physically isolated from others. Couples are under pressure in relation to their jobs, furloughs, finances and allocation of household responsibilities including childcare.
“Lockdown has exposed the gender divide.”
According to The Observer, UK mums are providing over 50% more childcare and doing 10% to 30% more schooling than dads during lockdown. “Lockdown has exposed the gender divide,” announced The Guardian recently. Apparently, there have been six times more enquiries at Working Families, a legal service for parents and carers since the start of lockdown. Mothers are not getting adequate support to work from home from employers and it’s reported that at times they’re being forced to take unpaid leave or are being dismissed. There will be all manner of difficult conversations ahead.
Good communication is key and it’s important to get the balance right. Sometimes we over-communicate and instantly regret our words and actions, while at other times we may suppress our feelings and cause stress to the other person because they don’t know what’s wrong. Research shows that when we know something is going unsaid our blood pressure rises! Asking questions and being open is really important for us all to feel fully connected.
Ideas to help build better connection with our partner.
We all want to move forward in our relationships and that takes work, here are Kate’s suggestions.
- Have a vision for this time (and any time in your life) and outline your shared goals — working on this together will bring you closer
- Be kind, check in with others and ask the question “can you sum up how you’re feeling today in one word.” Then give your partner the opportunity to tell you and to label their feelings — this technique was devised by Matt Lieberman and is called “labelling.” It’s incredibly useful to our limbic system to simply name our emotion, without going into the drama (which can be negative). Just getting your thoughts out there is a release
- Make statements to show that you recognise your partner’s emotions, so they know they’re being heard and supported
- Consider what your “this annoys me” trigger is? It will help to increase your self-awareness
- Consider your overdone strengths e.g. you think you’re being helpful, but it could feel smothering to others
- Re-appraise situations by considering what positive outcomes this situation may give you. E.g. a meeting gets cancelled, think how you might best use this “time-back” to focus on down time and reset yourself
- Don’t forget that in the middle of a heated debate is not a good time to consider these things. Take the time to talk when it’s quiet and you’re in a good place and well rested
Ideas for staying connected as a family.
If you have children, you could consider what you’d like them to remember about this time when they look back on their experience. It’s important to feel like a unit so you could decide as a family how to achieve this. The tips below should help keep things running smoothly (and like all of Kate’s advice can apply to any period of our lives).
- Create a shared vision as a family by cutting up magazines and visualising what you want to achieve during isolation and refer back to it and refine it regularly. You might for example create a vision board around having fun together or doing certain activities; or you might consider how you’d like to strengthen your relationships making the most of extra time together
- Create a family motto e.g. in it together; holding up the umbrella
- Ask questions, ask your children what they want and need from their parents and find out what makes them happy and what their idea of a good time is? It might actually end up taking the pressure off you!
- Create a bucket list of things you can do together during lockdown and after
- Learn new skills e.g. skipping or riding a bike
- Set ground rules together
- Discover what’s important to each of you during this time
- Spark conversations, use School of Life family cards
- Create an emoji corner for the labelling technique with your children with a section with pictures of different emojis. Ask your kids to point to the relevant emoji when they’re in conflict. This will minimise their sense of threat and help calm them
- Be kind and compassionate
We’re all learning, and no one is perfect. Hopefully by approaching this time with compassion and care for ourselves and others, we will come through it stronger than we were before it began, and with more fulfilling relationships. Indeed, it strikes me that Kate’s advice will serve me well during any period of my life.
I hope that Kate’s advice has been useful, it certainly has been for me and I feel grateful to her for sharing her knowledge and wisdom — thank you Kate! I definitely take on board her arguments about the need to prioritise self-care and the need for pause. I intend to try many of her suggestions to find what works for me and I’ll start with a family vision and by employing humour to reset my brain when overwhelmed.
You never know, perhaps using an emoji corner with my kids will prevent me from ever having to sit entrapped in a plastic hula hoop again?!
For more on wellbeing at home check out these stories.