It looks as though we’ll be sheltering in place for another month. At least. Some of us are sheltering with our families, nuclear or extended. That kind of closeness is...close. Some of us are sheltering in our own personal spaces. That same space that you used to cherish as a sanctuary isn’t feeling so much that way anymore.
You may be struggling to maintain, while recreating, your business. You've probably moved your business to your home and EVERYONE is home. Defacto stressful. If you live alone, you may feel lonely; you're cut off from your normal support systems.
We’ve managed so far, but now many of us have reached a point where, perhaps, our skin is a bit thinner.
The following list of suggestions is not designed to give you another thing to do. It's just to put some ideas in your head, and hopefully something will resonate with you!
Think about them, be inspired by them, or blow them off entirely. The fact is, though, that we have a way to go with the current situation. It’s hard on everyone. Maybe one or two of these ideas will help you be happier and less stressed.
No. 1: Say "No"
This is the most difficult, and by far the most effective way to keep yourself collected in a time when things are stressful. I’m going to charge you with empowering the people in your life by telling them "no".
Many of us, by personality or by training, are very sensitive to all that we should or could be doing. We want to step up for the people in our lives, interests, organizations, charities, and random strangers. It's overwhelming.
When we should probably be thinking about how we can offload an obligation, instead we’ll think about how we can deprive ourselves in order to fulfill our obligations.
Have ever wished you didn’t have to sleep so much? Ever thought that taking time to eat a meal was an indulgence?
Warren Buffet was quoted as saying: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
I’m not going to suggest for a moment that it’s easy to say "no". Saying "no" comes with baggage about
the importance of meeting other people’s needs and expectations,
I’m not going to suggest for a moment that it will be easy to say "no" if you haven't practiced. It will be uncomfortable. But it’s really important.
YOU are the only person who knows all the things on your plate. You’re the only person who is aware of your schedule and your to-do list. Therefore, you are the only person who has the information necessary to prioritize appropriately. Sometimes other people’s stuff is more important than your stuff. (Usually not, but sometimes.)
Remember though, that in the next hour you can say "yes" to only so many things. In order to make room for the things you want or need to spend your time on, you must say "no" to those other things. You are NOT an infinite well of time! You cannot help everyone, meet every obligation (real or imagined) check every box off every list, and still have time to sleep, eat, watch a movie, or play with your dog.
No. 2: Change your schedule
If you are sharing space with other people...
I’m going to guess that virtually every moment that you are not actually with a client or student, your family demands your attention. Comedian Elayne Boosler once called the uterus a “homing device” because apparently only people who have them can find things. But, in fact, when someone screams, “Mom, where are my shoes?” they could, in fact, find their own shoes. They’ve just done the easy thing, which is to scream for you.
However, IF you are unavailable, they may choose to skip the screaming-for-you step and simply begin to hunt for the shoes themselves. This is where changing your schedule comes in.
If you went to bed two hours earlier, and got up two hours earlier, you’d have two hours to yourself. If you went to bed two hours earlier, got up three hours earlier, and took an hour in the afternoon to sleep or meditate, you’d have three hours to yourself. Sarah McKay, a neurology researcher from Melbourne, has a marvelous TED talk about the benefits of napping, and if you watch it you’ll be convinced!
If you live alone...
changing your schedule can allow you to try some self-care activities that you’ve been putting off. I was once advised me to sleep in my yoga clothes so I’d roll right out of bed and onto my yoga mat in the morning. I took the advice and it works like a charm!
If you changed your schedule to wake up earlier - and maybe take a nap - would you take that early morning walk in the neighborhood? Would you journal? Would you exercise? Basically, would you do something that is more nurturing and respectful of yourself than whatever you're doing for the last two hours that you're awake every day?
The point is that your family is in a rhythm. You are in a rhythm. If you disrupt that rhythm you can invite new ways to spend your time. You can have some alone time. You can enjoy self-care routines. Shake it up and see what happens.
