Being a sensitive person and an author, social distancing and self-isolation feel familiar to me. There isn’t much adjustment as I already live a contemplative life, spending long hours in solitude. However, even for someone like myself who enjoys home alone time there is a huge difference between choosing solitude and having it imposed upon you. It’s made me realize just how much I/we take the freedom to choose for granted.
It has also made me realise that the gentler personality traits – reflectiveness, empathy, kindness, intuition – which our normally busy, materialistic, narcissistic society so often regards as weaknesses are in fact strengths. Perhaps during this time people with sensitive personality traits can lead the way helping those who aren’t as accustomed to time alone to find ways to cope and emerge empowered from the experience. Perhaps this time of uncertainty and enforced isolation is the long overdue moment in history for sensitive souls everywhere to step into the limelight and shine. It may already be happening as sensitive personality traits like kindness and empathy are finally and rightfully trending.
The M words
Outlined below are four empowering M words which can help anyone, regardless of how sensitive they are, not just survive during this alienating crisis but thrive. The M words are not midlife crisis or menopause (although these can be catalysts for personal growth too) but mindfulness, movement, mastery and meaning.
Mindfulness is a buzzword in the self- help movement. You may be tired of hearing about it but the reason people talk about it so much is that it really can help you feel more in control of your life, especially during times of anxiety. From my perspective being mindful isn’t about spending hours meditating or complicated yoga stretches it is simply being present in the moment and not letting your thoughts race to the future or retreat to the past. It is also focusing on and feeling grateful for what is good in your life right now and not focusing on what you are missing. So, during this home alone time think about the glorious amount of time you now have to yourself. It’s a constant complaint that we never have enough time but now we have that time! Make every moment of that time count – tidy up, face time with friends, cherish your children and or pets, read or write that book – the possibilities are endless. See this gift of abundant personal time as an opportunity.
Movement is the second M and it’s an important one because regular exercise boosts both immunity and mood. Never have we needed to have our moods and immunity boosted more than right now. There is nothing stopping you getting some fresh air alone or with a loved one as long as you make sure you keep your distance from other people. Commit to regular exercise each day and know that your immune system will thank you for it. And make sure that you eat as healthily as possible too and get plenty of immune boosting vitamin C and D; a recent study showed that Vitamin D is helpful for respiratory function. Food sources of vitamin D include egg yolk, salmon and vitamin D fortified cereals but sunlight is another source so yet another reason to get some fresh air.
Mastery is the third empowering M. This is finding something you want to learn about. It doesn’t matter what it is, it could be gardening or learning a language or painting by numbers. Whatever it is become as good at it as you can. There is tremendous fulfilment to be found from mastering something, but mastery also refers to resilience. If you feel you can’t cope with the changes in your life right now remind yourself of all the times in your past when you have felt uncertain and anxious before and somehow pulled through. You are more resilient than you think, you just need to trust yourself.
Meaning is the final and, in my opinion, most life changing self-care tip during this crisis. When bad things happen many of us look for answers but often there are none to be found. This is where the spiritual perspective can help because it encourages us to look within for deeper meaning and understanding. Never before has the world been literally forced to find meaning from the inside out rather than the outside in. Finding peace and meaning from within is the spiritual approach to life and a true path to fulfilment.
Make sure each day has all the four Ms in it and you will be able to cope with this enforced monasticism and perhaps even find it incredible rewarding. Treat each day as a sacred opportunity to get to know yourself, your loved ones better and to appreciate the wonder of life.
What the world needs now more than ever is people willing to keep shining their light to lead the way for others, even when it’s hard.
I strongly believe that with every desire you have for your life, you are also given the path to make it happen. The path has always been there, the question is: “Do you choose to walk it every day?”
For many of us, at the start of a new journey there is excitement, hope and eagerness to move forward. But what happens when that path takes an unexpected turn; perhaps something in your personal life that wasn’t predicted, or an uncontrollable storm hits and your outside world is shaken to the core – such as in the current environment.
When things go wrong
What do you do when things don’t work out as planned? Do you take it as evidence that you are on the wrong path or your timing is wrong, so you turn back turn to go home where it is safe? Are you telling yourself that people are not investing, or it won’t work out?
Are you afraid? If so, that’s good, because it’s real. Anyone that tells you they are fearless is sitting in their comfort zone with no intention of moving forward to bigger dreams and destinations! The truth is, you can either walk aheadwith your fear or walk away with your fear; it’s always going to be with you. So you might as well pick it up and move forward with it.
When you see people up ahead on a similar path, do you tell yourself: “They are way in front of me, so I can’t do it now” or “it works for them, but it won’t work for me.”
What if the people up ahead are evidence that the path is there for you to follow too?
What if seeing them up ahead offers you a beacon of light to illuminate the way forward?
