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Through Grief, Loneliness And Anxiety, Our Pets Are Helping Us Cope

Pets helping us through lockdown

We’re here to guide you through the coronavirus lockdown. Check out HuffPost LIFE for daily tips, advice, how-tos and escapism.

With lockdown dragging on and the weeks in quarantine turning into months, people are understandably finding life tough right now – and many are finding their pets are a source of comfort and distraction. 

HuffPost UK has been inundated with messages from pet owners who have found their animal companions to be incredibly loving during this fraught time. Here are five of their stories – with lots of cute pictures, of course.

‘Fred gets me chatting to other lovely doggie people’

Nicola Cole, who is 28 and living with her parents in Southampton, has found her tiny pooch Fred to be a rock during lockdown. “I’m currently seeing a therapist for my eating disorder,” she says. “An effect of that is a need for control, and lockdown has had an impact with the change of routine and uncertainty.”

Her dog Fred, a Jack Russell crossed with a Lancashire Heeler, has been crucial in getting her out of the house, something she also finds hard due to social anxiety. “Fred gets me chatting to other lovely doggie people when we are out,” she says. “As you can imagine, he has a lot of admirers, everyone wants to know what breed he is!” 

Fred

Cole says this really helps – she’s introverted, but always feels better after going out with Fred and having a few socially-distanced chats with the dog community.

“Fred is the best form of therapy when I’m feeling down as well, he just knows and he’s a very cuddly, snuggly dog,” she adds. “He makes me want to keep going, he is my main motivation.

“As the lockdown lifts and it’s all change again, it will be a struggle for me… but I know with Fred by my side, I’ll be able to get through it.”

‘My dad’s tortoise makes me feel close to him’

Losing a loved one to coronavirus is unimaginably hard, as Victoria Clifford, 39, from Kenilworth, Warwickshire, knows. She lost her dad Trevor a few weeks ago and has been grieving alongside her two sons Dylan, 15, and Jack, eight. 

When her dad was in hospital with the virus, Clifford took in his pet tortoise William. She also has a rescue dog called Sweep, a Springer Spaniel and Border Collie cross. The two pets have distracted Clifford and her children over the past few weeks, providing occasional smiles among the sadness.

“Myself and the children have had an awful two years starting with the death of my mum, my separation from the children’s dad and all of the turmoil and sadness that comes with that – and now losing dad,” says Clifford.

Sweep and Jack

Like many dogs, Sweep seems to know when her humans need her the most and will go into protector mode. Learning how to look after her dad’s tortoise has also provided a welcome, if not slightly terrifying, distraction.

William the tortoise, who has since been renamed Sonic by eight-year-old Jake, stayed asleep until the day her dad passed away. “I know nothing about tortoises and have a fear of reptiles so it was a challenge,” she says. “I had to do a lot of research. But I want to do everything to make the little fella at home for dad. Dad loved the tortoise and it makes me feel close to him.”

Clifford says she and her family could’ve “quite easily slipped into a hole of locking ourselves away”. “But,” she adds, “I have a purpose. I get up and start my day, which starts with waking the children and feeding the animals.”

Sonic the tortoise

‘Our bunny’s cheerful personality is really helpful at this time’

For Marco Fiori and his wife, who live in Berkshire, their pet bunny Basil has been a source of joy during lockdown. “He’s super affectionate, always on hand for a cuddle and his cheerful personality is really helpful at this time,” says Fiori, 31.

“He loves our garden – we get lots of fresh air because of him, which helps with mental health and a change of scenery throughout the day.”

Basil the bunny

Basil loves a good snooze during the day, which works out quite well alongside his owners’ work from home schedules. “Rabbits are most active morning and early evening – so he’s the ideal companion when working from home as he keeps to himself during work hours,” says Fiori.

He’s also a floppy-eared comedian, apparently. “He’s genuinely hilarious! Random moments make us laugh a lot. Lockdown would’ve been much lonelier if he wasn’t in our life.”

‘The biggest positive is the comfort our kittens bring to my sons’

Feline siblings Sammy and Luna are forever putting smiles on the faces of Lisa Berry’s children – the black and white kitties turn one next month. “They’re very entertaining when they zoom around chasing each other and play fighting,” says Berry, who lives with her two sons Jake, 10, and Ollie, 11, in Swindon, Wiltshire.

