In the midst of a global health crisis, we've been thrust into new ways of working, studying, teaching, communicating, socializing and everything else virtually overnight.
Now our feeds are debates about the efficacy of face masks (is that still a debate?) and tutorials on how to make them at home, videos showing how germs spread and effective hand washing to the tune of ‘happy birthday' (wow, even that feels super old now), while terms like ‘social distancing' and acronyms like WFH (working from home) are now commonly used and understood. I'll admit, I keep reading that last one as WTF. But that's probably a better description of what's going on with the world anyway.
All this is to say is, we are experiencing an incredible shift in our work, education and social relations due to this global pandemic. Yet despite being reminded of what is happening “out there”, in our communities and hospitals, and to people we know and love and strangers alike, we've actually forgotten something very important.
Our days may look or feel (very) different to before, but we've not given due consideration to a huge caveat, even though it is the ‘why' behind it all. That is, we've forgotten that we're trying to do all of this – work, study, teach, look after children and others – during a freakin' global pandemic.
If we are to successfully navigate the mental, emotional and physical stress of this, we need to understand that this is not business as usual simply in a new environment or with a few adaptations for Zoom.
This is a crisis
We need to stop thinking that we are simply “Working from home”.
“We are not “Working from Home,” we are “At home, during a crisis, trying to work.”Elsevier UK
This is the first principle from Elsevier‘s COVID-19 Principles that they are using to guide their workforce during this time. Here is a company who is truly getting it.
Let that line sink in a little bit. And then apply it to anything else you are trying to do at the moment.
You are not “Home-schooling,” you are “At home, during a crisis, trying to guide your kids through a curriculum.”
You are not “Learning a new hobby,” you are “At home, during a crisis, trying to cope with isolation by filling time with developing a new skill.”
If you are an essential worker, you are not simply “Continuing to go to work,” you are “Going to a workplace, during a crisis, trying to carry out your duties to the best of your ability.”
See how our viewpoint shifts when we name what the actual situation is?
We're at reduced capacity
My life coach came up with a brilliant analogy for the kind of brain fog, physical and mental lethargy, and general overwhelm that many of us are feeling right now.
She describes it as one of those apps that is running on our phones in the background, constantly draining battery power and resources without us even realizing it. It's only when we are constantly needing to charge or our data is depleted, that we check our settings to find this random app (and it always seems to be one we don't even use, doesn't it?) is actually making up 50% of our data usage.
She calls it the ‘wt FIGO' (what the f@&% is going on) app and it's constantly there running in the background. “You're running on 50% right now,” she said. When I heard those words relayed on a call earlier in the month, it shifted something profound in me and the stress eased almost instantaneously.
Suddenly, I didn't feel guilty for not getting through my massive to-do list for the day. Instead, I felt really good about getting three things done, even if they weren't the hugest of tasks. Because I recognized that doing anything at all is a lot harder at 50%.
Read her full post about Corona Exhaustion here.
Getting through this quarantine with our physical and mental health in tact should be the priority of all of us right now.
Doing even everyday tasks during a public health crisis that is concerning for all of us is hard. Perhaps you're doing all of this with kids at home who are usually at school during the day, and you're suddenly managing everything from math to arts and the new online learning system the school is implementing, while trying to stay sane in the process. Perhaps you're doing all of this with a job and your newly created Zoom account, and in your fifth online meeting for the day.
We cannot expect the same principles that applied before to apply now. We simply can't. It doesn't and won't work. And if your employer is expecting it to or if your kids' school is sending hours and hours' worth of homework to be completed each and every day, they aren't getting what is at stake here either.
The health crisis at home
We may be fully aware and supportive of the public health reasons we are staying at home (because that is so very paramount in the midst of the current crisis), but we also need to take heed of the impact on our personal health because of it.
There's this odd pressure that is circulating online. The millions of articles on how to be the most “productive” right now, all the new hobbies you should be trying, and these constant displays of toxic positivity that get thrown about on social media.