What if their dreams are like your dreams and they are showing you what’s possible and that you are heading in the right direction?
What if there are people further behind on the same path who need you to be their beacon?
What’s your mission?
When you are blessed with the gift to lead, don’t waste it – remember, true leadership is the ability to lead yourself first. If you have a purpose, mission or passion to help people in the way you know how, now is the time to do it.
If you help people get healthy, do that. Health is our first line of defence.
If you help people with their mindset, do that. There are scared, anxious people who need you.
If you help people make money and grow business, do that. People need security and opportunity right now.
I’ve heard lots of business owners say they are too scared to keep doing their work because they don’t want to be seen to capitalising on their skills when we are in a terrible global crisis. Isn’t it because we are in challenging times that we must keep doing our great work to support others?
True leaders don’t wait for the evidence that it will work out or that they can move without fear. They choose fear every day and walk with it. They trust that they will be OK.
Believe in yourself. Trust in your abilities. Use your talents to provide the services that people need. And be the leader that you are looking for – you never know who you are inspiring when you do so.
Emma Forrester (Bond) is a UK based Online Business Strategist and Breakthrough Coach. To get more inspiration from Emma or to learn how to share your gift of leadership click here
Life coaching – it’s something most of us have never even considered, unless, perhaps we’ve been faced with a life-changing decision and need some advice on which path to take. I’ve experienced my fair share of mental health support – both during and following my brother’s cancer journey I took CBT and counselling, and even sought support from my osteopath on how to manage stress. I’ve had friends who’ve highly recommended life coaching for finding confidence in the workplace or tackling their self-esteem. Yet I’d never considered it.
I met Kerry Hales at a local networking group and was drawn to her infectious positivity and go-getter attitude. I spoke of my decision to leave my London life and build a career outside of the city, working as a freelance writer on the Kent coast where I grew up. Little did I know then that I’d built myself a glass ceiling, that I spoke incredibly negatively about my experiences and was rocking a classic case of imposter syndrome (with a side of drama queen for good measure).
Fast forward seven months later and I’m the busiest I’ve ever been, turning away clients and earning more than I thought possible. More than I thought I deserved. I never realised how much of an impact a coach would have on my life – until now.
What is a life coach?
The coaching industry is now worth a whopping $2billion globally. We’re faced with more life choices than ever before and whether it’s money, careers, family or relationships – a life coach can help to offer clarity and support to find our way and discover what we really want. (So, they say).
“When you lose the connection to who you are, it shows,” says Kerry. “You may be achieving in lots of areas in your life and wonder why success isn’t feeling how you imagined it would.
“You might even feel demotivated, undervalued – or lacking in confidence. These feelings may have built up over a period of time, potentially going unnoticed, but the energy and effort required to cover them takes its toll.”
Of course, it costs. You’re paying for years of training and qualifications, insight into the mind and life habits – but I found it incredibly useful having an outsider to look into my life.
What I learned
Your life experiences don’t define you. Learn from them, take strength from them – but don’t let them make you who you are or stipulate what you deserve.
What do you want? So much of what I was doing ws what I thought I should be doing, what I should be grateful to do, or what others thought I should do. I rarely spared a thought for myself – until now.
Don’t be scared. Manage and control your fears. Don’t let them decide who you are and what you want to be / do. That’s your choice.
Focus on the wins, the positives, the good stuff. So much of our mindset is based on clinging onto the bad. It’s classic anxiety – but it doesn’t have to be this way.
The coronavirus pandemic changed things, too. I’d joked for the last few months that having a life coach is much like having a fairy godmother. It’s having someone in your corner who ‘gets’ you and where your mind travels to when you doubt yourself. Never have I needed that person more than now.
Lockdown has made me feel emotional, lethargic, anxious, terrified for my family, guilty for continuing to work (albeit from home), and stupidly ashamed that I’m still busy.
We’ve all had time to look at our lives and evaluate what’s important to us. So many of us are finding this tough, but I’d be finding lockdown a lot harder had I not absorbed Kerry’s teachings. I know that these feelings are not facts – and I know it’s my pattern of unhelpful thinking that’s leading me. Group sessions have also given me new friends who feel the same and we all support each other on a weekly basis. That’s been priceless.
After a year of procrastinating, I finally launched my website, having the confidence to offer my services as a business model.
I held my first ever workshop for local businesses – it was a sell-out.
I increased my rates in line with industry averages – and my experience, starting to value my worth.
I built a 90-day plan and achieved many of the things (and dreams) I wanted.
My life is in no way perfect. I have a lot going on – like everyone, and I don’t have everything I want. Far from it! Maybe I never will, but, I’ve stopped punishing myself and went after what I wanted – and I don’t feel guilty for that anymore.