“The biggest positive is the comfort they bring to both boys,” she says. “Having the kittens has calmed my youngest a little, he has had to quieten down a bit and he loves to sit and stroke their fur and listen to them purr.”

Sammy and Luna

The pandemic has made her children anxious, she says, but the cats have a calming effect. “Sammy is my youngest’s kitten and Luna is my eldest’s, but they each love both of them. It works well with them having their own kitten, they feel like they are their best friends.”

Berry says the cats also provide a welcome distraction to her children from everything going on outside the home. “Seeing the boys smile at the moment is a very precious thing as they are finding lockdown tough,” she adds. “If they are upset, the kittens will approach them and settle near them to get cuddles and cheer them up.”

Sammy helps with homework.

‘Without my six pets, I would’ve been incredibly alone’

Paula Stewart, 38, lives in Liverpool with two giant breed dogs, a tortoise, snake, uromastyx (spiny-tailed lizard) and a crested gecko, who have all helped her in different ways.

“I’ve found lockdown quite tough,” says Stewart. Both her mum, who is 70, and her 102-year-old great uncle who lives with her mum, have been hospitalised with coronavirus. While her mum has recovered, her uncle has been moved to a nursing home where he is suffering from pneumonia. “It’s been one of the most terrifying times of my life,” she says.

Without her pets, Stewart says she would’ve felt incredibly alone. But having to get up every morning to feed and care for her companions, even when she’s felt down, has been important. “The routine has definitely helped my mental health,” she says. 

Getting out and about to walk Mitzi (her rescue Rottweiler x Mastiff) has been a huge help: “It has given me fresh air and an appreciation for the small things, such as the blossoming flowers, the views over the city and just enjoying being with her.”

Paula Stewart and Jeff the tortoise

Stewart is particularly fond of just sitting and watching her reptile and amphibian friends. “The way they take on life, exploring every day, plodding along and finding real joy in the small things is inspiring,” she says. 

“I don’t know how I had time for work before this. I was missing out on spending so much time with my pets and witnessing all their quirks and habits. I love their companionship and the focus they give me to keep on going even when things are tough.”

Mitzi

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI – this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@themix.org.uk
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.

8 Tips For Making Your Home ‘Feel Like New’ For The Weekend

We’re here to guide you through the coronavirus lockdown. Check out HuffPost LIFE for daily tips, advice, how-tos and escapism.

Before her home state of California established stay-at-home orders in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, interior designer Jessica McCarthy spent her days flitting between her office and her apartment.

Now, like many of us, her home is both her workplace and her living space, 24/7. 

“It’s been challenging to find a balance, especially as a designer where I depend on the outside world to bring me inspiration,” McCarthy, the owner of JAM Creative Studio, told HuffPost. “I live in a studio apartment, so it makes it extra difficult to do this!”

Come Friday night, McCarthy ― again, like many of us ― is finding it hard to transition from the workweek to the weekend. It’s understandable; when your poor, put-upon living room is acting as your workspace (and if you’re a parent, the kids’ classroom), it’s increasingly hard to see it as a space for maximum relaxation.

How do you make your home seem more like a getaway come the weekend? It’s a challenge, for sure, but with imagination and a few small tweaks, you can make your apartment or house almost “feel like new” on Friday night. Here’s what McCarthy and other interior decorators recommend

1. Put away your office stuff. Then, subtract, don’t add. 

The number-one tip for making your home feel “weekend-y” (or “resort-y” if you’re feeling really ambitious) is not to add but to subtract, said Lucie Ayres, an interior designer and owner of 22 Interiors in Studio City, California.

Take the last nice hotel you stayed at as inspiration. 

“You know how nice that feeling is when you arrive in a hotel lobby and then walk into your room? Everything is tidy, there’s no stuff anywhere,” she said. “Creating that feeling of space and cleanliness has to be one of the best ways to get into a weekend mood.”

Shove the accessories to your work-life ― your laptop, paperwork and any other odds and ends ― in a drawer or in your computer bag. Those things don’t need to occupy space in your life come Friday.

While you’re in a tidying mood, declutter your bathroom countertop, your nightstand and your coffee table. (This step isn’t much fun, but it makes step number two possible, so it’s worth it.)

