Doesn’t it feel like we’ve lived lifetimes in just a matter of weeks?
Well just for fun, let’s think back to not so long ago (like last week) when you were up to your eyeballs in To Do Lists: work projects, home projects, kids to pick up and deliver to after-school hobbies, groceries to get, loved ones to care for, chores to do and relationships to try to maintain on top of taking care of your SELF. Those were dizzying times but THAT was our normal.
This is different.
This is shock and awe. This is fear and knee-jerk reactions. This. Is. Survival.
That? Was busyness for the sake of looking ‘productive.’ That was how our society has always functioned to maintain its economic and social health.
Influenced by capitalism’s obsession with productivity and profit goals, our jobs made us feel that everything was urgent and had to be done yesterday. We were expected to hold work’s objectives above all of our own. All of us struggled to fit our lives into the space between getting to work and school where we could all be ‘productive’ to varying degrees of success. It was never easy. The more people you took care of or the more pots you had your fingers in left you sacrificing your mental health to fit it all in around that 12-hour chunk of your day devoted to getting to work and doing your job well-enough to earn a living.
That shit was insanity, people!
In comparison to the palpable fear and anxiety you see and hear from every person you see, it might not seem like our predictable little lives drove us insane.
But when you think of how little time you had for the REAL things that matter when it comes to being alive, it makes you wonder what ‘In Life Before Coronavirus’ was so goddamn urgent in comparison to the way this week feels.
If you’re fortunate enough to be asked to work from home, the difference now is that time is finally as flexible as our lifestyles have become. It’s more acceptable to shift active hours around than it was in the old paradigm where social obligations and old-fashioned bosses dinged you for daring to show up late because, god forbid LIFE happened on your way to work. Being given the opportunity to experience this kind of freedom is the silver lining of this pandemic.
Adjusting to life during this pandemic is maddening because of the uncertainty coming at us from literally every direction. Very few people are comfortable with uncertainty. Especially when forced upon them at the expense of the world as we knew it.
On a macro (but most importantly micro level because it’s more acutely relevant to our sense of purpose), we’ve lost the sense of control we realize we valued so much to curate our lives to our liking. We feel like we’re no longer in control of our day, our week ahead, our month, our futures. To a degree, I’m sorry to say that this is true. There’s only so much we can do.
We cannot know if we or someone we love will suffer or die from this pandemic and we cannot know how this is going to further alter the interconnected world economy. That’s the worst part.
What we can control is how we choose to view the day-to-day experience of coping with our new reality. If this is going to be our new normal for the rest of the year? You’re better off embracing the hidden gems of this experience in the context of what you were once too busy to have access to. If you can look at it from that perspective, your gratitude for these once elusive things will pull you through this, I promise.
Come with me as we look at the upside of the downturn:
- Upside #1: You can get more regular sleep: Suddenly, we have time to ourselves in the morning before work. You know what that means? Extra sleep! Remember sleep?! It’s this elusive thing that you never get enough of when you become an adult and have to juggle conflicting responsibilities. This scary time is actually such a gift because we can get more sleep without having to rush around to get ourselves and everyone else ready in the mornings before rushing out of the house to be productive. If you work at 9am, set the alarm for 8:30am for the first few weeks to reset your body as if you were on vacation. You’re going to need extra rest. Once you feel recharged, proceed to the next opportunity.
- Upside #2: You have the chance to build a routine centered around your needs, not your job: If you’re too anxious to sleep in right now (understandable), whether you live alone or with others, just the loss of a daily commute and morning prep time means you suddenly have more time to build a new morning routine that reflects your values. When I started working remotely for the first time 6 months ago, the second thing I did after sleeping in for 2 weeks was to work on building a new morning routine. I went to bed earlier because I was excited to wake up to do yoga and meditate, write, make a healthy breakfast and go for a 20-minute walk, things I tried to implement when I was commuting but failed to maintain for too long out of exhaustion. I did these religiously. After 3 weeks it became habitual. After 3 months and now 6, it’s a natural routine, one I was always angry I couldn’t maintain when I was commuting 4 hours to work each day (seriously 4 hours a day!) Even during this unprecedented time I’m keeping to my routine and it’s instrumental in keeping me upbeat and grounded. Think about what you never had time to do before and do THAT. (Even if that means whippin’ out your high school trumpet and you live in a middle apartment.)
- Upside #3: You have no excuse not to catch up with friends and family now: In ‘Life Before Coronavirus’ my 2020 New Year’s Resolution was to: “Keep in better touch with loved ones.” Check! Now my smartphone is used as an actual phone that I use to call everyone that I love to see how they’re handling ‘Life During Coronavirus.’ (While I was writing this a friend I was thinking about while writing this called me!) Use break times ‘at work’ for checking in on grandparents or with those you’re living with. Schedule ‘Tea Time’ or ‘Coffee Break’ with family/housemates or virtually with friends via video chat. It will feel almost as good as hanging out pre-social distancing as long as the conversation is good and you can make each other laugh.
- Upside #4: You control your schedule: Employers are going to be more understanding in this crisis when it comes to flexible hours, especially for parents with children at home. Without school or childcare, children will be a major distraction. Depending on their ages, they may not be understanding of your work schedule when they see you hunched over a desk in the living room or at the kitchen table. Make your employer understand your new reality by offering to serve their needs at more convenient intervals for you throughout the day. Then make sure you deliver a good project by the due date or earlier. This might mean working overnight. Get it done and be there for your kids during the day so your spouse can work the day shift at the kitchen table. This may not always be possible depending on what you do, but more likely than not your employer was perfectly fine with living in the paper age and just never knew there was another and better way to get the work done.
- Upside #5: You can harness your former commute times to learn a new skill or finally get to to starting that dream project: Want to learn Photoshop? Been meaning to build a chicken coop? Have youalways wanted to speak another language? There’s no better time to start these projects than now because you literally have nothing else to do. These platforms are offering free or reduced access to their courses, so take advantage of that. You can totally learn a language virtually, despite what you might think. I did. Just choose your preferred method of learning and practice 30–60 minutes a day. Put in 480 hours over the next few months and you’ll be fluent!
- The Radio Lingua Network (Scroll to the footer and choose the language you wish to learn
- Verbling (video chat with qualified tutors)
- FluentU (videos with interactive subtitled learning)
- DuoLingo Podcasts for French and Spanish
Upside #6: You can exercise during the day instead of squeezing it in (which never seems to work, let’s face it): Your gym might be offering online classes so take one in your living room. Invite a gym buddy to watch the same video or join you via video chat to hold you accountable. If no one thinks that’s cool (that’s fine, some folks aren’t feeling motivated) take a walk or a bike ride someplace new but keep your distance from people. Set a calendar reminder to do this at the same time each day if possible. Being cooped up all day for months on end might drive you nuts if you don’t move. You’ll also really benefit from rekindling your relationship with nature. Try to do it without headphones so you can tune in to nature, (which isn’t freaking out like we humanoids are).
As days turn into weeks you’ll find more of these simple pleasures that were totally impossible just weeks ago. Actually give thanks for them. It will be hard to give them up once you’ve tasted the freedom of remote work.
Despite this stressful time, there is a definite shift in possibilities happening here. It’s happening within each of us, within our nations and around the globe. We all have something in common now, even if we don’t speak the same language. We’ll have stories to tell each other for years about how we survived and came out stronger, more rested and better educated when this all shakes out into what it will.
There will even come a time when we look back on our experience of mass quarantining with a bittersweet fondness for the way it broke us open and left us with lasting positive change in our lives.