What to look for when choosing a life coach
Be sure to have a chat with them prior to a booking, get a feel for them and how they work.
Be honest with yourself. There may be some areas of your life you don’t want to address or things you don’t want to discuss. Open up – it will help in the long run.
Check their credentials – how long have they been changing lives and what are their successes?
Understand that change won’t happen overnight. It’s taken you a lifetime to form these thought processes. Trust in the journey and you’ll get there.
Inspired to give life coaching a go? Try one of these…
When Nick and I started this website in 2018, it was done with the simple premise of “wanting to help”. After illness led to my full hysterectomy, I wrote a best-selling book which was helping thousands of women feel informed and better about themselves in their middle years, but I didn’t want it to end there – I wanted to keep that information and conversation going. The logical thing to do was to start a website. So, armed with a laptop, a template and lots of helpful friends who wrote about their life experiences, we began…
Within months it became clear that women of all ages were joining the site to look at our great content and soon we had freelance journalists from incredible publications such as Marie Claire and The Telegraph approaching us to offer their services. Our team grew, and the site expanded to cover topics that helped women of every age with their health, mental well-being, careers, love-life – no subject was off-limits because if it concerned women, it concerned us.
As a team we work hard to bring you a site that supports and uplifts you, and just like our network of women who have come on board to help us do that, we have also grown. Behind the scenes, we have been focusing on how we can offer you more and are so excited to show you the results.
Every woman on our marketplace has an incredible story to tell about how they started their business. Every single thing we offer has been hand-selected by us, to help you to Live, Learn and Thrive in a life you love. These are our core values, and we are so proud that we have found a way of supporting the women who offer these services by providing them with a platform that is visited by over 75 countries from around the world. Our downloadable courses can be accessed from anywhere, and offer you the opportunity to improve your self-confidence, to start your own online business, to improve your mental well-being. Our products come from female entrepreneurs who are passionate about what they make, and we have chosen them specifically because they will help you in some way – from a make-up bag that saves you valuable time in the morning to a candle that helps you de-stress in the evening.
We are committed to giving opportunities to all women, empowering them in business and life. In the coming months, we will be providing a platform for young female entrepreneurs who need an online outlet for their work, something we are incredibly proud of.
We could never have foreseen that our site which started out with a pure heart and small intentions could have grown alongside the thousands of women whom we have helped… Our mission now is to empower 100 million women around the world to Live, Learn and Thrive in a life they love. We will keep going with this mission and continue to bring you incredible free content and life-changing products, until every girl feels that she is on fire.
We may currently all have to be socially distant, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still come together in other ways. In fact, it’s during times like this that we need to reach out more than before, especially if you’re experiencing lockdown all on your own.
I can see you!
‘Zoom, just one look and then my heart went boom…’ If you’re like us and have been singing this ‘70s hit non-stop since the lockdown hit, you’re not alone. Zoom has literally been keeping us going. As has House Party and FaceTime.
The threat of not seeing our nearest and dearest for a few months suddenly makes you want to see them, and this is where video calling comes into its own. Being able to see, and not just hear, your mates and family is really special.
There are so many ways to connect, but if you get fed up with a bog-standard video call, why not try some and add some fun to your weekly catch-ups?
I’ve now participated in three virtual pub quizzes, as well as a birthday catch-up for my husband’s 50th. We’re planning on keeping these going through lockdown – each with its own theme.
One friend tells me that they have regular games night with the kids and her parents across video chat. They’ve played Pictionary, Bingo and Who Am I? and all have helped keep the connection between grandchildren and grandparents alive.
Find your tribe
While I love social media, normally I dip in and out of it, however, during this pandemic, it’s quite literally been a lifeline for me. The lovely Blaire Palmer, who frequently writes for us here at This Girl Is On Fire, recently set up a Facebook group for working mums who are also juggling home schooling.
As someone who has always home schooled, she decided to share her advice online and it’s been amazing for me to find other people going through the same thing as me. We support each other, try and find solutions to problems and just feel listened to. Knowing I wasn’t the only one failing at both work and schooling has made me feel so much less stressed.
Another friend has started a virtual book club, using a What’s App group to keep everyone connected while reading the book and hosting a monthly chat on Zoom to discuss it. If reading is your thing and you can’t find a book club online, don’t forget you can join ours!
Your tribe will be out there somewhere. Don’t be shy. Jump on in, comment, support – you’ll feel so connected even though you’re talking to a group of strangers. And maybe some of them won’t stay as strangers for much longer.
Being housebound is sending us all a bit stir crazy, so not surprisingly, many of us have turned to online workouts. While it’s great to follow any video on You Tube, live classes with a remote, yet real, teacher, alongside fellow workout mates, is a great way to feel connected.