Spruce up your space before the weekend with drinks and fun lighting.

2. Find the most relaxing space in your home and transform it into a place you’d like to go on any Friday night, not just a quarantine Friday night.

Now that all your workweek clutter is out of the picture, focus on an area in your home you gravitate toward on most weekends: Maybe it’s the living room or the dining room, where your bar cart is conveniently located. 

Wherever it is, now is the time to transform that nook into your own little weekend oasis, said Kami Gray, an interior designer in Portland, Oregon. 

“Add floor pillows, a basket of throw blankets,” she said. “Add items for an activity you enjoy that relaxes you ― listening to your record collection, playing cards, games or puzzles, reading a tarot card deck, or flipping through your photography books.” 

Heighten the mood with some vibe-setting details. 

“Burn some incense, light some candles, roll out that bar cart (or a tray works, too) with your favorite cocktail, mocktail, or wine,” she said. “Bubbles are always festive.” (Hey, you certainly deserve to bust out the champagne, given the circumstances.) 

Naturally, good drinks call for good food. 

“I love a ‘heavy’ snack tray of finger foods like salami, cheese, olives, crackers, dark chocolate, sliced fruit, nuts and hummus and carrots,” Gray said. “Make your tray attractive by carefully placing items in an aesthetically pleasing way.”

“Why all the fuss?” you may be asking.

“Because it matters,” Gray said. “You’re investing time and energy into yourself and your life and creating a ritual around your weekend time.”

When everything seems so chaotic outside our own four walls, rituals and traditions remind us that we’re human, and that the happy, boisterous moments in life can and will continue. 

“Remind yourself that it’s not just some monotonous existence where every day is the same,” Gray said. “The trick is don’t do these things during the week. Wait for the weekend so you feel the excitement building and you can’t wait for your weekend ritual.”

3. Set the vibe with music. 

Now that you have a vibe going, set the mood further with a little mood music.

“To make your home have more of those hotel vibes, find the right music,” Ayres said. “Many hotels have their own playlists on Spotify like the W Hotels, the Hôtel Costes in Paris or the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, California.

4. Get creative with the space you have, even if it’s limited.

As the weekend approaches, give some thought to how you can repurpose the rooms in your home.

Take, for instance, how interior designer Jessica Helgerson changes up her family of four’s space. During the week, their home in Portland, Oregon, is all work (and school) and no play.

“We have a tiny little greenhouse off the kitchen that has become the dining room, since the dining room is now my office,” she said. “The attic is both my husband’s office and my daughter’s classroom, and my son goes to school in the living room.”

Come the weekend, the house is just as multi-purpose, but much more fun. 

“Our new tradition is to spend the first few hours of Saturday morning cleaning and putting things back to normal, so that we can spend the weekend in a fresher feeling house,” she said.

Now that social distancing has stretched into weeks, Helgerson and her family are getting extra creative.

“We’ve done slumber parties in the attic, dinner in the living room around the coffee table, lunch on the front porch,” she said.

Turn your backyard or porch into a movie night spot.

5. Usually exercise on the weekends? Find a corner of your home you can turn into a makeshift gym.

McCarthy usually carves out some time on the weekends to work out. To replicate that experience in her home while quarantining, she’s purchased some home workout products to create a mini-gym space.

“I have made it extra cute by sourcing pink weights, a cute yoga mat and a diffuser for meditation,” she said. “This is a great area for me to disconnect during the weekend from my workspace and get grounded.”

6. Brighten up your space with some blooms from outside. 

It’s spring, believe it or not. Flowers are likely blooming in your neighborhood. To enliven your space, bring some in the next time you go out for fresh air, Helgerson said.

“Look for a few branches in bud, snip them off, and put them in a vase of water somewhere in your house,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing to see them change each day, as the buds break and the little leaves or flowers begin to push their way out. It’s such a slow and sweet thing to witness, and something we’d probably never really have time to appreciate in normal life.” 

Interior designer Jessica Helgerson brightened her space with flowers from outside.

7. Buy a new piece of art from a local artist on Etsy. 

To support artists in these tough financial times ― and add some much-needed newness to your old space ― consider purchasing some art from Etsy or Society6, said Grace De La Rue, an interior designer in San Jose, California. 

