Routine, mental gymnastics and a stake in the future

Do you find routine comforting? Do you use certain mental tricks to help you cope with things?

I read an article recently in which somebody commented that isolation was something that disabled people were quite used to. My initial reaction was to think “not all disabled people are isolated!” But then I considered my position even while I was still going into work, until last May. While I was just as much a member of staff as anybody else, for various reasons and largely because I use voice-activated software, I was in an office by myself which did inevitably have the effect of isolating me from my colleagues. Many other disabled people will be in similar situations and isolated in different ways, for example, my deaf colleagues were sometimes isolated because a BSL interpreter had not been booked and it was difficult for them to follow what was happening in a meeting.

Spring 2020
Spring 2020

During my PGCE, my teaching practice placement was away from York where I was sharing a house with my friends and therefore for one term I lived on my own in a bedsit. This is where I learned that lesson that many sleep experts talk about. They often recommend that you don’t do anything work-related in the bedroom. While this was impossible in the bedsit, I did make it a rule that I would never do anything work-related while sitting on the bed so that whenever I looked at the room from that angle I wasn’t in a work frame of mind. It took some mental gymnastics to achieve it, but I think it must have worked as I don’t remember sleepless nights thinking about work.

We usually watch the news a lot but like many people now, we are rationing it and making sure we don’t watch it last thing before going to bed but play some music instead. It sometimes requires some of those mental gymnastics to switch off and leave thinking or worrying for the morning but, like meditation or mindfulness, I think it comes with practice.

Something experts are recommending as a good way to cope with the current lockdown is to maintain some sort of routine. I find people’s need for routine a really interesting phenomenon. I’ve often had a conversation with people in January where everyone admits that we quite liked getting back into a routine after Christmas. Similarly, I remember having conversations as an undergraduate where people agreed that they had started by revelling in not having to get up if you didn’t have an early lecture, eating whenever you felt like it, having breakfast cereal for dinner, that sort of thing and then finding after a while that it was a little bit unsettling, depressing even, and feeling better once they had got into some sort of routine.

On the news the other day, there was an item about a young homeless woman who had been given a flat to live in. It was like a palace, she said and she was really enjoying getting into a routine, preparing meals and so on and had not taken any heroin for a week. I wish they did follow-ups on news items like that, I’d love to know how she’s doing now. Routine is somehow comforting and while ditching it for a while during the holidays is refreshing, for many people it is reassuring to have some sort of structure to your day or week.

Spring 2020
Spring 2020

Another thing we keep being recommended to do is be grateful for what we have and to notice the small things. I think I am doing both of those in spades: we are hugely grateful we have a garden and noticing the small changes in it is one of the great joys of gardening. Every time I go outside I look to see how much further the thyme, the fuchsia or the jasmine have come out into leaf, how much further out is the saxifrage or the blossom on the cherry tree, how much higher the clematis has climbed up the trellis, how much the tadpoles have grown. Also, how the privet cuttings are doing that we planted to plug a hole in the hedge and if the wildflower seeds we scattered have germinated yet. We have a few indoor projects too like spring-cleaning and a mini one is a maidenhair fern we turned around as it was growing lopsided. It looks unsightly just now but I love seeing the new tendrils reaching out for the light. Plenty to look at and lots of mini-projects, all life-affirming and a stake in the future.

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