My friend and neighbour Lou has set up a Facebook group with friends, so we can all exercise along with her. The free sessions include ‘90s aerobics (oh, how I love a grapevine) and strength training. For me, I’ve enjoyed the workout but it’s also lovely seeing Lou’s face and connecting with her friends.
“When the CV pandemic kicked off, I just felt like I really wanted to try and give two things to my friends,” she says. “One was a bit of release in the form of exercise and the other was a way to still hang out, but in a non-boozy type of way!
“I’ve also always tried to encourage friends and family to do more exercise and saw this as an opportunity to see if people could be encouraged to do a little bit of fun fitness stuff in the comfort of their own homes.”
Little did she know that she would end up getting lots from hosting these regular classes.
She says: “Loads of people I know – my mum and aunt included – would NEVER have thought of even trying an online class, but they have been doing one of my sessions every week which has given me the greatest pleasure. I may continue these even after lockdown!”
A few miles down the road, Hannah Verdier, who runs Everybody Training, has been working out with her street every day. Everyone stands on their driveways, ensuring they are socially distant, but it’s still bringing together her community.
“Any movement makes you feel better and I’ve realised that connection is so important while you’re exercising,” she told me.
“Seeing other people being calm and moving helps – and knowing that I’ve made a commitment to go outside once a day means whatever mood I’m on I need to plaster on a smile and get on with it.
“Chats come out of it, too, and we find things out about each other and share feelings that we wouldn’t if we were rushing around.”
LOLs and more
While being able to see people is so important, don’t dismiss texting and in particular, What’s App. I’m part of a couple of What’s App groups that are just brilliant for giving me a boost when I’m having a tough time. We also have a neighbourhood group so we can share funny memes or information about more serious things.
Danielle has created a What’s App group with her university friends, who she should be on holiday with right now.
“It’s gutting that we can’t be on our holiday, but I’m so glad we have our group right now,” she explains. “We’re all going through similar things and it’s been great being able to share our experiences and cheer each other up when lockdown apathy strikes.”
Keeping the kids connected
For kids of all ages, the pandemic is probably an even bigger shock than it is for us adults. They’re used to spending five days a week with their classmates and teachers. They probably have lots of after school and weekend clubs, all of which has now been taken away. So, how do you ensure your kids are staying connected without leaving the house?
Mental health charity Mind suggest being a little less strict about social media and access to screens during these times.
“If your children would normally go to school or college, they will be used to being around other children for several hours a day,” they say. “They might find it difficult to be removed from this, especially if they’re also worried about their health.”
One mum, Julia, says she allows her teen to play Fortnite more than usual during these unsettled times.
“It’s more than just gaming for him. It’s how he connects with his mates on a daily basis,” she says.
“I’d like him to be perhaps not be on it for as long as he is, but I also realise that these are unusual times, and this is how he can keep up with his mates – and be out of my hair for a few hours!”
How are you staying connected during these testing times? Share your tips below.
Our homes are literally our fortresses at the moment – the thing that’s keeping us safe, however, spending so much time inside four walls can also make you realise that you need to take a bit more care of your surroundings.
And having a spring clean or a good old tidy session can also be mentally beneficial in these strange times. While we can’t control what’s going on in the wider environment as we live through this pandemic, we can control our immediate environment – our home.
Sue Spencer, from A Life More Organised, is a professional organising and decluttering expert and she believes being in control of our homes is going to be more important as we live through this crisis.
She says: “It enables you to take some control of something that you’re able to do yourself, which helps as we’re currently in a global situation where we, as individuals, have no control.”
One study, done in 2016, revealed that clutter can also be damaging for our mental health and relationships. Professor Ferrari, the author of The Dark Side Of The Home said: “It’s the danger of clutter, the totality of one’s possessions being so overwhelming that it chips away at your well-being, relationships, and more, drowning in a sea of stuff.”
How decluttering improves your life
So why is everyone suddenly shorting out their homes? Aside from having more spare time, Sue believes spending more time at home has made us only too aware of how much stuff we’ve accumulated over the years.
“We’ve been living in a society of abundance – many people live in homes that are filled with stuff from shopping – which was a hobby for many, overconsumption and hand-me-downs,” she says.
“It’s quite normal to have busy and ‘full’ homes and we definitely shouldn’t feel guilty about it, however, as we are spending more time in our homes, we are faced with them being ‘full’ on a daily basis and this can cause stress levels to rise.”
Cleaning and tidying can help us feel calmer. Sue says: “It’s been academically proven that clutter can cause an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, and therefore, at times like we’re currently facing, doing something proactive like decluttering and organising your home – even on a small scale – can help to reduce clutter and minimise the stress that our homes are causing on top of all our other concerns.
It saves time. Not that this may be a worry for you at the moment, but if you can find your glasses first time, you save yourself time and stress at not being able to find something you need.