“I would suggest grouping the art together for more visual impact, like this series of three photos on Etsy,” she said. “This will create a focal point in your space and it will also be an easy way for you to invoke a calm weekend feeling to your design.”

Of course, don’t go crazy with too many purchases; as much as possible, you want to limit your online shopping to essentials right now, so you’re not overburdening delivery workers.

8. Lastly, if you have an outdoor space, use it. 

If you’re lucky enough to have some outdoor space ― a patio or a balcony, a teeny tiny fire escape ― now is a great time to spruce it up. 

“If it’s a big space, start by moving some of your throw pillows to your patio chairs,” De La Rue said. “I would also suggest adding a potted plant or two out there as well as a candle and an outdoor rug, if you have it.”

Adding texture and color to the decor in your outdoor space will give “a cozy and inviting feeling, making this a nice additional hangout,” La Rue said. “Every space counts right now!”


Also on HuffPost

Meet The Couples Having Zoom Weddings During A Global Pandemic

We’re here to guide you through the coronavirus lockdown. Check out HuffPost LIFE for daily tips, advice, how-tos and escapism.

Around the world, social distancing and lockdown restrictions are changing the ways people can get married, but couples are refusing to let Covid-19 cancel their weddings.  

Thanks to group video apps such as Zoom, thousands of people are deciding to tie the knot regardless, while their loved ones watch on remotely. In some countries, these weddings are legally binding thanks to witnesses and officiants  being permitted to attend in person.

Elsewhere, these at-home ceremonies are an important place-holder, until such time that registry offices reopen and couples can make their commitment to each other official. 

Here are the stories of five couples who’ve decided that in the battle between virus and love, love wins. 

Mallory and Sam, Utah, US 

Mallory Curnow Day, 32, married her partner Sam Curnow, 37, in their back garden in Salt Lake City, Utah on 10 April. They wanted to keep the date, rather then postpone the wedding, because it marked the anniversary of their first date. 

Their original wedding was supposed to be a 50 person affair, with friends and family coming from all over the country to the aviary nearby their home.

“There was going to a live band, dancing, a giant charcuterie board and a sit down dinner,” Mallory tells HuffPost UK. “But ultimately, getting married on that day was more important than a big party.”

The ceremony was moved to their back garden, which Sam (who was recently furloughed) spent hours decorating with the help of his mum, Dallas. Social distancing rules in Utah meant the couple were able to have six people attend in person, while the rest of their guests watched on Zoom. 

“Since most of our wedding party couldn’t come we delivered them care packages that included a meal from our caterer, cupcakes, hand sanitiser, home-made masks and toilet paper,” says Mallory. 

The couple had some reservations about how they would entertain their in-person guests as well as those watching remotely, but say the day ran surprisingly smoothly. 

“The wedding was so much fun,” says Mallory. “It was intimate, deeply personal and we made sure it still had the trappings of a traditional wedding with a picnic-style dinner, flowers, cupcakes and Champagne.” 

Sophie and Ben, London, UK

Sophie Austin and Ben Jackson decided to get married from their one bedroom flat in Croydon, London on 28 March when their planned ceremony could no longer go ahead. Due to the UK lockdown rules, no one could attend in person – not even their pastor or official witnesses. 

Instead, more than 200 friends and family gathered on a Zoom call to hear them say their vows. The couple now consider themselves hitched, but they’re looking forward to making their marriage legally binding when the lockdown is over. They’ve postponed their original wedding plans to September. 

Sophie, 26, was unable to wear her planned wedding dress as it was at the shop, which had closed for lockdown. But she says having a ceremony at home was “absolutely amazing” nonetheless. 

“I think it really drew back the sparkliness and extra stuff of a wedding and made it really obvious what was important: the two of us saying the vows to each other,” she told PA. “Even though we didn’t have everyone here it made it more intimate and special.” 

Describing the ceremony, Ben, 25, added: “It’s still real. In that moment we didn’t really notice it, we were focused on what we were saying.”

 Cynthia and Mykail, Montreal, Canada 

Cynthia Yoboué and Mykail B, both 29, were due to get married on 11 April at Montreal Courthouse. They planned to have 30 guests, including their parents, who were due to fly in from Ivory Coast. The group had then planned to head to a restaurant. Cynthia and Mykail also planned a larger religious ceremony with all of their friends and family in Ivory Coast in July, but now do not know if that will be able to go ahead.

