About four months after I started it, I finally finished the 870 fantastic pages of Voyager by Diana Gabaldon (3rd book in the Outlander series), and the hurricane they went through while at sea in a small boat got me thinking. How do we be intentional in the midst of absolute chaos?
When an imminent storm is approaching, we have three options; do nothing and hope for the best, evacuate, or hunker down and prepare for the worst. My hubby and I usually differ in that he wants to just chill out with his best friend; wishful thinking, and I want to head for the hills. It makes for some very unproductive discussions. But sometimes, there is no other option than to take the last approach, prepare - there's nowhere to run (literally - hardly anyone will let us in...), and the decisions (our kids schooling, childcare, etc.) are unavoidable. There is no way out, there is no more putting it off. As appealing as the head-in-the-sand approach is right now, avoiding the inevitable will only lead to more chaos than is already coming.
There is plenty we can do to prepare not only logistically, but also our mental wellbeing. We can't control everything, in fact it seems like we can hardly control anything lately, but one constant always remains; we can control how we let things affect us.
Think about the eye of a hurricane. No matter how intense the storm or what's swept up in its gale-force winds, that calm, blue center is always there. We all have this quiet center within us.
- George Mumford
When it comes to chaos, I am an expert. I grew up in a loving home filled with emotion that none of us knew how to process. I cry-laugh at shows when families sit down to eat and all hell breaks loose. I played defense in sports because I loved crashing into people. In fact, when the pandemic hit, I felt oddly at ease, apparently because in my past, I've been so conditioned for chaos, it was just another day.
That was my past, and I've come along way with my mental health since then, so this "coming home" feeling only lasted so long. Once the exhaustion of no childcare set in, sh!t got real.
When the chaos gets to be too much, or you see a storm on the horizon, focus on these five things; separate, simplify, systemize, seek help, and be still. Let's go into more detail.
Compartmentalizing is a tool used in many places from the military to psychology to logistics. It means to divide into sections or categorize. *"Some examples would be: a doctor who is religious, but has to separate her belief system from her practice at a women’s health clinic; a man who leaves his office at 6pm, and refuses to think about work for the rest of the evening, so he can enjoy his time with his family or, at its extreme, soldiers who need to file away the trauma of horrific events in their minds, so they can continue operating in battle."
This is a great tool for anybody who is working from home these days. If you've hit the "what day is it?" "I'm out of sweatpants." "popcorn for lunch" phase you know what I'm talking about. Fortunately, I've been at the work from home thing for quite some time now, and before I learned how to compartmentalize my life, it was near impossible to be present and focus on anything other than work.
I've learned that I have to treat my work, family life, and me-time all separately. I have one Google Calendar for each of those 3 areas. I do the same for my todo items and projects, which I use ClickUp for; keeping a separate Space for each of the 3 areas. This is where I plan projects, my todo items, and keep reference lists like addresses, content ideas, and journal prompts for myself.
The objective is to allow yourself to focus on the task at hand. If that task is figuring out your kids birthday plans, you shouldn't be worried about the meeting with your boss and vice versa. By "hiding" the things you don't need to focus on, it gives your brain permission to just let them go. It's impossible to get anything done staring at a giant todo list 10 pages long. You can only focus on one thing at a time, so finding ways to block out the peripherals until it's their turn to be focused on helps to knock out those todo items.
Ask yourself, "Does this have to get done? Who am I doing this for? Why do I feel this has to get done? Can this be done next month/year/never?" Schedule all your errands for the same day, ask your partner to take on more if they can, and figure out what actually has to get done. You're motives will surprise you if you ask yourself "why" enough.
Another way to simplify is to loosen your standards for the time being. Does the house need to be that clean? Can you let laundry go for two weeks instead of one? Can you handle letting your partner or a delivery service do the grocery shopping even if some things aren't what you'd pick? Remember, this isn't forever, but it is long-term, so find balance between expectations and reality, and ask yourself what is really important to you. Not your mom, not your best friend, not your kids; you. If you're someone people rely on, you'll be of little use if your'e burnt out, stressed, or too exhausted to be present or make decisions.
Set up processes for recurring things like chores and digital communication. Automation tools like IFTTT, Zapier, and Integromat are lifesavers when it comes to automating administrative tasks. Gmail has a ton of automation features such as scheduling sends in advance, templating emails you write over and over, and filtering messages into folders based on search criteria. If you prefer pen and paper, Poketo's project planner has everything you need to plan and track anything that comes your way including a gantt-style project planner that I use for tracking habits and health stats.
Being independent is a wonderful trait to have, but it can easily (and sneakily) become a crutch. There is a fine line between autonomy and bullheaded-ness. When I got married, I DIY'd most of it, and it made me a major bridezilla. When I had my first daughter, I spent my maternity leave telling everyone how fine I was. I wasn't fine...surviving...but not fine. My biggest regret about both of those huge, life-changing events? Not accepting the help that was offered. Instead of surviving, I could've thrived. Instead of zoning out, I could've been present.
Accepting and asking for help can be uncomfortable to many of us because it makes us feel vulnerable, like we aren't enough on our own. Well, to our credit, vulnerability is a scary-ass thing. It's like one of those monsters in movies that becomes what you're most afraid of (like the Bogart in Harry Potter). It's different, but similarly terrifying for everyone. My vulnerability issues revolve around trust and feeling unwanted, so new relationships, letting my guard down around people who have hurt me, and dealing with (what I perceive to be) rejection are completely terrifying to me.
So for me, accepting help is asking for an introduction to a friend's friend who has kids my kids' ages. It's accepting the help from my mom if she offers to do the dishes when she's here. It's talking to some one about something they said that hurt me. These are all awkward, uncomfortable, and scary, but do I do them? Yes. Do I need to read and re-read and re-read again every Brené Brown book she writes? Yes. Do I still fail at it a lot? Yes. Do I keep trying even though it's scary? Yes. This Fall will be no exception.
Take the time to validate your feelings, enforce your boundaries, and take care of yourself both mentally and physically. I don't mean eat perfectly and workout 3 hrs a day, or anything like that. I mean meditate, journal, breathe deeply, be in nature, enjoy whatever season we're in both emotionally and meteorologically, and most importantly, rest.
The excuses we make around why we "can't" get enough rest are often complete BS. While some people literally don't have the time, most of us can find a few minuets to rest our minds if nothing else. It doesn't have to be a full blown nap. I'm a fan of laying on my bed and staring at my ceiling for a few minutes in-between writing articles and feeding kids; letting my mind go wherever it wants. While meditation does wonders, it's important to have unfocused mindful time as well. I have friends who play video games or get lost in a book. Rest looks different for everyone, but it's necessary to keeping our heads on straight in the midst of chaos.
While this Fall will look very different than past (and hopefully future) ones, it's important to examine exactly why we "need" to do that, compartmentalize if we're working from home, get organized and process-driven, accept and ask for help, and to not sacrifice our own wellbeing for the sake of productivity.