It gives you a workout. Any sort of exercise – even if it’s just hoovering the entire house – improves our mental and physical health.
Less clutter can also help you concentrate. This is more important now than ever with parents and children all working from home.
Life can feel a bit aimless at the moment. Weekdays merge into weekends – so achieving something like clearing out your loft or wardrobe will give you a sense of achievement. As Sue says: “Having a purpose and a plan for filling your time, such as decluttering can help to focus on something more positive and reduce anxiety.”
How to declutter your home
It can seem really overwhelming to think about tidying your entire home, so where to start? Sue says before you even start sorting through your stuff, you need to think about what you end goal looks like.
“Think about what you want to achieve – how you want your home to look and support your lifestyle,” she advises. “Having a plan really helps you to focus and stay motivated. It also gives you a benchmark to compare things to as you declutter.”
Here are some other things to consider when you start to tackle all that junk you’ve accumulated:
1 Start small
Sue recommends decluttering by category, rather than room, which is what we tend to do.
“Gathering similar items together in one go allows you to see the volume of things you have that are similar and the duplication,” she says.
“Seeing this duplication helps to make decisions about what you need to keep – I would start with small sub-categories like underwear, tops, make up, crockery.”
2 Look for things you love
As a Certified KonMari™ Consultant, Sue is a firm believer of only keeping those things that ‘spark joy’.
You’re looking for those things that also work with the life you live now – rather than the one you had or the one you want.
“This really helps to focus your mind on what you want to keep in your life that supports your lifestyle,” says Sue.
3 Store similar things together
Once you’ve chosen what you’re keeping, store similar things together.
Sue says: “This helps as you’ll know where things are when you need them, and also makes it easier to return things to their home afterwards.”
4 Get the kids involved
Make it into a game or part of their home schooling (life lessons are just as important as Maths!). A declutter scavenger hunt can be great fun for all – get them to find five toys they no longer play with, five items of clothing that no longer fit, five toys that are broken, five books they no longer read… You get the idea. Reward them with stickers or extra screen time if they tick everything off their list.
If you’re currently drowning under a whole lot of extra lockdown artwork, Sue also has some great ideas on how to store and present these on her blog.
5 Create a designated ‘chuck it’ area
Usually, after a big declutter, you’ll have a pile of stuff to give to charity shops or take to the tip. Obviously, you can’t do that now, so our advice is to create a designated corner or area of your home to store the stuff you want to get rid of. You could also put some stuff there that you’re not sure about, and if by the time lockdown ends, you’ve not used it, you know it’s good to go!
6 Keep it tidy
It’s all well and good decluttering the whole house during a bit of downtime, but how do you keep on top of things, especially if you’re a parent who is now working full-time and home schooling?
Sue says in busy times like this, it’s good to have an old-fashioned to do list to refer to.
“I think having a list of the jobs around the house really helps and then space them out over the course of the week on a weekly planner,” she suggests. “It means you can tick things off once they’re done and/or assign them to different people in the house.”
All that sorting and re-arranging however should encourage you to keep things tidier.
“Having a ‘home for everything’ – even if it’s just temporary at the moment – means that things can be tidied away on to shelves, into cupboards/boxes/baskets,” says Sue. “That way the place is tidier straight away and people know where to find things.”
While sorting out your home is good for your wellbeing, Sue advises that now might not be the right time for everyone.
“I would caution that in these strange times decluttering should be a choice that you empowered to do if you choose to do it,” she says. “For some people dealing with the current situation is more than enough.”
Sue is still offering virtual decluttering sessions via Zoom. Find out more on her website, A Life More Organised. You can also get great tips by following her on Instagram.
We all need to learn to LIVE in the life we’ve got. The one we were born into. How do we make the best of what we’re given, and use that to get more? We do that by LEARNING; about ourselves, about what gets our blood pumping and our eyes shining and makes us love what we’re doing so much that we wish the days were longer just so we could keep doing it. And once you learn that, you will THRIVE, and love the life you’re living. Because that’s what it’s all about.
So, what does it mean to Live, Learn and Thrive? You will hear these words a lot at This Girl Is On Fire, so this is what we mean by them and what you will get out of them.
Products: How about a really cool make-up bag designed by a busy working mum that helps you save time in the morning? It’s opened by pulling a drawstring and it spreads out all your make-up on a flat mat with a neat little lip so things don’t roll off the sides. That way you can see at a glance everything you’ve got, grab it, use it, throw it back, and when you’re done – it’s one quick pull to close and you can carry on with your day! We have make-up that glides on in a stroke, a handbag that has a place and a pocket for everything, diffusers that make wherever you are working or living smell divine and prints that make you smile and lift your spirits. Who doesn’t need these?