Amid the uncertainty, they decided to go ahead with their courthouse ceremony, but Montreal’s rules meant they could have just five people in the room: themselves, an officiant and two witnesses. Mikail’s younger brother had to stay outside the courthouse in the car, connected on Zoom. 

Their parents and other loved ones watched on Zoom from around the world, calling in from countries including Ivory Coast, France, Canada, Cape Verde, Switzerland, South Africa, Cameroon, Senegal. 

“Because I am Christian and it happened during the Easter weekend, between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I was convinced that God would stay by our side no matter the risks and doubts,” Cynthia tells HuffPost. “Getting married was the most important thing.” 

Despite the screens, the day was emotional and enjoyed by everyone involved. “Honestly, we didn’t expect that much and basically it was just cries all the time, both on our side and the guests’” says Cynthia.

“It was super moving and because of the emptiness of the room, that out-of-the-ordinary scene (us and a screen), and all the voices crying and screaming together, we felt like time stopped.

“We also felt relieved and genuinely happy when it was done.”

Zoe and Rachel, Devon, UK 

Zoe Taylor, 41, and Rachel Knee, 38, simply had to still get married on 5 April – they’d each had the wedding date tattooed on their feet and engraved it into their rings.

After finding a celebrant that would perform the ceremony online, they gathered friends and family together on Zoom for a full ‘virtual wedding’ in their garden in Thorveton, Devon. Zoe made an aisle and the pair hung bunting on their fence panels to make it feel special. 

The ceremony included a remote reading from their maid of honour, vows, an exchange of rings and even a first dance – with 100 guests watching online. 

While the wedding won’t be legally binding until they sign official paper work at the registry office, the couple say they will always consider 5 April to be their wedding day.

“It was the date that was important and we just wanted to make it the best occasion that we could. But it was better than we could ever have managed,” Zoe told SWNS. 

“It’s been an amazing day – we couldn’t have wished for it to go any better. We had people join us who couldn’t even make the original day.”

Robert and Meredith, Ontario, Canada

Robert Kiley and Meredith Martin, both 32, kept having to change their wedding plans to keep up with the restrictions in Kingston, Ontario, Canada where they live. 

“We originally had 300 people on our guest list, then the Ontario provincial government put a ban on groups of more than 250 in light of Covid-19, so we altered the list, then it went down to 50, so we again limited attendance. Finally, five people became the health officials recommendations.”

The pair went ahead with a scaled down version of their church wedding on 3 April, with themselves, an officiant and two witnesses attending in person, two metres apart. The pair didn’t mind scaling back their plans. 

“I am an elected official, a city councillor, and I want to lead by example. We also cared about following the health directives because we wanted to help keep our community and guests safe,” Robert tells HuffPost. 

Roughly half of the guests they originally invited managed to watch the ceremony via Zoom. The day was nothing like they’d originally imagined, but was still “very special”. 

“We enjoyed it a great deal. Though we weren’t dressed up and nearly no one was with us, the most important parts remained: our commitment to each other before God and our community,” Robert says. “We felt very present with each other despite the constant changing of previous rearrangements. And we hope to have a service for our family as soon as possible, where we can dress up and have some semblance of what we originally envisaged.”

How To Support A Friend Who Has A Baby During The Coronavirus Pandemic

It can be difficult to know how to support a friend or loved one who has a baby right now. 

We’re here to guide you through the coronavirus lockdown. Check out HuffPost LIFE for daily tips, advice, how-tos and escapism.

Pregnancy and the postpartum period are wild and challenging for any parent. Having a baby during the COVID-19 pandemic is a different beast altogether. 

“COVID-19 has changed the way we live literally overnight,” Dr. Tanya Altmann, a California-based pediatrician, told HuffPost. “It varies hospital to hospital, but some moms have to limit partners or support they were planning on having in the delivery room, [and] some babies are being discharged home earlier than usual, leaving new moms with questions and concerns.” 

Because the situation is so challenging and unprecedented, it can be tricky to know what to do and say (or not) to support a friend or loved one who gives birth.

Here are a few ways to help. 

