Early 2020 will probably go down in the history books as a challenging time for many people across the world. In Australia (where I live), the extreme bush-fire season was barely over when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. I have consciously refrained from commenting on the conversations about this on social media, because I believe it best to follow the advice from experts (such as epidemiologists, the World Health organisation, etc.). That being said, I am an expert on wellbeing (BSc, MSc, MSc, and PhD), so I would like to share some advice on how to take care of your wellbeing. This advice is based on some of the core principles of acceptance and commitment therapy.
Accept that things are difficult, and forgive yourself for not feeling your best at the moment
Many circus artists are currently unemployed, performances are cancelled and circus schools have closed down. The financial stress on most artists and circus organisations is substantial. Coaches, performers, and schools are competing to sell online courses to keep their heads above water. Some artists are still able to train while others may feel like they are falling behind because they do not have equipment or facilities readily available. There will be people stuck in a country away from their loved ones, worrying about the health of those they care about. There are circus artists who thrive on human contact and touch, and who feel down being deprived from this sensory input. Whatever your situation is, know that your feelings are valid. For example, just because you may have no money worries right now, this doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to feel upset.
There is no benefit to competing when it comes to pain, and providing unhelpful comments such as ‘well I spoke to circus artists X and they are much worse of than you’. Following a core principle of acceptance and commitment therapy, accepting that you cannot do much to change the current situation, instead of fighting the unchangeable is a beneficial step to start to improve your wellbeing. Yes the current situation is stressful, and you may feel worried, anxious, or hurt. That’s okay.
Reflect on your values. What do you find important?
Then take the opportunity to think about the things in your life that are important to you. Circus may be one of them (or not, that’s fine too!). Other things on this list could be your friendships, family, personal development (mental and or physical), spirituality, your culture, being creative, being kind, being serious, being funny, the list goes on. I encourage you to reflect on what you find important. Personally, I’m big on list making, so I would say, why not brainstorm, write it down, leave it for an hour or so, then go back to it and see if anything is missing.
Take action: find a project that interests you, and go do it
You may not be able to change the situation, but there are many things you still have control over. And one of these things is what you decide to spend your time on. I highly recommend everybody to find a project that interests them. This will allow for opportunities of mindfulness, where your attention is completely focused on the present moment. For many circus artists, circus may be their vehicle for experiencing mindfulness, so you may wonder what you can do achieve this. Well, I would recommend you to find a non-circus related project (gasp!), that aligns with your own values. Why? Because you are more than a circus artist. You are a whole person, and circus is a thing you do, an important thing you do, that can be a big part of you. But there is more to you. And those other parts of you are worthwhile and important too. I challenge you to nurture those other parts of yourself, not only because it will help your wellbeing right now, but also because evidence shows it will help protect your wellbeing in the future. So what could these things be? A few examples:
- Lets say you value your relationships with others, and are interested in learning a new language. Well, let’s start studying! Download an app, do a few practice sessions, and then be bold… Call that (circus) buddy of yours that speaks that language and attempt to strike up a conversation with them in their native tongue (giggles guaranteed!).
- Perhaps you are big on personal development, and keen on being a source of accurate information. Maybe you’ve always been interested in psychology (you are reading this blog), exercise science, chemistry… Why not start learning more about it. There a many reputable sources online, some universities have youtube channels where you can follow brief lectures for example.
- Perhaps creativity is important to you, as well as bringing joy to others. Maybe you love stage-make up and want to have a bit of fun with your family doing make-up together. Perhaps you love baking cakes, and want to share one with a housemate, your neighbour, that elderly person down the road that has been locked in their house for a while.
The sky is the limit. Learn how to sew, refurbish old furniture, show off your dog-training skills by teaching your pup to ride a skateboard (I want to see videos of this, including bloopers). Create a personalised video to surprise that friend or family member who is far away… The best projects for your well-being are linked to your personal values.
And finally, take care of yourself by maintaining physical distance from others, but reach out to mentally support each-other
Take initiative. Be there for the people you care about. Truly listen to their stories, how they are managing these uncertain times. No need to solve their problems, listening alone is very powerful. Let them know you are there, and you can always ask if there is something you can do for them. So set up that video call, surprise someone by sending a postcard (you can even create them online, and have them posted), play games together from a distance (houseparty is an app I enjoy; it has pictionary, my favourite game), exercise together from a distance. Physical distance doesn’t have to mean social disconnection.