Products: This is where you will find beautiful things to put in or on your body to make it feel it’s very best. This is where you will find a yoga course to stretch your body and still your chattering mind. Our healthy eating doctor will teach you about foods to eat to feel your very best. And we bring you incredible candles and creams to help you relax and unwind, crystals to re-energise and re-charge, and bespoke mediations that are made exclusively for you.
Talking to ourselves is something we all do on a daily, if not minute-by-minute basis. Right now, like many of you, my self-chatter is full of what is happening with the global coronavirus pandemic and how it is impacting me and my family. Unsettling, upsetting and worrying are just three words that spring to mind.
That choice of words is not surprising bearing in mind that we are all worrying about our parents, our children, ourselves, our livelihoods and our future. It’s not surprising that our minds are in a riot of fear; pouncing on every news bulletin, Twitter rumour and WhatsApp group message, grabbing anything that seems vaguely factual and running away with it. It’s at precisely this point that we need to be extra vigilant, not only with the words we are putting into our heads but also what is coming out of our mouths. Just a few little word swaps have an outstanding effect on our psyche, in either a positive or a negative way.
When times are tough as they are right now, when every news station and paper is revelling in wall-to-wall reporting on every terrible thing that is happening in the world, the words we are surrounded with seep into our subconscious and lodge themselves there. Just think about what that is doing to you, listening to hourly hypothesising about how truly awful everything is? I’m not saying that we need to self-isolate with our fingers in our ears, but sticking to the facts rather than the worst-case guessing helps our fearful brain focus on truth rather than fiction.
So what can you do to calm yourself down, to not feel so stressed, and not talk yourself into feeling overwhelmed?
The first thing you can do is be mindful of how you talk to yourself; the words you use to talk to yourself right now. Don’t say things like: ‘it’s the end of the world’ even if you are joking around. When using catastrophizing language, our brain doesn’t know the difference between our fearful projecting thoughts and reality, and it will accept them as fact. So, it’s no wonder that you feel so awful – your brain has decided that all these terrible things that you are thinking about and saying aren’t just worries – they are facts!
The second thing to do is step away from negative people who are getting off on all this drama. You’ll know them; they’re the ones constantly messaging ‘news’ updates without checking whether they are true or not, using excitable, negative and frightening language. These people are extremely unhelpful, not only to themselves but to everyone around them. So stay away, and find someone else in your friendship group who you can talk to about how you are feeling who won’t fuel your fears.
This really is a time to think about how we talk to ourselves and others – what is our language saying to ourselves, how are we talking ourselves into feeling? The wrong words can make us feel angry, depressed and fearful which releases stress hormones – the brain reacts in the way you have told it to, it goes on guard, standing by on full alert, ready to protect us from harm. Your fuse is short, you are on edge, you are ready to react! And not in the best way. Using the right words can shift our perspective, can fill us with love, joy and gratitude. Think about what that does to our bodies – we feel lighter, energised, better able to cope with difficult times. There may not seem to be much around us to be grateful for at the moment, but if you look hard enough you can find comfort in even the tiniest of things. The longer days, the promise of Spring and the self-belief that this too shall pass. Even if the only thing you have to be grateful for is the fact that things will never be this awful again, it’s a starting point, so use it.
As someone who has been working from home for many years now, I know a thing or two about creating the perfect WFH uniform.
When I first started on the non-office path five years ago, I was determined to still be as fashionable and super stylish at home as I was in the office. That didn’t last for long and I soon fell into a PJs and sportswear stupor. Neither was right for me. The outfits I wore to the office felt constricted and too formal, while the PJs (albeit very smart and stylish ones) just made me feel like there was no difference between work and play.
I also found it important to dress for my day – just as I would for the office. Yes, I’ve done the odd day in PJs in bed, but I never felt as productive as the days I dress up and get to my desk at 9am. There have even been studies done in the past that say dressing ‘up’ for work improves your mood, productivity and confidence.
Over the years, I’ve finally found my WFH style – one that keeps me looking smart for any video calls, but also allows me to feel relaxed. One that also makes me feel like I’m still making an effort and haven’t given up, because I rarely step out of my front door. So, for all of you who are new to this home working lark, here are my top stylish WFH essentials. Most of them you’ll probably already own – it’s just about looking at your wardrobe differently…
A jumpsuit or boiler suit
The biggest thing I’ve learnt is that complicated outfits are out when it comes to WFH. Simple, easy-to-wear is where you want to go but this doesn’t mean forgoing your style. My wardrobe is littered with jumpsuits and boiler suits. I love that I can throw them on and I’m ready to go – but in a pulled together way.
Dita Von Teese is my idol and like her, I thought I would never wear tracksuits, but home working (and now homeschooling!) has put an end to such luxurious thoughts. However, when I say tracksuits – I’m actually talking lounge wear. Comfy, cosy sweats and soft trousers, but none that say I’ve been to the gym this morning. Co-ordinate your colours and choose trackie bottoms that have cute detailings like pockets and pretty fabrics to make them more stylish, than practical.