1. Validate how hard this all is

One of the kindest things you can do to support a friend who is expecting or just had a baby is to simply acknowledge how anxious or frightened or disappointed they might be feeling right now. 

“While some amount of anxiety has always been common with new parents … the sense that there is mortal danger just outside the door is new and unprecedented,” said Olivia Bergeron, a Brooklyn-based clinical social worker who specializes in working with parents during moments of big transition in their lives. 

Many new and expectant parents are stuck in an “anxiety loop,” Bergeron said. They’re desperate to keep their babies safe, and have relatively few concrete ways they can do that available to them. Start by simply acknowledging how incredibly difficult that might feel. 

2. Reach out regularly — without expecting a response

Not being able to see your friend face-to-face doesn’t mean you can’t connect. Reach out via your friend’s preferred method (whether that’s a phone call, a text, email or video chat) and make sure they know you don’t care if they pick up or get back to you, Bergeron said.

“Make it clear new parents can get in touch whenever it is convenient,” she said. “Just knowing that someone is thinking of you and your new baby can help tame the sense of isolation.” (Of course, that’s true during non-COVID 19 times as well.)

And keep it up after the immediate postpartum period is over.

“Many parents report that people reach out within the first six weeks when they themselves are running on adrenaline and the thrill of novelty,” Bergeron said. “There is often a precipitous drop-off afterwards.” Such a drop-off can lead to a real sense of isolation and abandonment, particularly for parents who are stuck at home. 

Now isn’t necessarily the time to regale your friend or with anecdotes from your own pregnancy or postpartum experience. What they’re going through is unprecedented.

3. Offer to help with research

“If your friend shares that they are overwhelmed with something, offering to look into it and find resources for them could also be a huge help,” said Rachel Goldstein, owner of the New York-based Astoria Doula Collective.

That is particularly true at this moment in time, when everything feels like it is changing by the minute — and many of the plans your friend may have put in place have been upended. What are the most recent COVID-19 policies where your friend lives? What’s the number for a virtual lactation consultant? Do they have to wipe down diaper deliveries? The questions go on and on. Offer to do that kind of research for your friend when possible. 

4. Send care packages and food

A huge challenge for new parents right now is that they’re having to get through the postpartum period almost entirely on their own. Friends and family can’t come over to visit their new little human, cook a meal, or hold the baby so they can sneak in a shower. 

But you can lend a hand from a safe distance. Can you drop off a home-cooked meal without making any kind of contact? Can you send an online gift card to a grocery-delivery service?

“Nourishing the parents is a huge help,” Goldstein said. “Try to find out ahead of time what they are comfortable with and what options are near them.”

Another way to help is to make sure they’ve got plenty of handy postpartum items, like comfortable pajamas, and baby supplies, Goldstein said. New parents can’t necessarily pop out in the middle of the night to get key items right now, so see if there are any basics you can help cover. 

5. Ask open-ended questions

Helping a friend doesn’t need to be complicated. Simply ask how they’re doing, then make it clear you’re really, truly listening to what they have to say.

“Don’t feel the need to cajole someone to feel less negative or to cheerlead by shutting down conversations that turn to the less savory side of new parenthood,” Bergeron said. “Unpacking the range of feelings without having to put on a brave front can be very liberating for parents.”

Now isn’t necessarily the time to regale your friend or with anecdotes from your own pregnancy or postpartum experience. What they’re going through is unprecedented, so simply make space for your friend to share what the experience is like for them.  

Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.


A HuffPost Guide To Coronavirus

Zero Motivation To Work From Home? Here’s How To Get Your Mojo Back

We’re here to guide you through the coronavirus lockdown. Check out HuffPost LIFE for daily tips, advice, how-tos and escapism.

“I feel guilty saying this, but I really can’t be bothered to work right now.”

It’s a sentence I’ve heard multiple times, in various iterations, from friends and family members who are working from home during lockdown.

We know that compared to key workers, we have it easy. We know thousands of employees have been furloughed and are facing job insecurity when they return. We know the self-employed are stressed, and the parents are utterly frazzled.

And yet, we stare at our screens each morning, wondering if we’ll find the motivation to make it through to 5pm. 

It’s totally understandable to feel a little deflated at the prospect of work right now, particularly if you’ve just had four days off over the Easter weekend, says Calli Louis, co-founder of career coaching service Working Wonder. But there are ways to boost your motivation. 

