As I write this, it is February of 2021, a year into the pandemic. I thought this whole thing would have blown over by now. I thought we would be back in the communal workplace, making business travel plans and I’d be free to use my passport. Nope. In the last week or so, I’ve noticed articles about how this pandemic could last for upwards of 5 years. What?
My dog is great company and a terrific, if not needy, co-worker but I want to get back to the office. I want to run into random co-workers walking down the hall or by the water cooler. I want to be able to reach out to that co-worker who lost their son last year and find out how they are coping. I want to see the latest pictures of several coworkers’ grandchildren. I want to be planning the annual field day events. Nope. It is not going to happen. Not anytime soon. Perhaps never.
By now, like me, you have probably adapted to the “new normal”. You have your home workspace figured out, you have your Zoom background dialed in, you have your wardrobe culled down to Zoom tops, yoga pants, slippers, and earrings you can wear under a headset. Now in the winter of our discontent, we need to figure out ways to punctuate the work day so that we are not working ten-hour days without a break. We can’t cheat and do back-to-back Zoom calls. I have some ideas on how to close the stress loop even if you can’t get outside.
Here are 4 fixes for winter pandemic overwhelm:
- Move. As in, move your body. Let’s assume you live in Minnesota and it’s minus 20 degrees outside. There is snow everywhere and ice on the sidewalks. Figure out a way to move inside. Put your phone on a charger in a separate room (this will also stop you from blindly screen scrolling). Put dishes or clothes or groceries away, one item at a time. Walk to the farthest bathroom when you need to wash your hands. Watch a yoga YouTube video (like this one from my yoga expert friend Susannah), dance to my boyfriend Roy’s favorite dance music, “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells, stretch, lift weights or do pushups. As written by Michelle Bihary on Harvard Business Review, “If space is a big constraint, try standing at your desk to improve your metabolic health. Alan Hedge, Professor of Ergonomics at Cornell University, recommends using a 20-8-2 breakdown to guide you: 20 minutes of sitting, 8 minutes of standing, and 2 minutes of moving for every 30 minutes at work.” In order to move, you will likely need to revamp your schedule to give at least ten-minute breaks between meetings.
- Mindfulness. Mindfulness does not require being a monk in a monastery. It does not mean you empty your head of all thought. It is really about just being in the moment and paying attention to your body (instead of your head…i.e. thoughts). I have been trying out three apps recently: Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer. A trend in all of their meditations, and sleep stories (yes, they have sleep stories you can drift to sleep on); the trend is inhaling for 4 beats, holding for 4 beats and exhaling for 6 beats. If you can do this for 5 cycles, you will be less stressed and overwhelmed. It closes the stress loop. As Bihary wrote, “A simple practice is to take five deep breaths, five times per day. When you concentrate on breathing deeply (as we do in yoga), you’re disengaging yourself from distractions, lowering your heart rate, ingesting more oxygen into the lowest part of your lungs, and stabilizing your blood pressure — in turn, lowering your stress level.” Being mindful can be as simple as taking a break to intentionally breath deep.
- Grateful. Being grateful reduces stress. Bihary espoused, “Gratitude practices and expressing appreciation have long-lasting positive effects on the wiring of our brains. Research shows that gratitude takes our attention away from toxic emotions by helping us focus on more comforting ones. People who consciously count their blessings tend to be less depressed. When we feel grateful, it increases our levels of dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel happy and enhancing our moods.” My gratitude journal has morphed over the years from an evening to a morning event, from three things to ten things; and now to my current habit of writing five things I’m grateful for (almost always people or my dog, Baci) and one thing I’m grateful I actually physically did like “drove safely, hiked or maintained my sobriety.” Figure out what suits you and give it a try.
- Connection. There are those out there who have way too much connection with their spouse, roommate or homeschooling children. By far I have seen that the folks who seem to have suffered the most with working from home are those that live alone. I live and work alone from home for most of the week and am fortunate to spend the weekends with my boyfriend. Finding ways to connect can be tricky depending on the current local requirements. Let technology be your friend. I am super lucky that my daughter Natalie has started calling me weekly via FaceTime. It makes a huge difference to see as well as hear her. My family has orchestrated a few family Zoom calls that have been a huge bright spot as well. In the book Burnout, connection is one of the many cures for closing the stress cycle although the book was written pre-pandemic. Figure out ways to connect with coworkers and family on a more casual basis like virtual trivia nights or family feud. Make time to connect with others on things besides production reports and customer complaints.
Bihary had another stress booster that I haven’t tried out yet but will throw out as another suggestion: blowing bubbles. I love blowing bubbles but since I don’t have a grade school kid in my house, I haven’t stopped at a store to pick a bottle up. I’m putting it on my shopping list though! If there is something that incorporates deep breathing and being in the present moment it is the magic, fun and fragility of blowing bubbles. I hope you try a few of these fixes for the winter doldrums. If there is any way to get outside for even fifteen minutes, that is super effective too. What is your favorite winter doldrums fix?