I love a dress, but once I started working from home, my dresses were relegated to meeting only days. That was until I discovered the more ‘roomy’ dresses out there. Now I have a wardrobe full of sweatshirt dresses, loose midi dresses and some with elasticated waists. All of them are easy to throw on, feel comfortable and look the part – perfect if you’re having a day of video calls.
I’ll admit it, despite all this advice, most days I turn to my trusty jeans and tee or sweatshirt. To make sure I don’t feel too dressed down and constantly in my weekend-wear though, I like to add a few accessories. Whether that’s an embellished headband, a statement necklace (yes, they’re back) or some super large hoops, I feel more ‘done’ when I’ve got a bit of an accessory going on.
I love black – it goes with everything and makes you look slimmer, however, wear it all the time and it can make you feel pretty darn gloomy. In these uncertain times, I’m reaching for bright sweatshirts or pastel blouses to make me look good and more importantly, feel good. Need some help with what colours to wear? Take a look at our style colour guide
Midi skirts paired with sweatshirts
This is the combo I reach for nearly as often as my jean and tees! A trustd midi-skirt in an interesting print – my favourites are striped, spotty and leopard print – teamed with a plain sweatshirt (or T-shirt in the warmer months) makes me feel together, less slobby AND it’s comfortable – especially if you look for elasticated waists. Talking about them…
Once you’ve spent a few days working from home, you’ll realise how constricted formal trousers and skirts feel – enter the casual trouser. The most important component of this casual trouser is an elasticated waist. Yes, it feels like you’re giving in, but if you ensure the style of the trouser is still essentially smart, you won’t feel like Waynetta Slob! My favourite pair are pleather – with an elasticated waist – which look good worn with a t-shirt, sweatshirt or smarter blouse for those conference call (and are wipe clean, handy now this homeschooling lark has begun!)
These are unusual times. The rug has literally been pulled out from under us and we’re all trying to negotiate a very different life. Whether it’s working from home or home-schooling, the Coronavirus pandemic has taken what we know and turned it on its head. I’ve read lots about navigating these scary times when it comes to your children, but very little about how to live this new life when your child is autistic.
You see, autism thrives on routine. It loves knowing what’s coming next. In fact, it positively needs it. Without it, life is a scary place.
My heart broke when we found out the schools were closing. My son, who is 9 and autistic, has a difficult relationship with school – he loves learning, he hates the social side of it – but he does adore the routine and his fabulous teacher.
While most children were cheering with delight that there would be no more school for the foreseeable future, my little neurodiverse boy cried big, huge hot tears. The tears carried on coming when I couldn’t answer any of his questions with any certainty, and when I tentatively mentioned he may not return until the start of Year 6, he lost it.
Anyone who has experienced an autistic meltdown, truly understands how overwhelming these are – for you as the parent, yes, but more so for the child who is literally and physically struggling to process what has happened to them. An hour later he calmed down enough to snuggle up and sleep on me, but this high emotional state has pretty much carried on since lockdown.
Providing comfort – where there is none…
I doubt any parent was really looking forward to the prospect of adding teacher to their list of things to do, but I definitely felt the trepidation more than most. I knew that as well as trying to keep his brain occupied, my main job would be to keep him emotionally supported.
Autistic children have super high anxiety levels and the one thing I’ve learnt is they also pick up on any negative emotions you may have. So, here I am currently attempting to squash my own anxiety around issues – my parents are elderly and live at the other end of the country and my husband is a keyworker, so out and about risking his health every day – while ensuring I can emotionally lift up my scared little boy.
The hardest part of all this is having no answers. My son likes a black and white situation. There is no grey in his world and yet we’re living through possibly the greyest, most confusing times of our lives. Heck, the government is winging it, so what chance do us mere citizens have?
I’m constantly having to answer his many, many questions with ‘I don’t know’ or ‘Maybe’, which are not satisfying answers for a curious, super anxious child. In fact, I’m sure this is something all parents are dealing with at the moment – just how do you answer something you don’t know the answer to? It’s not like I can even ask Alexa or consult Google – as I normally do when quizzed about a remote planet or rare Pokémon…
The complexities of autism
Then there are the things that parents of neurotypical children may not have to consider during this lockdown. My son, like many autistic kids, will only eat certain foods – one of those is pasta, which is proving difficult to buy at my local supermarket. Trying to explain why he can’t have this favourite food, in this time when he so desperately needs his small comforts, is so very difficult.