Telling someone to just “be positive” or assigning their anxiety to the fact they just haven't baked cookies to feel #blessed or #grateful, shows a lack of understanding about how anxiety, depression and other illnesses and conditions affect and weigh on one's capacity to cope.
This is a crisis that is affecting people in a multitude of ways, and it doesn't affect us equally. Something that may not affect me, may affect you, and vice versa. Maybe my 50% looks a lot different to your 50%. Perhaps you were already starting at 50% (or less) because of systemic racism, wage inequality or domestic violence, and the pandemic has just reduced your capacity further.
Maybe you live alone and are acutely feeling the effects of complete physical isolation.
Maybe your child(ren) are home from school and you don't get a break from your role as carer, and now you're also having to explain subjects you haven't studied in a couple of decades or perhaps never studied at all.
Maybe you're now trying to work at home and having to adjust everything you do to on online environment without access to all the things you'd usually have at the office.
Maybe your partner is also at home trying to do the same, and you don't have enough space or bandwidth to work effectively at the same time.
Maybe you and/or your partner are trying to work at home while your kids are also trying to study at home. Now you really don't have enough working spaces and your internet is at a standstill. Hey, maybe you don't have internet access or a laptop or a proper desk at all.
Maybe you or someone you live with is an essential worker and you're constantly worried about getting sick and spreading it to the people you love.
Maybe you care for someone outside your home and are taking on extra duties (and exposure risks) to get them what they need amid supermarket shortages and shop closures.
Or maybe your home environment isn't safe or loving or comfortable.
This is a lot. It's a lot anytime. But it's even more of a lot when you're trying to function in a crisis. When you are already running at 50% and the help and support that might usually be available is also running at reduced capacity or is perhaps non-existent at this time.
Use this time to do what you can
Some people are finding themselves with more time on their hands than before, others far less, others are continuing their work schedule outside the home as an essential worker. But it would be remiss not to acknowledge that the environment in which all this is happening has changed. For some people very significantly. The challenges are different. They may also be more intense.
Having the capacity to think about “self-improvement” is a privilege and not one that is afforded to everyone, nor are many people able to operate completely unaffected by any aspect of this crisis. Please keep that in mind when interacting with your family, friends, co-workers and strangers who might be finding things especially hard right now.
So when it comes to making the “best use of our quarantine time,” I'd say this. If you can use this time to plan, create, learn, and work on things that you've always wanted to do, that's great. But if you don't have the physical or mental capacity for that at the moment, that's fine too.
We can still be hopeful and positive while recognizing that we are running at a limited capacity right now. It's not “giving up” or “just not looking at things with the right attitude” to not be up to something. It's OK to concentrate our efforts on just getting through this, and not at some grander picture. All those other things, those future plans and goals, we'll get to them. They can wait. It's not useful to beat ourselves up for what we are not doing. Or to put others down for it either. Let's be kind to ourselves and others and recognize that these are extraordinary times.
Safeguard your physical and mental health. Take a break, take a nap, stretch, exercise, make a cup of tea, read a book, call a friend, get dressed, do your hair, take a shower, open your curtains. Have a good cry if you need to. Forget about trying to stick to some strict home-schooling schedule. Play with your kids, read a story together, talk to them, hug them.
This too shall pass, but let's not get to the end of this having used up our precious f**ks flinging our energies at systems and ways of thinking that just don't apply right now. Rather than stubbornly clinging to the same old work or study schedules and principles, let's re-evaluate what's important during a crisis.
Chances are when we come out the other side of this, that time you spent pressuring yourself or wrangling with your partner or kids to do things like they “were before” won't have achieved anything other than unnecessary anxiety. Things are different and that's exactly why we need to be kind to ourselves and others, and act like we are in the unprecedented times we are living in.
The full list of Elsevier's COVID-19 Principles:
1. You are not “Working from Home,” you are “At your home, during a crisis, trying to work.”
2. Your personal physical, mental and emotional health is far more important than anything else right now.
3. You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
4. You will be kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
5. You will be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.
6. Your team's success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.*
*'Covid-19 Principles,' Elsevier UK.
What does this time look like for you?
Images via Unsplash