So, I'm currently irritated by other homeschool parents. Which ones? Don’t worry – I have a list.
I’m irritated by:
• The homeschool parents that are doing ALL THE WORK, breezily and happily like homeschool is their life calling
• The homeschool parents doing NO WORK. How can they let their children just “fall behind” like that?!
• The homeschool parents that are on WhatsApp ALL DAY – ping, ping, ping, ping go the notifications – asking questions about where to find the art project or who else thinks Mrs S is setting unreasonable amounts of SPAG
• The homeschool parents that are NEVER on WhatsApp. What are they DOING? What are they THINKING? Why are they so QUIET?
You see, there are no specifics here. I’m calling it: we’ve reached the irritation phase of this pandemic.
Irritability is a key part of being anxious and if you are feeling grumpy and like no-one is doing anything right around you – even if around you is currently away from you – you are not alone.
There’s a reason that “fight” is part of the fight/flight reaction. When the brain is exposed to ongoing stress or anxiety minus physical stress, it’s a natural reaction for the brain to revert to using its “primitive” regions rather than the more sophisticated parts that have developed through evolution and help us rationalise peer behavior.
The result? The brain fires up an emotional response which can most often be anger or irritability.
The good news is that this is actually a response that the brain uses to calm itself. I know, it didn’t make sense to me when I first read that either. Irritating!
Psychologist and author Kathleen Smith explained to Medium.com: “At first thought, conflict doesn’t seem like a great strategy for calming you down,” she said. “But it’s actually quite adaptive. If I’m convinced that the other person is annoying, or wrong, and needs to alter their behaviour, then I’m not the problem. For better or worse, we blame or focus on others’ perceived flaws as a way of calming ourselves down.”
Apart from justifying the irrational dismissal of multiple types of perfectly pleasant and hard working parents on my timeline, understanding a little bit of a neuroscience behind being irritated has helped me buffer some of the emotional shrapnel that seems to fly at me daily from my sixteen-year-old.
Disconnected from his school routine and friends, and with no clear idea of when lockdown might ease off, he’s bound to be feeling anxious. Remembering that a normal caveman-style response is to be irritated by others, may help you shield yourself from getting upset by your teenage son or daughter’s constant irritability.
I’m guessing you don’t need another person telling you to eat well, get enough sleep and feel your feelings to stop you being overwhelmed by lockdown.
But accepting that there is a reason why you feel like a weird coronavirus combination of Cruella de Vil and Verucca Salt – devilishly immature – is a good start, and giving people the Benefit of the Doubt is a healthy way to handle irritation.
In other words, become a BOD bod.
Most people have similar feelings of worry and irritation rampaging through their brains and are not necessarily living their best lockdown life. None of us are at our tolerant best.
So – hopefully this isn’t as irritating as it may sound – but taking a step back and practicing kindness can be a good solution. Do this in two ways:
1. Be kind to yourself by not taking things so personally, letting go of grudges and forgetting the idea that you have to prove anything about yourself
2. Be kind to others by giving them the Benefit of the Doubt and showing compassion. Clinical studies have shown that setting compassionate goals – ones that think about the well-being of others – can lift your mood and help anxiety.
My favourite read of the week came from the Australian online magazine Hack. The title caught my eye while I was searching the internet for an advanced guided meditation.
The second bit of that sentence is not true. I was just checking your irritation levels.
I was actually aimlessly scrolling late at night in bed – fully knowing that I was already getting nowhere near the required hours of sleep to function properly the next day – when I saw this headline:
This is what the article said:
In studies of people isolated in submarines, space stations or polar bunkers, researchers have found there appears to be an inflection point where the frustration and hardship of being cooped up inside gets suddenly harder to bear.
According to the clinical psychologist who assesses the mental health of research scientists in Antarctica, we're entering this phase now.
Dr Kimberley Norris, an authority on confinement and reintegration at University of Tasmania, said that we have broadly been through two periods of isolation: an initial point where there was panic buying and confusion, and then a "honeymoon period" when it felt novel and different to stay at home.
"For a little while people were saying how they were loving working in pajamas, and not having to battle morning traffic," she said.
That phase — which we can call the sourdough starter moment, or the time when we all downloaded Houseparty — is passing.
"People are now saying they're feeling really lonely," Dr Norris said.
The article went on to explain that the discovery of the third-quarter phenonmenon came in the early 1980s when studies set out to determine how long humans could survive in space. They found that typically mood and morale reach their lowest point somewhere between the one-half and two-thirds point of the space mission.
So, here we are. Irritated. But perhaps seeing the light at the end of the weirdest mission for a generation.