Between working from home, home-schooling kids and navigating our new lives during a global pandemic, we’re exhausted in ways we never imagined before.

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This article was published 6/4/2020 (370 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Between working from home, home-schooling kids and navigating our new lives during a global pandemic, we’re exhausted in ways we never imagined before.

And preachy calls to be super-productive might be making it worse.

Many people have lost their jobs. We’re social distancing. We’re washing our hands non-stop. Daily life has been completely uprooted.

On top of it all, social media showers us with well-meaning calls to "finish that project" — clean out the pantry, build that bookshelf or finally learn a new language.

After all, according to social media, Sir Isaac Newton created calculus and William Shakespeare wrote King Lear, both while in quarantine due to the plague. So, make sure your quarantine doesn’t go to waste.

Although this encouragement is intended to motivate, it can also carry an inherent judgment. The need and pressure to be productive with all the newfound "free" time is causing anxiety for many.

“There are many ways to cope with this new normal. We can speak to ourselves reassuringly by reframing ‘stuck at home’ to ‘safe at home.' And remind ourselves that we’re doing this to create safety. At different times in history, people have survived the traumas of epidemics and war and we have it in us to do so, too.” ‐ Cheryl Marks

If you’re feeling anxious rather than productive, you’re not alone. Experiencing some emotional exhaustion and anxiety is to be expected. The problem is that many of our usual coping mechanisms have vanished – like going to the gym or visiting with friends.

Therapist Cheryl Marks says people feel the pressure right now to find a silver lining in this pandemic.

"This may not be a time to push ourselves to be productive. We’re juggling worry for ourselves, our loved ones, health-care workers and community resources we rely on," she says. "We’re concerned about livelihood and stability of our financial and living situations. We are entrusted with educating and protecting our children. This is a time to do things that steady us, balance us and settle our bodies and brains."

Just because you aren’t sufficiently "seizing the moment" doesn’t mean you’re failing. Let go of the ideas you have about what you should be doing. Instead, focus on your physical and psychological well-being.

You may feel overwhelmed seeing friends and family using their time indoors to exercise, have a virtual happy hour with friends or whip up a new Jamie Oliver recipe. After all, we live to hustle, right? And hustle culture doesn’t stop, self-isolation or no self-isolation. Ignore people who are on a path full of productivity. It’s best to cut out that noise.

As the novelty of our new normal begins to wear off, the pressure starts to build up. Our inner thoughts tell us we should be using this extra time at home to do important, creative things. But we also need to give each other permission to mourn, sit with our emotions and slow down.

We have several new pandemic-related concerns — running out of money, losing our jobs and worrying about older parents. On top of that, the pressure to still perform well at your job (for those who are working) and meet the new demands are mounting. Marks says people who are now working remotely from home may feel a sense of obligation to outperform for their employers.

"We may, in fact, be inclined to be even more productive from home than we were at the office," she says. "When working from home, we can forget to include breaks, have a clear end to our day and a time to schedule the self-care we sorely need right now. For some of us, working as hard and fast as we can could be a way we try not to acknowledge difficult and painful feelings right now."

The first few weeks in a crisis are crucial and we should all make ample room to allow for a mental adjustment. This mental shift will require a lot of patience. Focus on your own personal and internal change — it won’t be pretty and it will probably be frustrating and upsetting. But it’s perfectly normal and appropriate to feel lost during the transition.

If you want to be productive and master a new cooking technique, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It can be a constructive way to cope. But we should also allow ourselves the space to readjust. We’ve never faced anything like this before and we’re all swimming in uncharted waters. It’s OK to not be OK.

The world is quickly descending into the unknown and any semblance of familiarity can be a welcome reprieve. Marks says time sheltering at home is best used to settle and steady ourselves.

"Our brains and bodies are responding to this crisis with the stress response — the reflex to fight, take flight or freeze. We can help our nervous system settle by understanding that it is in our nature to respond that way," Marks says. "At home, create structure and routine to meet our need for predictability. Wake up and shower. Eat at mealtimes. Include some way of moving your body. A scheduled day leaves less time to get stuck in overwhelm."

In the weeks and months ahead, your family and friends will become even more important. Put together a plan to keep socially connected while maintaining social distancing in accordance with public health guidelines; schedule calls with your mom and online chats with your friends and neighbours.

No one knows how long this pandemic will last, so we should all emotionally prepare for a marathon. Work slowly toward establishing your new normal under the current conditions. Marks says this can be done in several ways, including such things as creating more quiet in our lives, letting ourselves receive support from others and picking up a hobby that helps us feel in control.

Our minds are constantly filled with questions: are my parents staying home? Did I order enough groceries? What will things look like a month from now? How about a year from now? For now, that is our new normal.

"There are many ways to cope with this new normal. We can speak to ourselves reassuringly by reframing ‘stuck at home’ to ‘safe at home,’ " Marks says. "And remind ourselves that we’re doing this to create safety. At different times in history, people have survived the traumas of epidemics and war and we have it in us to do so, too."

There are some small things to celebrate — we’re connecting virtually and giving ourselves more time for meaningful conversations with those we love. This experience may very well teach many of us what matters most and to profoundly appreciate things we previously took for granted.

Marks says one key aspect is to be mindful of how you talk about this time to yourself and others. Include statements like "I’m keeping safe at home," "I can do this" and "I’m helping others by staying home." Try to reframe your mind — words and positioning are important.

And at the end of your day, Marks suggests thinking about three small things you were grateful for.

"Maybe your coffee was great, there was a beautiful sunbeam coming in your window or someone said something that made you laugh," she says. "It’s hard to stop and take a breath. Just notice the great things about the life you have in this moment."

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@sabrinacsays

Sabrina Carnevale

Sabrina Carnevale
Columnist

Sabrina Carnevale is a freelance writer and communications specialist, and former reporter and broadcaster who is a health enthusiast. She writes a twice-monthly column focusing on wellness and fitness.

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