My son also struggles with sleeping. He has melatonin to help him (and I’m just praying we can continue to get this prescription) but he wakes frequently and then rises very early (I’m talking 5am onwards). This sleep pattern has only got worse as his anxiety has kicked in, so now, we’re adding tired and grumpy – and I’m including myself in this – to the list of things we have to deal with.
There’s also the washing of hands. Autistic children often focus on things. Normally for my son this would be Pokémon, Fortnite or our dog Shyla – these are my son’s key ‘obsessions’ but washing his hands is now up there with them. Obviously, it’s great that he is so enthusiastic, but I’ve got to keep the balance between getting him to wash his hands regularly and it becoming an out-of-control obsession. We had one awful meltdown one day when I told him he didn’t need to wash his hands just yet (he’d only washed them 10 minutes previously).
What I am doing is keeping to a routine, albeit a paired down, relaxed one. We walk the dog first thing in the morning, followed by some Maths and English – with lots of breaks thrown in (while I Google improper fractions!). Then we play a word game like Boggle or Scrabble and that’s it. Afternoons are for play – and for mum to work – but sometimes I throw a life lesson in like how to sort laundry. I may as well improve his life skills while he’s home with me!
What doesn’t help is the many ‘smug mums’ out there shouting out on social media to ditch schedules and make memories by building dens and baking cakes. I’m literally hanging on by a thread – as is my son – and while I’d love to ditch the routine, he needs his more than ever.
I’d love to think that one day in the future he will look back and remember this time fondly, but I fear he’ll just remember it as just a vast time of worry. In fact, the day he wakes up and doesn’t cry and wish for ‘this nasty virus to go and everything to go back to normal’ will be a small triumph.
A few things to help autistic children (which might also help everyone!)
1 Concentrate on the positives
I don’t let my son watch the news, but he’s still very anxious about everything, so now I’m trying to show him the positive things that can come out of awful situations.
Before lockdown, we flyered our neighbourhood with leaflets offering help if people were self-isolating. I wanted him to see that communities can come together in times like this. Same with ‘Clap for the NHS’, which we both took part in. This week, we’re painting stones that we’ve collected on our daily walk with bright colours and statements like Be Kind, which we’ll leave on our walks for other people to come across. None of these things will stop the virus, but it can show him that kindness does prevail.
2 A timer is your friend
My son needs to know when things are ending and when things are starting so our Alexa is a well-used – and loved! – member of our family. She tells him when it’s time to get dressed or when it’s time to start on some maths. Without it, he falls apart, but it’s also really useful for me as I know how much down-time I have between ‘lessons’ to crack on with some work or chores.
3 Give them controlled choices
This whole pandemic has meant losing control over our lives, so one thing you can do for your child is give them some control back by offering choices. By choices I mean, ‘Do you want read now or in an hour?’ not ‘What do you want to do now?’ Give them limited choices – I only offer two – so that way they feel more in control of their own environment. It also means they’re more likely to do what you need them to do.
4 Don’t focus on teaching them
This isn’t home schooling. This is a very unusual situation. If, like my son, your kids like to learn, then obviously encourage it, but if they absolutely cannot do it because they’re not in their usual environment or because you’re not their teacher, don’t push it.
Kids, especially primary-aged kids, learn in many ways that don’t involve the classroom. Use everyday activities to help them learn – my son can now cook pasta, sort laundry and mow the lawn! Watch interesting documentaries together. Play Scrabble. There are lots of ways to keep their brains engaged.
Today’s ‘lesson’ for example is how to make a movie, which involves setting up superhero figures (something he loves doing), playing with them, filming that and then editing it. Not something that will help him pass his 11+ but movies and superheroes are his passion, so who knows what this might spark?!
5 Get them involved in planning their day
My son loves a list! Whether he’s writing down a list of his favourite superheroes in order (Flash is number one if you’re interested) or a list of much-wanted birthday presents, he takes delight in having things ordered. This week, he’s written a list of all the books he’d like to read and the films he’d like to watch while in lockdown.
One friend gets her autistic son to write a list of things he wants to do in the morning, which also ticks off handwriting practice right there! She then writes her list of things to do and they merge them together. Not only does this encourage your child to have a vested interest in what they’re doing that day, but it also shows them that you’re also busy with tasks.
6 Be realistic
Don’t set up a big structured timetable of a day. You need to realise that even though children are at school for six hours a day, they’re probably only learning for half of that.
I’d also say be chilled about screen time. Yes, I don’t normally let him play video games or watch movies all day, but these are unusual times. He normally gets no more than an hour of Fortnite a day but now it’s actually his only source of friend time – it’s the one chance he gets to chat to everyone from school, so I’ve chilled out about him being on it.
I’m also letting him get bored. I was always bored as a kid, but not for long, as I soon found something to occupy myself with. My son is also learning the same and – shock horror – yesterday opted to draw instead of watch You Tube. You see, good things can come out of these horrible times…