“First off, remember this is a very unique, unusual and stressful working situation that you and everyone else has never experienced before,” she tells HuffPost UK. “Also, it’s highly likely that alongside your day job you are likely to be managing other emotional personal life and family situations, so it’s no wonder you may find it hard to stay motivated, especially when working from home.”

Louis recommends trying to take comfort in the fact that none of us are in this alone. And while you may not be a key worker, remembering that “everyone has a role to play” during this crisis may help, adds James Pacey, co-founder of Haptivate, which runs workshops to boost happiness and productivity in the workplace. 

“At a time like this, work might start to feel a bit silly or pointless. However, seeking out a sense of meaning and purpose in the work you’re doing can help you to stay focussed and feel more satisfied with your contribution,” he says

He recommends grabbing a pen and paper and taking a moment to reflect and answer these questions:

  • How does your job help you to look after the people and things you care about in life? 

  • What relationships at work are important to you? How do these people rely on you and what would be the impact on them if you weren’t there for them?

  • How does your work help your customers or clients?

  • How is your work helping you develop as a person?

  • What other impacts does your work have on others?

“It may feel challenging at first but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. You may be surprised by how long your list grows in just five minutes,” says Pacey.  “Then take this list and put it somewhere visible in our workspace as a reminder when you find yourself asking ‘what’s the point?’” 

Maintaining a routine by getting up, showered and dressed properly each day can also help with motivation, says Louis, as does writing a to-do list at the start of the day. Pacey adds that “stop thinking and start doing” can be a good mantra to remember if you find yourself paralysed in front of your screen. 

“At the moment we’re being bombarded with an enormous amount of information that’s making us feel under threat. This can quickly overwhelm us, triggering our freeze response and paralysing decision-making,” he says. 

“Just jumping in and working on even the simplest of tasks helps to activate the brain’s drive system and curb our stress response. And when you’re able to tick that small task off your list, the brain releases a burst of dopamine that feels pleasurable.” 

Both Louis and Pacey believe “celebrating small wins” is key to keeping momentum up. 

“It helps us to stay positive and reminds us that we are making a difference, however small it may be,” says Pacey. “It might be receiving good feedback, having a productive video meeting or even eating a healthy lunch.”

Recording these wins in a notebook or journal will help you to build on the habit, plus give you something nice to look back on during difficult moments. 

You may not be able to pick or choose what you work on during the day, but you can reframe negative thoughts about your work and performance, says Louis. 

“Many of us shift quickly into thinking about what we aren’t good at, and this can be exacerbated when we are working alone,” she says. “This may sound brutal but no one is good at everything and as soon as you realise this it can actually be really empowering.”

During this difficult period, try to focus your mind towards the parts of your job that you thrive in, Louis adds, then think about how you can become even better at them. “It means that you are immediately focusing on a positive growth mindset and not a negative,” she says. 

While working from home, maintaining your professional network will also help to keep you on track, and thankfully, with video technology at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever before. 

“Now more than ever it’s important to stay in contact and check in with colleagues and other peers,” says Louis. “You can commit to motivating and supporting each other at work and use each other as virtual sounding boards.”

For those feeling guilty about having a lack of motivation, just remember:

“You are not working from home; you are at your home during a crisis trying to work.”

I’ve heard this twice today. I think it’s an important distinction worth emphasising.

— Neil Webb (@neilmwebb) March 31, 2020

Why You Should Take A Day Off, Even If You Have Nowhere To Go

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If you are privileged enough to have a job while millions of other Americans file for unemployment because of the coronavirus pandemic, you may be reluctant to take any time off from work.

I used to think this way. Last month, before the outbreak became an official pandemic, my goal was to push through the stress of my new reality and take a long vacation when this was all over to make up for all my canceled plans. But as that end date has become increasingly uncertain in the U.S., I made the decision this week to take some time off. At first I resisted the idea that I may need a break. I had my evenings, and I had weekends off. Where would I even go? But as my workdays and weekends blurred into one mess of anxiety, I decided I needed a reprieve. 

Maybe you do, too. Professionals in the United States are notoriously bad at taking vacations. Two in three employees reported working while on vacation and only 23% reported taking all of their eligible time off over the past 12 months, according to a 2017 survey by Glassdoor. 

