While speaking to a few of my colleagues at TheLatch— this week (via Slack, not IRL), one of them noted how working from home (due to the current COVID-19 pandemic) kind of feels like being back at uni. The days all blend into one, meals are consumed at weird times and cereal has snuck its way back in as one of our main food groups.
For a lot of us, it’s been years since we had this much time on our hands, especially spent at home. And, with all of this extra time comes the pressure to make it worthwhile. I myself have fallen into this trap of wanting to be uber-productive whilst at home but my first weekend of staying in (to help flatten the curve) resulted in the consumption of many movies and not much else.
And, it’s OK if you’re feeling much the same way too. We turned to Dan Auerbach, clinical psychotherapist, relationship counsellor and a director of Associated Counsellors & Psychologists, to talk about why feeling the need to slow down is totally fine.
“Some days, it’s OK to take a mental health break and just accept a lower level of output,” Auerbach told TheLatch—.
“Constant worry can be exhausting and we do need to give ourselves a chance to recover by doing things that distract us and entertain us — whether that’s a walk, TV or a chat with a friend.”
With this constant feeling of uncertainty and worry can also come a lack of motivation and lethargy. According to Auerbach, this is totally normal.
“Realistically we are primed to try and survive during times of crisis rather than to be productive on tasks that don’t work towards that goal,” he said.
“We are designed to attend to the most important things in our lives first. When we sense real and present danger all of our energy goes towards solving those problems. It can naturally leave us exhausted as well as disinterested in everyday tasks and responsibilities.”
While we’re wired as humans to pour all of our energy into a crisis, keeping a routine each day is helpful.
“It’s important to know that once you’ve covered the basics of getting yourself set up and ensuring your safety, getting into work or another task will help take your mind off things and will promote further motivation,” Auerbach said. “One of the key things to realise however is the tipping point between productive worry and fear and when that becomes somewhat circular and unproductive.”
To try and break out of this funk, Auerbach recommends stepping back from the constant news cycle, which could be adding to your anxiety.
“As a rule, you’ll find your motivation actually improves when you carve out some time away from media consumption and preparing for the crisis,” he said. “Instead, try to focus that energy on other tasks that you valued before. If motivation is low, set yourself an easily achievable goal and break that goal into small chunks.”
As tempting it might be to follow everything coronavirus-related in the news and on social media, we all need a break from it each day.
“I think it’s important to limit media consumption and to rely on a few trusted sources that you check at most twice a day,” he said. “We are wired to look for danger and that can put is into a loop where we seek out more information which can ultimately increase our anxiety without providing any practical benefit.”
Something I’ve been guilty of is constantly talking about the COVID-19 pandemic with my friends and family. And, Auerbach advises monitoring this behaviour as it could be doing more harm than good.
“It’s really important to stay connected and share the emotional load and it does help us process, but it’s also good to look for moments where we can find other topics to engage in,” he said.
And, if movies are all you can consume at the moment (I’m finding it particularly hard to focus on reading, which is usually my favourite past time), don’t worry about it too much.
“During times of intense worry, our attention span for higher-order tasks like reading or writing can be compromised,” Auerbach said.
“Our brains simply shut down that capacity in order to narrow the focus on the present crisis. If you are affected that way it can mean that you may need to find simpler tasks or activities to engage you. That may be a walk or music, or anything you enjoy that doesn’t require too much mental energy. Exercise like yoga, or jogging as well as meditation can be great ways to still the mind and rejuvenate your capacity to then go back to more challenging tasks.”
The current health crisis is evolving rapidly. If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.