Got Pandemic Overwhelm? 4 Fixes.

I wrote this a year ago and now as I repost this Omicron is making it’s way across the U.S. and I have retired. I bought the bubbles mentioned and the dollar it cost was worth the smiles!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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: HeadspaceCalm 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

The Silver Lining to a Pandemic

I try to be a glass half full kind of person. Positivity is one of my top 5 strengths. Searching for a silver lining helps me dampen down my anxiety.  I acknowledge that there is an enormous, incalculable, downside to this pandemic. I saw a picture this last week taken in India where people had not been able to see the Himalayas for thirty years and now could. I realized that as bad, uncertain and catastrophic this pandemic is, there is some upside.

 Here are my thoughts on the upside of this pandemic:

Less air pollution:

This has really caused me pause. I live in eastern North Carolina and I never figured that air pollution was really an issue. I must tell you that I’ve noticed that there are more stars at night. I’ve noticed that the sky seems so much bluer. I thought it was an aberration. But if NASA can see the difference from satellites, maybe there was some truth to my observations. As Marina Koren wrote for The Atlantic, “As cities and, in some cases, entire nations weather the pandemic under lockdown, Earth-observing satellites have detected a significant decrease in the concentration of a common air pollutant, nitrogen dioxide, which enters the atmosphere through emissions from cars, trucks, buses, and power plants.” So, step outside at night and look up at the stars. They really are brighter – your eyes aren’t deceiving you.

Changed soundscapes:

I live pretty far from a highway and my home is usually quiet. I typically hear birds chirp and geese honk. I have noticed in the last month that it has been more of a cacophony of avian sounds. As Laura Rawlins wrote for Focus for Health, “Some regions of India can see the Himalayan Mountains for the first time in 30 years, cityscapes are smog-free, and you can find a stream of twitter threads about people asking if birds are chirping louder these days or if that is just the effect of less pollution, noise and the like, in the atmosphere.” Koren wrote, “With so many people staying home—and public-transit agencies cutting service as a result—there’s significantly less noise from cars, buses, trains, and other transportation. Erica Walker, a public-health researcher at Boston University, has taken a decibel meter with her on her socially distance walks, and she has been stunned by the measurements. “It’s a lot quieter,” she told me.” It’s surprising that because cities are quieter, people can finally hear the birds. In my case, I feel like there is a population boom in the variety of birds causing the change in my soundscape.

Kindness:

I’ve noticed an increase in kindness. Last weekend, when my boyfriend Roy and I hiked for the first time in two months, there was a palpable ebullience. Hikers smiled and had a spring in their step. In my neighborhood, the abundance of families and couples taking strolls is evident and everyone is waving hello even if you are a stranger. I’ve had anonymous cars in front of me in a drive-thru pay for my meal. Strangers pull aside in the grocery aisle. Everyone on zoom calls is wishing everyone well as we sign off. As Rawlins wrote, “We can all restore our faith in humanity, because kindness is trending amid COVID-19. There is an abundance of stories of people going out of their way to help. Whether they are getting groceries for their elderly neighbors, sewing masks for medical facilities, or even taking care of a newborn baby when the entire family tests positive for COVID-19, it’s clear that this kindness surge is just as contagious as the virus itself.” I’m grateful for the kindness that bubbles up from this pandemic.

Presence:

I have struggled with all of my plans being on hold. I have felt groundless without a destination to look forward to. I am sad that my one of bucket list items won’t be achieved this year (I wanted to visit Alaska to have been to all 50 states). On the other side of that is an awareness of what is present right now. I have to thank Roy for that. Roy has an appreciation for the moment right now. It’s might be stopping to look at Purple Martins swooping the sky, or admiring countless gaggles of Canadian Geese with their broods of chicks, or noticing a (what seemed like a shark size) carp swimming next to our kayak. Focus on right now. The stars in the sky, the sunrise or sunset, the cup of hot tea, the warmth of the blanket or the tap of the rain outside. Instead of striving to get to my next destination, I can be here right now. Appreciate what is here right now.

A year from now, this may likely all be a memory, or it may not. I just want to try to experience it and pick through the array of changes in my life to find the moments of good. I want to accept the pause and find what is available now. Is there an upside for you in this pandemic?