Permission to let go of the pressure to be productive during this pandemic.
We’re in the murky midst of a global health crisis, grappling to navigate an uncertain situation and chaotic changes to our world that most of us have never experienced before. Yet, adding to the cocktail of emotions this situation has served up, many of us may be feeling the weight of another pervasive pressure – productivity.
As we take refuge in our homes and dive deeper into our virtual worlds to fill physical voids, amongst all the anxiety-inducing news, we’re confronted with a deluge of productivity propaganda. Social media showers us with suggestions for all the things we could be doing with the alleged extra time we have on our hands as a result of this novel concept of self-isolation. Piling on the pressure, we may be feeling like we should “make the most of this” enforced time alone by being our best and most productive selves.
It’s a self-development smorgasbord out there. Join this live online workshop! Do this home workout. Practice yoga. Entertain your kids in educational and enlightening ways. Bake banana bread and sourdough. Clean out your closet and redecorate your home! Learn a new skill. Read all the books you haven’t had time to read before. Start a blog or develop your website. And make sure to video call all your family and friends.
The message is loud and clear: Improve something. Achieve something. Do something.
Perspective, people. As I’ve heard it so eloquently expressed – we’re in a pandemic, not a productivity competition!
Of course, if these activities bring you joy, entertainment and respite then by all means, dive in. But if you’re stressing over filling your time to “keep up” and “measure up” but feel like you’re falling short – then you can let that go.
While we’re expending time and fragile energy trying to adjust our entire lives to a new normal, the last thing we need is the additional feeling of guilt that we’re not doing and being enough, on top of all of our other emotions. Simply living through this tumultuous time can be physically, mentally and emotionally taxing enough.
Maybe it consumes all of your energy just to get through the day – navigating the supermarket; practicing good hygiene; looking after your health and the health of those around you; home schooling and entertaining kids; catering for your household; preserving the peace with your isolation partners; feeding yourself and maintaining a semblance of wellbeing. Maybe after all that, you don’t have the physical or mental energy to do much more.
For those working from home (WFH), swapping the office for the dining table desk is not a like-for-like situation. WFH can come with children crawling all over you, domestic distractions and unintended interruptions. This requires more mental bandwidth to compute these new dynamics, placing a high demand on brain power which can result in mental fatigue and trouble concentrating.
Even if you’re not working, more time spent sitting at home can be exhausting in itself. You may have less sunshine exposure, movement, physical and social interaction in your day; and more screen time, strain on relationship dynamics and family demanding your time and attention.
Chances are that you might feel things you can’t even explain. Cancelled plans; big life questions coming to the surface; out of stock of staples at the supermarket – these can all get under your skin. Emotions are intensified right now, and you may lack focus, clarity, energy and motivation, instead feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, sleepless and angry.
This is a collective trauma experience and we’re all in it together (just 1.5 metres apart). You’re not only embodying your own feelings, emotions and experiences, but those of the global collective. If you subscribe to the notion of a collective consciousness, then we’re all feeling and processing this event together, even if you’re not aware that you are. And that can be tough.
We’re in a position of privilege to even be able to put the pressure of productivity on ourselves. Privilege in that we have the means to continue to curate our lives from the comfort of our homes, while some people are simply trying to figure out how to get through this trying time – by surviving, rather than thriving.
Some people are sick, supporting others who are sick, or grieving for the loss of loved ones. Some people are out of work and struggling to make ends meet. Some are suffering with mental health illness triggered from fearful circumstances and social isolation. We need to be sensitive and compassionate and remember that we’re not all experiencing the same individual circumstances in this situation.
For some people, busying themselves through productivity can also be a way of coping with – or escaping from – difficult emotions such as anxiety. Whilst this approach may be therapeutic to an extent, it can also be maladaptive in excess. It can be healthy to give yourself a distraction from your thoughts or the news from time-to-time, but it’s also important to give yourself space to experience your feelings, rather than filling that gap with another task or achievement.
On the other end of the scale, apathy can also be crippling. Your energy levels may differ from one day to the next as you ride the waves of uncertainty. One moment you might feel pulled in many different directions, and the next, in none. Try to set realistic goals each day that align with your values and beliefs. Maybe it’s something small like getting out of bed, having a shower and making a meal – and that’s enough.
It’s okay to cut yourself some slack right now. Reframe your expectations and be gentle with yourself. It’s a stressful time and it’s okay to lower the bar of high standards. Showing up as you are is enough and is all that anyone needs to do. Everyone processes experiences differently, therefore the only right way for you to get through this is your way. Give yourself that compassion and you’ll be able to extend it to others around you.
Contrary to what social media would lead you to believe, you don’t need to come out of this pandemic with a newly acquired skill; a baking business; enlightened; or with a glamourous home. You don’t need to master 101 new things at once. It’s impossible to do everything and be perfect, and striving for those unrealistic goals is a fast-track to burnout, even in isolation.
As systems and structures in our society are crumbling around us, the counter-messaging to our productivity-obsessed commercial culture is that the capitalist competition and machine mindset isn’t sustainable. Our value does not lie in how productive we are. This collective pause is illustrating that, calling us to slow down, limiting how much we can do. We can give ourselves permission to pause with it.
Let go of your agenda. Rest and let your body, mind and emotions recalibrate. We need a balance of strength and softness to move through this. Productivity will still be required in the future, so don’t burn out now – we need you to help build the new world when we emerge from this on the other side.
-- Lauren, Marketing at Bio Concepts