Listen to when your body tells you it needs a break. 

Your body may let you know that you need time off before your mind is ready to acknowledge it. Pay attention to the signs. 

Cynthia Pong, founder of a coaching business that focuses on helping women of color to transition in their careers, noted that red flags include constant fatigue, body aches and tasks taking you longer than they used to, though she acknowledged that there’s some level of distraction happening regardless because we’re focused on the spread of COVID-19. 

“If you have some level of awareness what your normal ranges are, and you feel like things are off from that, I would… take a day off. See if it does help or not,” Pong said. “Probably one day is not even enough. You might need to be making some other changes… It’s about being aware and then adjusting, so that you can take care of yourself.” 

For New York City-based small business owner Pooja Kothari, it took an outsider’s perspective for her to realize she needed a break from her job as an unconscious bias facilitator. 

“My wife and I, we are both now working from home, and we have a 1½-year-old daughter,” Kothari said. “While we did actually have a good schedule, it just wasn’t conducive. I was so stressed at work, like, ‘Oh, my gosh, if I don’t use every moment of these two hours, then I’ve wasted time,’ and then there goes the internal way I value myself.”  

During a FaceTime conversation, someone told Kothari that she was unconsciously grimacing while talking about the work she is usually passionate about. That was when Kothari decided to take a two-week break, and she paid her employee for the time off, too. 

Kothari is grateful for her time off but acknowledged that a lot of professionals don’t have the luxury. “These moments where I can sit back and not worry about how I’m going to hustle is obviously because of my socioeconomic privilege, because my wife has a very stable career,” Kothari said.

If you are able to do so, taking a step back from the daily hustle ― whether it’s a day or a week ― can be a necessary reset for how you approach your job. Busyness is not a badge of honor you need to wear. If you are continuously sacrificing your well-being for your job, you may be exhibiting signs of work martyrdom. Work martyrs put the job first, even at a cost to their mental health and career ambitions.

For professionals who feel guilty about taking time off, licensed social worker Melody Wilding gave me a helpful tip: Reframe rest as recovery.

“Recovery is a much more active, participatory word and better reflects what you’re doing,” she told me for a previous story on work martyrdom. “You’re investing in your future self, you’re investing in your energy, you need that recovery time to recharge your batteries.”

Make your break actually a break. 

To make a break from work actually restful, try moving your digital work temptations out of sight. Pong suggested removing work email from your phone before your vacation starts. If you start your break deleting work apps, “you’re probably going into [the apps], let’s be honest,” Pong said. 

It doesn’t have to be a long vacation for it to matter. There is an extensive body of research showing that even small breaks from work can make a significant difference on your energy and vitality. 

Once you’re on vacation time, it’s OK to be idle. Letting your mind wander can be good for you. University of Central Lancashire researchers explained that daydreaming can spur creativity because “seemingly illogical ideas can be explored… and through this exploration a new or more suitable solution to problems or unresolved situations may be found.” 

Or you can read a book that has nothing to do with the coronavirus, which Kothari said was one of the most fun activities she did during her time off.

“I read [‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage’] by Haruki Murakami,” she said. “I had a really viscerally strong negative reaction to the book, which felt so great to feel something strongly about something that was just a fictional book… I just really enjoyed it. It was separate than the anxiety we’re going through.”

Don’t force yourself to be productive on break. Try making it about what you will. 

When workers in the United States organized for an eight-hour workday back in the 1880s, they called for “eight hours of work, eight hours of rest, eight hours of what we will.”   

In her book “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” artist Jenny Odell noted that she was struck by what these workers associated with ”‘what we will’: rest, thought, flowers, sunshine. These are bodily, human things,” she wrote. “Although leisure or education might be involved, the most humane way to describe that period is to refuse to define it.” 

Doing what you will is a reminder that you don’t need to “make the most” of your time off during a pandemic by being productive. Staying present in the moment is enough. 

See your rest as recovery for the long road ahead. As for me, I’m going to take my daylong reprieve to forget the alarm, sit on the couch, read something not related to the coronavirus, bake a cake and see where the day takes me. My goal for the day is to not make goals. I don’t see this time off as a solution to my anxieties, but I am making space for myself to recover. It’s a start.


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