No. 3: Declare your space
This one is short but will take some determination. If you have a space - a room or a desk - that is your work space, make it your work space. Tell your loved ones that when you are there, you are working and should not be interrupted unless it is urgent. Make this space a dedicated space.
This is, by the way, where the determination comes in. You will have to assert yourself with your people, and maybe with yourself. You’ll have to say many times, “Remember? This is my work space. I’m working now. I’ll interact with you when I’m done working at 3:00.”
No. 4: Hide in plain sight
There are things you do around your house, and your people, that may cause them to leave you alone. In my case it’s housecleaning. (Funny, that.) But there’s also client/student time, which can be stretched to include both prep time and actual face time, taking a walk, taking an online class, scheduling social time with friends or family online, or saving your shower-and-dress routine for 11 in the morning. You’re around, but clearly not available while you’re doing these things.
It can give you a little bit of head space.
No. 5: Lower the bar
One of my references for this item was Gretchen Rubin, who said, “The moderate forty-minute work-out I do several times a week is better than the rigorous work-out I never do.” I thought that encapsulated this idea really well. It’s not so much about lowering your standards, it’s about being realistic in a way that takes some pressure off. You do not need the pressure of doing things perfectly. Most times, as my Grammy used to say, done is better than perfect.
No. 6: Limit media
We have more access to media than we need. Musician and neurology researcher Daniel Levitin states that in 2017 we each took in five times as much information every day as we did in 1987. Five times. We also take in as much information in a day as our forebears just 200 years ago absorbed in their lives. Sit with that for a hot sec.
I’m not here to tell you that our extraordinary access to media is a bad thing. The problem though - the thing that creates stress in our lives - is when our use of media is not deliberate.
When you scroll through your social media feed, it feeds you whatever it thinks you’ll eat. Bad news, political opinions, or cat videos. You think you’re just taking a peek and twenty minutes go by. In that 20 minutes you’ve shifted your attention 100 times. How do you feel? If you feel invigorated and inspired, that was 20 minutes well-spent! But... has that ever happened to you? Do you find watching the news uplifting?
And let me circle back the the idea of staying up late watching shows. Those channels are designed to keep you engaged. You know that thing you do where you plan to watch one episode and you watch three? That’s Netflix having it’s way with you. And then you’ve stayed up later than you want to, get up early anyway, and have less reserves to deal with the stress in your life.
I’m not going to tell you to stay away from media. But I’m going to suggest that you are deliberate about it. Go to Facebook only on your laptop and set a timer. Don’t have the TV on unless you’re watching it. Yell at Netflix when it tries to lasso you into watching another episode! Use media. Don’t let it use you.
No. 7: Do for someone
This is to replace, not to add to your already-full plate.
I’ll be honest. The first twenty years I was a private voice teacher there were days when I dreaded going to work. If I felt depressed or tired, I really didn’t think I had it in me to be there for someone else. And yet I always was.
You know this. When you get in the space with your student, you do your thing. You show up. You’re present. And when you’re present for someone else it’s impossible to focus on yourself. If you are anxious and sad, taking attention away from that and placing on helping someone else can be a really healthy thing to do.
Now, as a voice teacher you're there for other people by definition. If you find yourself spending time staring at screens and getting depressed, you may feel better if you DO for someone else in a way that feeds you. Bake for someone. Do a grocery run for an older person. Sew some masks. Do a DIY gift that you can look forward to giving someone. If you have kids at home you can engage them in something for someone else. It feels great to think of making other people happy.
No. 8: Create
This is a lot like the previous suggestion, and for the same reasons. But the end game is to lift your soul simply by bringing something into being; a song, a drawing, a new recipe, a performance.
You are a bottomless well of creativity. Every idea you have is the beginning of something that could exist in the world. Setting aside time for creating something is a sacred and deserving task. It fills your heart, your mind, and your soul. Creating is something you can do alone or with others. It is fulfilling even if you don’t like the end product, because the process itself puts you in a state of mind that is expansive and happy.
And that’s what all of us who love you want for you; to be your real true, happy, expansive self.