Joey Velez, MA, MBA
Recent global events have thrown a 100-pound wrench into our everyday activities. Companies are laying people off from what was believed to be stable employment. The current pandemic is bringing many business operations to a virtual halt, and simple pleasures like going to the park or the bar after work have been taken away from us due to something microscopic. We are all faced—no matter where we live—with the difficult challenge of how to maneuver through life while being relegated to the confines of our own home. Not to mention, the variety of emotions we are more likely to experience due to the current situation: anxiety, fear, doubt, lack of motivation, loneliness, weariness, etc. Due to this, emphasizing your mental health is key to helping you get through this trying time. Three techniques to increase your psychological well-being include increasing connections with other individuals, monitoring your information intake and setting daily goals.
Me, Myself, and I
I recently relocated from California to Georgia for an exciting opportunity in my field of study. I accepted this role in February and had a planned start date of March 30. Next thing you know, the country declared a state of pandemic and emotions such as doubt and worry started to creep into my mind, wondering if my new employer would still allow me to begin work on time. Thankfully, this was the case, and my move went on as planned. The plan was altered to have me self-quarantine in my new residence for two weeks as a safety precaution, which I understood, but at the end of my first week, Georgia installed a “shelter-in-place” order throughout the state to do their part to minimize the spread of this disease. Again, this is something I understood, but being in a brand-new environment where I did not know a single person within 1,000 miles, I began to experience several negative emotions. I questioned myself, did I make the right decision? What am I doing here? What am I going to do? Then, there were the general homesick feelings many people experience their first time away from home.
I was not able to explore my new surroundings or meet new people other than the maintenance guy in my complex, and my work training was adjusted so much that I essentially had to teach myself this new curriculum. It was at this point where I began to slow things down. I started to focus on my breathing and drew on a particular past experience that has always stuck with me. One day, while at my then local fitness center, I was struggling through a specific workout due to an injury. As the frustration began to set in, one of the trainers approached me and asked what was wrong. I explained my injury and all the things I could not do; the trainer looked at me and said, “Okay. Well, let’s focus on what you can do”. From that point on, I had an excellent workout, working out the same body parts as before but making subtle adjustments to the injured body part.
In the present time, I began to focus on all the things I COULD do in my current situation. I started incorporating daily goals, reaching out to my family and friends and implementing daily meditation practices to direct my concentration in the direction I wanted it to go, a more productive focus. In just a short amount of time, I saw my production and daily performance increasing. I started having more real-life, intimate conversations with family and friends in my short time in Georgia than when I was back home, and I find myself being more present in my current environment than when I had first gotten here. It takes time to settle into a new place, of course, but adding the pandemic factor made this situation extremely unique, but the key is to focus on what you can control.
What You Can Do
One thing we are being deprived of right now is our ability to have daily interactions with other individuals in public. We can utilize this time to reach out and connect with people, whether it is someone we talk to every day or someone we have not spoken to in a while. We can check in with family and friends, providing emotional support to those who may need it. We can catch up with those individuals who we have not spoken to in quite some time or, we can also have more intimate, meaningful conversations with others that we may have taken for granted before the pandemic. I have a relative that lives in Minnesota, and we keep in touch through social media, but the only time we have more in-depth conversations is when I see her in person, which is once a year at best.
This summer, she is supposed to get married. Unfortunately, this pandemic has put this event in jeopardy. Weddings are a chance to celebrate a new chapter, a joining of two people, in front of everyone that matters in one’s life. I know how I would feel if my wedding had to be canceled, so I thought I should reach out. We ended up having a two-hour conversation, not just about the wedding, but about everything: life, work, our families, etc. As much as we enjoy each other's company when we see each other, we have never had conversations like this. I felt our connection and bond grow and had it not been for this pandemic, we would never have had that conversation.
During this pandemic, we want to be careful about the amount of information we ingest. There are constant updates about the number of cases, the amount of fatalities and how the economy is affected, information that can increase anxiety and fear. One activity that you can incorporate into your daily routine to divert your attention away from this information is meditation. Practicing meditation narrows your focus to one thing, your breathing. When focusing on your breathing, you are becoming more mindful and existing in the present moment. We cannot control what is going on around us, nor can we control the information we receive from the various media outlets. While it is vital to stay informed, we do not want our day consumed by the information being released. Therefore, practicing meditation is a great way to break things up and a great way to increase relaxation, not just for your body, but also for your mind. With the combination of being in a new city and being in a state of isolation during this pandemic, I have incorporated meditation more regularly into my daily schedule. There are two times where I practice meditation: doing yoga first thing in the morning and a mindfulness app (Headspace) in the afternoon. I practice yoga three to four times per week first thing in the morning. Yoga is a great way to wake up the mind and the body, and it establishes a feeling of productivity after completion of the exercise. I practice mindfulness meditation five to six days per week, typically in the afternoons, but sometimes in the morning as well. Mindfulness meditation is a great way to set your intentions for the day by clearing your mind of the distractions around you, and it is also a great way to break up your day. The mind can become overwhelmed when intaking a lot of information, so allowing yourself the five to ten minutes of focusing on your breath can keep you from experiencing information overload. Lastly, it can be a challenge to maintain motivation when working from home as the number of distractions around you greatly increase. We may also find that we have some extra time on our hands. Setting daily goals can help maintain and even improve daily production. Creating a daily action plan at the start of your day, or the end of the day for what is coming tomorrow can increase your motivation and focus, which in turn will increase your productivity. Not only do daily action plans set the tone for the day, but they also normalize your day to a certain extent. It can be a difficult adjustment going from your typical working day routine at the office to working from home because many factors change: there is no commute, less human interaction, the environment, even the clothes you wear. It is unrealistic to mimic your work environment in your home precisely, but having a daily action plan can, at the very least, help you maintain your productivity. Every night before I go to bed, I make a list of what I want to accomplish and what work I have to do for the following day. My list typically goes as follows:
Meditation - yoga
Work - read two research articles
Exercise - cardio and 30-minute full-body workout
Work - compliance training
Breathing exercise - 10 minutes
Work on column - write one section
As I complete each task, I cross it off my list. Sometimes I have to make adjustments and switch tasks around. For example, if I sleep through my alarm, I may skip my morning yoga, but practice my breathing exercise earlier in the day. Once I complete my list, it is either time for me to relax, or maybe there was a task I planned on completing the next day that I felt I had time to finish today. Doing this helps me maintain my productivity and directs my focus towards something that I have control over.
Even though your current state of living is unique, challenging, quite frightening, and any other adjectives you wish to use to describe what we are facing, you still have control over your actions and responses. Focusing on what is in your control increases your overall well-being and your productivity, decreasing your levels of anxiety, stress, doubt and fear that you may experience, all because you are not consuming your time and mental capacity with situations that are not in your control. What is in your control is the daily goals you set for yourself that you want to accomplish, the amount of information you consume, practicing mindfulness and the connections you make and the conversations you are having. While doing these will not change the situation, but they will make it more manageable to live in.