I have conducted over 500 telehealth psychotherapy sessions in NYC since my self-quarantine began on 3/14/2020.
While this by no means makes me an expert, I feel compelled to share 10 recurring sentiments and some of my thoughts on the same. For added context, I work primarily with millennials and gen Z.
So, here it goes, in no particular order of frequency:
1. "I should be doing more with all of this new free time!"
There has been a "New Year's resolution" vibe floating around since March. I'll spare you my thoughts on "productivity culture", and instead break this down through a different lens. In terms of setting new goals, it is important to set yourself up for success by starting off small and being realistic. What is your 'why' when it comes to making the change?
I recognize that many people and their family members have lost jobs, had work hours reduced and extracurriculars canceled. Our commutes have been reduced to traveling from the bedroom to the kitchen and back again. So in this case, sure, there is objectively more unstructured time; however, an inability to have one's basic needs met is not going to lend itself well to personal growth. Safety and security are a foundation for self-actualization. Gauging your current level of "self-discipline", based upon pre-pandemic assumptions, is apt to render incredibly skewed results.
For those of us who are still working their regular schedule: You do not have more time. You merely have fewer ways to spend it outside of the home. If your norm, pre-COVID-19 pandemic, was to eat dinner, watch TV, and go to sleep after work, what makes you think it ought to be different now? For me, I am spared an hour long, round trip commute on weekdays— my only timeframe that has been "freed up" by the pandemic. Having heard many people proclaim that even though they are still working full time, their workload is reduced, meaning now they have "more time" to be productive ties in well to the next sentiment...
2. "It's so hard to focus."
Yes, yes, it is! While some people can become hyper-focused as a coping mechanism of sorts, it is normal to have difficulty with focus, concentration, and memory right now. Especially for those who are now working from home, we are no longer experiencing the external cues that subconsciously signal that it's time for us to work.
To that end, clients have reported feeling more focused when they engage in activities before and after work to mimic their commute experience such as going for a walk, listening to a podcast, etc. And while I'm totally on team no-pants in spirit, there really is much to be said for getting dressed in "real" clothes. Ladies don those bras and allow yourself to experience the gloriousness of taking it off at the end of your workday! Seriously, small things like that can help you set yourself up for success.
3. "I should really start working out/running/insert-random-fitness-trend. Gotta watch out for that COVID 15!"
There is so much problematic fat phobic messaging in this idea that is beyond the scope of this post, but a number on a scale or label on a clothing tag does not define you. Emotional overeating in times of distress is an extremely commonplace behavior, and shaming yourself for it accomplishes nothing useful.
If you want to engage in movement of any sort because it makes you feel good, then have at it! I am by no means encouraging a sedentary lifestyle. If you "want" to engage in movement of any sort because you feel the need to compensate for what you have been eating while in quarantine, though, then you are entering potentially dangerous territory.
Trust your body's ability to regulate itself and your ability to listen to it. Do not be afraid to experiment when it comes to movement so that you can find something that does not feel like a complete chore. My yoga practice and jumping on my new mini-trampoline at random points throughout the day have been immensely helpful in discharging and regulating my energy.
4. "I'm getting mixed messages from my employer, and I have no idea what they're expecting from me."
Your employer is likely as confused as you are! This is uncharted territory for everyone. There is nothing wrong with you for being lost and desiring clarification. It is also incredibly necessary to set appropriate boundaries with employers who expect work to now be your sole focal point. While simmering in resentment seems to feel safer for many as a means of avoiding a layoff, that energy will shine through. Take the time to flesh out your questions, concerns, and needs.
5. "Everything is so different now!"
Many things have changed, but much remains the same, even if that sense of sameness is distorted. For those struggling in the wake of being furloughed or laid off, the loss of professional identity can be destabilizing. But who you are at your core is untouched. Allow yourself the space to connect to your values, your loved ones, etc. Also, briefly remind yourself of the myriad of gripes you held about your day-to-day life before the pandemic.
There is a tendency to romanticize the familiar, not to mention the past as a whole. I have been tempted to say that I'll never get upset by a jam-packed subway car ever again, but is that realistic? Not particularly.
Life "before" had its unique challenges. What do you find is working well for you lately?
6. "It's stupid for me to worry about XYZ because there's a pandemic and people have it worse."
It is important to have a healthy sense of perspective and to connect to gratitude. However, multiple things can be true at once. You are not going to magically stop having your feelings hurt, missing your ex, or finding yourself able to control anxious thoughts simply because you have an intellectual awareness that you are safer than others. Physiologically, your body is not registering that you are safe!! Trivializing your feelings will not make this experience better for anyone. There is enough pain floating around. What would it look like to tap into self-compassion?
7. "I can't plan anything anymore!"
This year is not going to be the year you had been imagining. Allow yourself to feel disappointed and upset, but then turn towards possibilities for what you can still do. We do not know what the future will hold, and our mind is naturally creating a narrative to try and make sense of the uncertainty.
I want to know when this will end just as much as the next person, but we simply do not know. What I do know, however, is that perseverating on all the possibilities will do nothing but drain you. This experience has shattered the illusion of control for many, yet there is a continued yearning to regain that sense. Rarely do people "what if" in a positive way, but I encourage you to try.
8. "COVID-19 is all anyone will talk about; I can't stand it!"
I hear you, and I often share this frustration. Nevertheless, this can be an opportunity to practice honest communication and shift away from typical lines of conversation. Is there anything you're curious about when it comes to a loved one? Is there anything you're curious about when it comes to the world at large? Are there memories that bring a smile to your face when you reminisce? I think you catch my drift...
9. "Ugh, I can't say no to [virtual] plans because everyone knows I have nothing else to do."
Asserting your needs can be challenging for many, and there seems to be a heightened fear about disappointing others during this time of crisis. However, your time is still your own. Perhaps fibs are not as accessible for you to avoid people, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with saying that you are not feeling up for it. This is not something that you need to justify. When it comes to in-person plans, honoring your comfort level is important. Also, keep in mind that it is normal to feel more overstimulated by social interactions than in the past.
10. "I'm worried that if I let myself slack off at work, I won't be able to get back into the swing of things once this is over and my workload picks up."
Do you remember summer vacations when you were a kid (or as an educator currently)? Most of us were not in school at all for months at a time. Was it an adjustment going back in the Fall? Sure. Was it insurmountable? No. When social distancing measures are lifted, there will be a collective transition back to "real life." While I recognize that this is not a perfect parallel, it seems helpful to reflect on. When else in your life have you demonstrated mental resilience? Also, going back to an earlier point, when a sense of stability is regained, there will be more mental space to support full re-engagement in work.
*Disclaimer: This could easily be a novel, so for brevity's sake, there are vast oversimplifications and generalizations therein. I recognize that as a white, cisgender woman, I am in a privileged position and that this privilege is embedded in my worldview. I hope you can receive this in the spirit in which it is intended. Take what resonates and leave the rest.