“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien
As social distancing continues for another month, shelter in place orders are given across the country, and the number of people dying from COVID-19 rises, our worries and fears increase. We struggle to keep perspective and we wonder when this all shall pass. Some days, in the midst of our anger, grief and hopelessness, it is hard to decide what to do with the time that is given us.
First, we must acknowledge that stress exhaustion is real. It takes a lot of energy and effort to not panic or to not become horribly depressed. We just want things to get back to normal even if we are not sure what normal will be like on the other side of this all.
Furthermore, we must recognize that doing activities that are depleting is not the same as being depleted. The former is the cause while the later is the result. If we are drained, we need to be aware that pushing the “power through button”, quoting Brene Brown, every time has a price. We need to rediscover what gives us hope, and renews our spirits and our energy in the midst of this current, never ending journey.
One challenge as I mentioned last week is to understand that our normal systems for coping with high levels of stress and for rebuilding our energy have been significantly disrupted. Before this time, some of us would have gone to the gym to work out. A good sweat can make a world of difference during a difficult day. Others of us would have gone out with friends for drinks and a great meal. And finally, there are many of us who would have gone to our local church, synagogue, or temple for spiritual renewal and for fellowship time with others.
However all of these helpful systems for regeneration have been shut down. Now, we find ourselves alone and disconnected. We struggle and the struggle is painful and challenging. Still, there are ways to move forward through this wildly unpredictable time. What follows are a variety of different ways to cope in the midst of a pandemic.
With everyone working out of their “new” home offices, it is important to talk about how to do this in a successful and minimally low stress way. Recently, quite a few people have asked me how to work out of a home office, because I have been doing this since 1986. I had to pause and really think about it. For the most part, it is an unconscious habit. Upon reflection, I do have a couple of tips for people who are new to home office life.
First, stick to regular office hours. This is important for you, your family and your colleagues. It defines when you are available and when you are not available. As part of your regular office hours, I also recommend you have a regular lunch hour where you can step away from the office work, check in at home, and help where you are needed.
Second, define what is and what is not an acceptable interruption by family during home office work time. This was a big challenge in our family during my first years of working from home, but over time we all learned and it made a major difference on stress levels. I would include with this definition that a closed door to the office means do not interrupt unless something quite serious has taken place, and then knock before entering. Both of these first two tips will require significant self discipline but I assure you that they will make a major difference, especially if this is to continue for another 60+ days.
Finally, when it comes to having a home office, there is one more tip I want to share with you. The distance from my home office to the kitchen is fifteen steps. The transition from work to home is too short.
So, at the end of every work day, I create a transition time period. I call it my “daily commute”. Some days I go for a fifteen to twenty minute walk just to get out of my office mental work space and arrive home ready for what ever has taken place there over the course of the day. Other times, I go out and do a small bit of yard work such as pulling some weeds, enjoying some spring flowers or doing a touch of raking. The key is to unwind from the pressures of the home office and to enter our home life ready to be fully present.
Once I am home, I know I will need to pitch in and help out. Our challenge is to recognize that the entire family is going through this time of social distancing, not just myself. We all have been disrupted by COVID-19 and we all are figuring out how to cope with it.
In particular, I get the concept of social distancing. However, I want to remind us that it is really physical distancing, not social disconnecting. We need to stay in touch with family and friends. We need them and they need us. Therefore, I suggest we call or FaceTime with a different friend or family member each day. By reaching out to them, we are helping them and helping ourselves remember that we are all in this together.
Next, we need to have fun. I suggest more families create a special event like Movie Monday and then choose a fun and uplifting film to watch together. Of course, popcorn is mandatory! Or cook an unusual meal such as breakfast for supper. How about a candle light dinner? Whatever works make sure you are having fun times together. Creating new experiences is a great, rejuvenating exercise.
Finally, step away from the TV or your electronic device of choice, and read something each day which restores your spirit and soul. Daily devotional time is healing and helpful. It puts it all back into perspective.
As Brene Brown recently wrote on her Instagram account:
“This pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability. We can be our worst selves when we’re afraid or our very best, bravest selves. In the context of fear and vulnerability, there is often very little in between because when we are uncertain and afraid our default is self-protection. We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave, and kind. And let’s choose each other.”
At the end of every day, I am most grateful for my friends, my family and for you. This week, stay healthy, stay safe, and keep in touch. I look forward to seeing you on the other side.