By Tracey Dowdy
Are you among the millions of Americans for whom the idea of working from home sounded like a dream, but in reality, it’s turned out to be a nightmare? The blurred lines of work and home life, frequent interruptions, lack of dedicated workspace, and the logistics of working as a team via Zoom meetings and email have left millions of workers frustrated and longing for the structure and routine of the office or job site.
Take heart. You’re not alone. Recently, the CDC partnered with the Census Bureau on an experimental data system called the Household Pulse Survey. They discovered that one-third of all Americans are struggling with depression or anxiety in the wake of COVID-19, up from the 18% reported pre-COVID.
The effects of that anxiety and depression can manifest in many ways, but one of the most common is a lack of motivation and productivity. Ashley McGirt, a licensed mental health therapist, says, “Several studies have shown the connection between low work productivity and even mild forms of depression. A normal brain thinks about 70,000 thoughts a day; an anxious brain processes two to three times that amount of thoughts and can lean to low productivity from spending time perseverating on numerous thoughts. The current state of the world has caused immense grief, depression, and anxiety. Many people’s normal coping forms have been closed, such as going to the gym, movies, or [going] out with friends. As we have had to adapt to a new normal many of us have had to find new coping skills.”
Alongside our rising stress levels is the seemingly relentless barrage of bad news – racial tensions, hurricanes, problems with our health care system, and a divided political landscape – while we lack human connection to mitigate those feelings.
The most important thing to remember is that it’s okay not to be okay. This is an unprecedented season that no one outside a Cormack McCarthy novel could have anticipated. Allow yourself the grace you desperately need and accept that you aren’t at your best and may not be for some time. Beating yourself up for not meeting your pre-COVID standards only fuels your stress level. “It is extremely important to give yourself grace during this time,” McGirt says. “If all you do is get out of bed and brush your teeth consider it okay. We put too much pressure on ourselves to be productive and constantly working. It is important to slow down and rest and reflect. While we are dealing with many unknowns during this unprecedented time, it is important not to add the stress of productivity to your plate.”
One way to manage your expectations is to go through your to-do list and be merciless in eliminating what can wait. If you’re struggling to keep up with the dishes, use paper plates. If meal planning is overwhelming, switch to simple meals like breakfast for dinner or sandwiches to limit prep and clean up.
Take breaks whenever you can, even if it’s just stepping out your front door and taking a few deep breaths to clear your head. Self-care isn’t only bubble baths and spa days; it can be as simple as savoring a cup of tea, taking five minutes to meditate, or getting up to move your body.
Years ago, Mad TV had a hilarious recurring sketch, “Lowered Expectations.” Though your life may not be the mess those characters were, there’s nothing wrong with lowering the expectations you set for yourself short-term. Life is far from normal, so allow yourself to lower the bar and celebrate your wins every chance you get. Accomplishing everything on a shorter-than-usual-to-do list gives you a mental boost, whereas an incomplete list inevitably feels like failure.
So, stand up straight, look in the mirror, and give yourself a “You’re doing great sweetie,” because you are.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits, and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.