It’s Friday again and the back of my legs hurt. No, not because I am swole from hitting my home gym hard, but because I have been sitting in my office chair for what I think is commonly referred to by the cool kids as “4eva”.
What began as fun Zoom Happy Hours has turned into dread as Toni continues to struggle with how to admit people from the Zoom waiting room into the actual meeting. TONI WHY IS THIS SO HARD? And with the unfortunate fact that COVID infection rates are rising in dozens of states, it is unlikely that we’re going to be out of this remote ‘work’ thing anytime soon.
Bummed out yet? Don’t be – we as a society will get through this, even if some of our livers are worse for wear by the end (and that is probably the best case scenario given all the work our front-line workers are doing to keep the country moving).
For people of action, it’s a strange thing to be told to basically “do nothing” to help stop this calamity. I’m used to being a problem solver, not sheltering in place, wearing a mask, and washing my hands as the world’s best scientists race for a solve. But that is what most of us can do and that can be at odds with feeling productive, fulfilled and happy.
We spoke to a couple of psychologists to ask how they recommend staying connected, engaged and sane while we endure what is likely to be a dark winter:
- Find your flow: When you can’t control much, it’s important to focus on what you CAN control. To that end, making progress on what you want to get done is paramount, which means limiting distractions and “finding your flow”. Getting into flow-state enables you to check things off your list and create that feeling of forward movement – which when we’re all stuck in a limbo state, has profound psychological effects.
- 2 minutes every 2 hours: According to a meta-study published this month in Transitional Sports Medicine, just doing two minutes of aerobic exercise has dramatic effects on attention, concentration, learning and memory functions for up to two hours! Imagine, jump rope for 120 seconds, get a brain boost for 120 minutes!
- Build meaningful connections: Our favorite studies from Harvard and Tufts demonstrate that human social connection is a key factor in combating depression and isolation. No, casual work talk doesn’t count. Take the time to reengage with someone with whom you are both joyful and vulnerable. Find a supportive online community (can we recommend Jetson’s!) where you can engage in real dialogue, not silly 280 character missives. Learn something about yourself by engaging with others in authentic ways: Niki and Kristina from Jetson’s Community have found common ground over their Hashimoto’s.
- Create spaces for different types of work: When possible, try and segment your work by physical location. Not everyone has a house or multi-room apartment, but as much as possible, psychologists say defining “no-work” zones in your abode is key to mental survival right now. Just like your devices, you should not be taking work into bed (bed is for snuggles, sleep and sex, not Slack). You should also try not to work where you eat. If you can’t create physical spaces, create time-bound spaces so it’s work from 7-4 at the dining room table, but at 4 you transition it to virtual poker night.
- Shift the schedule on your days off: Really focus on creating a routine for your work times, but a vastly different routine for those times you aren’t working. For those with weekends, ensure the first thing you do on Saturday is NOT CHECK MAIL. Instead, get up, get outside, listen to a podcast, call a friend, walk the dog – whatever. The point is, according to psychologists, to break the work week habits so it’s clear that you are in a different mode – and not just working for the 49th day in a row. So many arts organizations are shifting to online shows – I personally love streaming the Met Opera, but I also took a briefcase to school at age 7, so you know, to each their own.
- Reduce your news consumption: We can’t stress this one enough even though we are terrible at it. A great UCDavis study years ago demonstrated that reducing your intake of news tends to predispose you to less negative thoughts in general. Remember, the news is designed to get your attention – no one reads that “nothing out of the ordinary happened today” or “your daughter, again, went to school and learned something today.” The news HAS to report things that grab you, which generally means things OUT of the ordinary (like a bridge collapse) which then, because we’re messy creatures, causes us to over-index on thinking negative events are happening everywhere. Which just isn’t true. So put down Twitter, Apple News, and Insta. Trust me, you will still be informed – if something really big happens, you can’t escape it.