Pandemic Stress? Time for a Reset!
React! Adapt! Flex! Remember the earliest days of the pandemic? We all scrambled to adjust to the massive upheavals in our work, school, home and social lives.
Now we’re living in a kind of “new normal,” but many of us still feel that daily stress. We’re still coping, flexing and managing on the fly.
Some of that stress comes from losing structures and habits that used to give helpful stability and predictability to our days and weeks.
For example, before the pandemic, most of us had to physically get to and from work and school. That shaped our mornings (consistent wake-up time, coffee, kids to school, commute) and our days (being out of the house at work and school). It influenced our evenings (events after school or work, dinner, homework, leisure, consistent bedtime). And our weekends, too (errands, home projects, fun, family time).
Now everything just blends and blurs. When is work time? When is school? Play? Personal time? When are we managing our family relationships and when are we actually being in them?
Without noticing it, we’ve lost many boundaries and connections. Many of us are still in “scramble” mode. We’re still stressed out, reacting hour by hour, day by day.
Gain Control With A Reset
I believe it’s time for a reset! Even with all the ongoing uncertainty, we actually have more control than we think we do. But to regain some structure and boundaries, we have to be intentional. We can’t leave it all to chance. We can’t just wait for things to change on their own!
Below are three Power Challenges for creating (or re-creating) beneficial habits and rules around connections and schedules. You’ll see how you can “be” with yourself. Unplug and “be” with others. And maybe most importantly, put intentional structure back into your schedule. Try them out, and I’ll bet you find yourself feeling a lot better right away!
“You will never ‘find’ time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” – Charles Buxton
POWER CHALLENGE 1: “BE” WITH YOURSELF
Whether you live in a full house or alone, it’s so important to intentionally create time and space each day for a bit of personal decompression.
When you decompress, you reconnect with yourself. You don’t think about your to-do’s or try to solve problems. Instead, you give your mind and body a brief and replenishing respite from ongoing stress and pressure. You just let yourself “be” without self-judgment.
It’s too easy to skip this personal time when we aren’t intentional about it. Try to find — and commit to — just ten or fifteen minutes at a consistent time each day. (You can also do this when the stress of the day is getting the better of you.) Make yourself step away from the computer. Enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. Walk around the block or listen to a favorite song. Meditation, mindfulness or prayer may work for you. Just be as present with yourself as you can.
Full House or Living Alone
If you live with others, you’ll probably need to be creative. You can get up a few minutes before your household wakes up, or make your time after everyone goes to bed. You can try asking an adult or adolescent in the home to support you in getting a little bit of space.
And, be real with yourself about your own habits around work and caretaking. Where can you step back from work for just ten minutes? What small tasks can you ask a family member to do that you would otherwise do? Stretch yourself to discover what’s possible.
“They always say time changes things, but you have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol
If you live alone, be intentional about creating specific time for “being.” Do what you can to make the experience a little different from how and where you normally spend your day. Consider sitting in a different area of your home. Turn off the music, TV, podcasts or other distractions. Don’t be afraid of the quiet. Your mind and body need decompression, too!
POWER CHALLENGE 2: UNPLUG AND “BE” WITH OTHERS
For many, the home is now the workplace and perhaps the kids’ school building, too. It seems the computer is always on — for work and for school. And with current national and global events, we’re overly glued to the news. Along the way, we’ve forgotten how important it is to just “be” with one another in the home. To really connect as people, apart from the pandemic, our to-do’s, homework and other have-to’s.
It’s too easy to skip quality time when we lack solid intention.
Realities as they are, you’ll need to be intentional about unplugging. Consider changing any unhelpful habits. For example, perhaps you are signing in to work much earlier than necessary or working straight through lunch every day. Perhaps you jump up to instantly to read every news alert or lose time in “doomscrolling.” Resolve to change these habits!
As well, think about creating an actual “end” to your day. If possible, disconnect from work and the news at a consistent time each day. Or, if you must use the evening to catch up on work after caring for the kids, it’s still critical to have some amount of unplugged time before you go to sleep — even if just half an hour.
Reclaiming Quality Time
Unplugging is more than just turning off your devices. It’s also allowing yourself to be as present as possible, for some periods of time, with the other people in your life. Even though we’re now managing so much more activity within the walls of the home, we still need that “quality time” with each other.
Quality time could be sharing a good conversation, completing a home task together, having fun, playing a game or simply being together. The important thing is to give it your awareness and intention, so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.
POWER CHALLENGE 3: BE INTENTIONAL WITH YOUR SCHEDULE
So far, we’ve talked about reconnecting with yourself and your family. Now, let’s look a bit more at scheduling. I recommend that you create some boundaries around time that the pandemic may have erased.
First, be willing to notice what your current day is like. When do you start and stop your activities — both work and life? Is there any plan, intention or consistency to your day? Is it random or catch-as-catch-can?
Now, I’m the first to say that I’m enjoying the flexibility in my work-life schedule that I didn’t have before the pandemic. For example, I love being able to exercise at 9 am instead of 5 am!
But I also notice the temptation to do anything at any time. I may run out for a quick errand or do a personal appointment in the middle of the day, much more than I ever did before the pandemic. But then I have to flex my work hours to make up the difference. The next thing you know, I feel like I’m always “on,” always “at work.”
“A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.” – Annie Dillard
If you are flexing all the time without much boundary or structure for yourself, I recommend that you establish guidelines and follow them with consistency.
Re-create the framework of arriving at the office and leaving at the end of the day by intentionally setting and adhering to consistent start and end times for your workday. Turn your computer on at exactly that start time (not before) and disconnect at the end time.
If you’re flexing your work and personal time, you should still establish some regularity for how you’re going to do that. Doctor’s appointments can still be scheduled towards the end of your workday. Errands can still be scheduled to occur on a regular time and day. Exercise can be done at consistent times and days.
In other words, determine an intentional framework for your flexibility, rather than being flexible all the time. Then stick to it. This regularity will also help your boss and co-workers coordinate with you. It will reduce their stress, too.
“We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” – Brené Brown
Speaking of your supervisor and colleagues, be sure to communicate your schedule to them. And, if they are the ones blurring your boundaries and contacting you at all hours, you may need to have some additional conversations. Explain that you need to put some consistency and structure into your schedule. Then work together to find the best solution.
You may need to have a family meeting, too. Get everyone together and set up guidelines and boundaries. In fact, consistency in schedule helps everyone. It eliminates guesswork (and those “oops” interruptions) and reduces friction.
It’s All About Your Intention
You can reconnect to yourself and loved ones. You can put some structure back into your schedule. There are many ways to do so, but they all start with your awareness and intention. You have to make a little more effort — with a little more commitment — than you used to. But once you get into your new routines, you’ll enjoy more stability, predictability and sense of control. And that goes a long way to reducing stress and making life feel just a little bit easier in these difficult times!
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