To say that this strange period of quarantine has been an adjustment is an understatement. It’s more like dealing with a giant, nationwide sucker punch. In the blink of an eye, we are on lockdown. For most of us, we’ve been forced out of our workplaces, our social lives have come to a screeching halt, and our entire existence is now placed at a distance of at least six feet away. Essentially, we are grounded.
The global crisis has settled squarely in our homes and the psychological impact is no joke. We are experiencing a tectonic shift in the way we live, learn, work, and interact. For me, it’s felt like a weight has been attached to my ankle and I find myself sinking more than I’m swimming. And I can see the weariness in the eyes of my colleagues and friends but the explanation of this heaviness is a bit difficult to verbalize. Good days, bad days, stress followed by relief, followed by more stress. As my Dad described it: like ping-pong balls bouncing around the rafters.
But after navigating these strange and often tumultuous seas for the past few weeks, I’ve learned some lessons that might help others in the same boat. Er, scratch that. I mean a similar boat six feet away from mine.
Separate Work Space from Personal Space
During the first two weeks of working from home, I felt like my entire office and all my coworkers, vendors, projects and problems had landed squarely on my dining room table. I couldn’t get away from work. So, I literally moved the furniture around in my home so that my work space was in a defined area that I could walk away from and close the door. I also created a few cozy nooks for reading and writing. The separation helped tremendously.
Walk Until You Feel Better
When feeling frazzled, confused, overwhelmed, or downright frustrated, a walk can do wonders. The trick is to be fully immersed in the motion. Feel your feet in your shoes, count your steps, look at the sky, and breathe deeply. I keep walking until my head is clear and the weight of whatever I’m dealing with has lifted from my shoulders.
Permission to Break the Norms
For the first couple weeks, I tried to stick to the same “norms” I had before and found myself getting frustrated and miserable. So, I lightened up. A walk at midnight? Why not. Chips and salsa for breakfast? Of course. A bath before dinner? Sounds great. And on the weekends, a glass of wine and a good book at 2 pm, a nap in the afternoon, a martini with lunch… all good. Whatever my mind and body need at that exact moment, I indulge if I can. Additionally? No emails after 5 pm or on the weekend to my team. They need the space to rebound without pressure from me.
Create New Routines
I found there were slight changes I could make to my daily routines that helped balance the day and offered the transition times that we no longer have available. (Example: the daily commute, the walk to a meeting, the social time in the breakroom.) Taking a shower at night gave me a more time in the morning for yoga and meditation. Washing the dishes by hand offered a few moments of zen. And keeping things picked up and organized helped me maintain a clear head.
Recognize Peaks and Valleys
Life is a roller-coaster in general but in quarantine, it can feel like a lot more intense. Recognizing the peaks and valleys can help with mental balancing. When feeling great or on a high, knowing that the valley is coming can help reduce the psychological impact of the inevitable crash. Alternatively, when feeling low, knowing that a peak is just around the corner can help in getting through the rough patches.
List Ten Things
I was advised to “count my blessings” and remember the things for which I’m grateful. But I think it’s just as helpful to list the things that are irritating and aggravating to blow off a little steam. I started with the 10 things that I despise about this whole situation like where the heck is all the toilet paper and the depressing news of more and more confirmed cases. Then I started my gratitude list such as my job and financial security, the fact that I’m not sick, letters and postcards, and my family and friends.
Balance the Screen Time
It’s funny that when we previously harped on screen time, it was related to our phone apps and social media. But now that our lives have changed so drastically, the computer screen time is a real issue. The other day I realized that I had been glued to my computer for over nine hours straight. Literally, back to back virtual meetings from 8:30 am to after 6 pm. That’s not healthy. It’s vital that we pull ourselves away. Walks, long drives, reading, writing, painting, even talking on the phone, not a Facetime or Zoom, will be a helpful way to wind down.
Essentially, working through a quarantine takes creativity and a constant evaluation of mental and physical health. There is no more important time than now to practice self-care. Recognize the triggers such as restless nights, irritable moods, pains in the neck, shoulders, or back. Take the time to evaluate and try out a number of tactics to relieve the stress and pressure. Everyone is going to need something a little different to get through this.
Be kind to yourselves and to those you love. Get some fresh air. Stay hydrated. Take vitamins. And know that we’ll make it through together.