Does any of this sound familiar?
Take advantage of this time at home!
Remember, Shakespeare wrote King Lear during the plague!
Setting aside the fact that the Shakespeare comparison is wildly unfair (least because he was, you know, Shakespeare), the truth is, times of crisis are not ideal for putting extra pressure on yourself. While this seems to be (and in some ways is) a prime opportunity to self-reflect, help others, and finish off some of those waylaid projects, there is a middle ground between the Tasmanian devil tornado of productivity and couch potato-hood.
If you’re feeling overworked, overwhelmed, or overly worried, look yourself in the selfie cam and recite these three mantras to keep a sound mind and body during coronavirus quarantine.
Mantra #1: “It’s OK if I’m not productive right now.”
Panic-buying, that frenzied hoarding that has led to aggressive shopping behavior and shortages of necessities across the globe, is something we have all sadly grown familiar with these past months. But panic-working, as INSEAD associate professor of organizational behavior Gianpiero Petriglieri calls it, is also something we need to keep an eye on.
The urge to run ourselves ragged during times of stress is a manic defense mechanism that kicks in as we grope for a sense of control. But pushing to get as much done in a day as we possibly can won’t bring the comfort we’re seeking. In fact, it’s far more likely to have a detrimental impact on our true ability to cope—not to mention on our relationships, which are more important now than ever.
Think about it: have you ever heard someone complain about (or personally had to deal with) a manager pushing too hard in the single-minded pursuit of a target? That type of panic-working damages team trust and productivity. The same thing can happen when we push ourselves too hard at home.
Give yourself permission to sit down and do nothing for a while, to wait to answer an email until Monday, or to leave a few dirty dishes in the sink. If you find yourself itching to go from activity to activity, here’s your first mantra:
“It’s OK if I’m not productive right now.”
Mantra #2: “I can be present in this new reality.”
Even the toughest lockdowns are allowing people to go out for supplies. Others are merely enforcing curfews or closing offices. But under these conditions, assuming you follow the now common-sense distancing advice, the journey to the supermarket doesn’t have to be a rushed in-an-out hyperactivity. Rather, it can be an opportunity for a reset mindset.
If you walk to the grocery store, look up from the sidewalk. Take in the world around you. We may never see our neighborhoods or city streets this empty again. Take a moment to consider what’s changed beyond the absence of people. Venice, famously, is seeing a transformation of its canals and streets. China, South Korea, Italy, and other countries are enjoying drastic improvements in air quality thanks to reduced traffic.
What’s changed in your neighborhood? Are there more birds? More flowers (probably—spring is here, in spite of everything)? Is it quieter? Is the air cleaner?
Anything you might like to continue seeing after this is over?
Your next mantra:
“I can be present in this new reality.”
Mantra #3: “I may not bounce back, but I can bounce forward.”
In recent years, psychologists have expanded the study of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and begun researching another outcome of trauma: post-traumatic growth (PTG). Just like PTSD, PTG can come out of any tragedy, from illness to loss, accidents to divorce.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and best-selling author of Lean In, experienced PTG firsthand with the tragic loss of her husband. “Post-traumatic growth actually affects more people by a lot than post-traumatic stress,” she says. “What it means is that there’s an aspect of your life that’s better because of the trauma you faced.”
To be clear, PTG isn’t about valuing trauma or being glad that bad things happened. It’s about finding new quality of life after the storm passes. People who experience PTG find ways to appreciate their survival and achieve new awareness in the aftermath—awareness of themselves, their loved ones, their purpose, their limitations, and their strengths.
Dr. Steve Taylor writes in Scientific American that his ten years of research have examined PTG’s eventual evolution into post-traumatic transformation. “After a period of intense suffering,” he says, “a person may undergo a sudden shift of identity … All of a sudden, they [experience] heightened sensory awareness, an increased sense of compassion and connection, and new values or goals.”
Many of us could agree that our society could use some of those things.
We cannot avoid the trauma of coronavirus—we’re already suffering it. But if each of us reaches the transformation stage, we could come out the other side with a deeper sense of connection to ourselves and each other.
For our final mantra, we’ll paraphrase Sandberg:
“I may not bounce back, but I can bounce forward.”