The majority of the world is now in lockdown. Many of us are working from home, and have to be very careful and mindful of our daily lives. We are learning to adjust to social distancing. We can't visit cafes and restaurants, or have casual meetings with friends and loved ones. Even the daily, mundane chores like grocery shopping have their own challenges. We have to learn to wait in queues outside the store. We must maintain a safe distance between us and our fellow shoppers.
And in the middle of this all, we’ve got an army of motivational speakers and business gurus who tell us that this is the time to get down and dirty. That we should use this time to become very productive. I’m sure it’s all well-intentioned. And I’m sure it works for many, who can focus on projects and achieve what they haven’t had the time to achieve before. Good for them, I wish them well.
So why do I insist you shouldn’t buy into the productivity hype?
This past two weeks I attended various zoom sessions, chatting with more than 50 people. And I’m talking about ambitious people who’ve been working on their businesses for some time. They are all about productivity. And yet, most of them admitted that this productivity hype is more damaging than helpful.
Life is challenging as it is right now. Seeing the growing number of illnesses, worry for our loved ones leaves us in a state of constant anxiety. A growing number of people are losing their jobs which threatens their livelihood. And who knows when will this all end?
Not to mention the ones who fell ill or having loved ones battling the virus. And let’s not even mention the unmentionable.
We all have our ambitions and plans for the future. But our lives changed dramatically in the past three weeks, and we need to learn to adjust.
Add to this mix all the messages from social media that this is the time to become incredibly productive. To finally write that book, create that course, publish the website and all. It can pile enormous pressure on people who are already stressed out.
Yes, if you have the capacity and the headspace to do, go for it! This time indeed can be the start of something great.
But if you find yourself dealing with intense mood swings (I do!), with heightened anxiety (again, me too!), and you worry about the ones close to you, then being productive is not your highest priority.
First, you need to take care of yourself.
In times like this, it is incredibly important to be selective about who we choose to listen to. Not all well-intentioned messages are helpful. We all have dreams to chase and goals to hit. But if this productivity hype is making you feel more stressed and guilt-ridden then it’s time to take a step back. It's time to focus on your emotional and physical well-being.
9 Ways for better Emotional Management
Emotional management is a work in progress for most of us. Maybe you’ve been fine up until now, but this new situation presented some significant emotional challenges, and those should not be ignored.
Below I’ll share with you 9 practices (some of which are pretty new habits I’m working on) that I find helpful to manage my emotional balance:
Meditation is something I’ve always wanted to do, but never really managed to find the time and motivation to do it. Even though many people I know or follow swear by it. So about a month ago I decided that it was time to build it into my daily routine.
It takes time and effort to form new habits, but I noticed a strong correlation between my mood during the day and my meditation practice. When I start the day with 10 minutes of stillness, I’m more positive and balanced during the day. It’s like meditation is strengthening my resilience and balances my emotional ups and downs.
I’m using an app to keep me on track, and I only meditate roughly 10 minutes a day, but if you just sit still and focus on your breath for 2-5 minutes each day, that will surely be helpful too.
Keeping a journal is something that I have done for several years, but not in a daily “dear diary” fashion. My journal entries usually coincide with the challenges in my life, and I use my journal to sort out my thoughts and feelings. Journaling is like emptying a heavy backpack I’ve been lugging around all day. Once all the heavy thoughts and emotions are dumped on the page and I’ve managed to make sense of them, I move on.
A few months ago I added another highly recommended practice to this: daily gratitude journaling. I spend five minutes each morning answering three simple questions about the coming day, and then a few more minutes in the evening, listing the three best things that happened that day.
Now that daily life is more challenging, I use both simultaneously. I start and finish the day with the gratitude journal, and when I’m emotionally overloaded or unsettled, I just open up my journal and dump all my thoughts on the page. If you have trouble sleeping lately, because all that’s going on, I would recommend doing this thought-dump journaling in the evening, not long before you go to bed. It usually helps to clear the mind, so it won’t be buzzing and keeping you from falling asleep.
Now I know that not all of you are avid readers, and that’s OK. But our goal here is to create the best possible mental environment for you to lower your anxiety and deal with mood swings, and reading can help with it.
My recommendation is this:
Have two reading sessions: one in the morning, and one in the evening. They don’t have to be longer than 10 minutes each.
Have two books for this purpose: the morning reading should help you with your daily motivation and personal development. The evening read should be calming and soothing.
For the evening reading session, use an actual book, rather than reading on your computer, mobile phone or e-reader. Most of those devices emit a blue light that can affect your sleep, so try to eliminate them before bedtime.
At the moment I’m reading The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson in the morning, but my evening read is a much gentler book called Wabi Sabi by Beth Kempton.
The Slight Edge gives me enough boost for the day so I can focus on my tasks during the day, but the other book helps me to wind down at the end of the day and helps me relax.
4. Creating a healthy diet and sticking to it
I must disclose that I’m an emotional eater, and my default reaction to stress is overeating and snacking.
So this advice of creating a healthy diet coming from me is big, even I have to admit it. And I didn’t include this just because I’ve read all the research about the strong correlation between mood and food. I recommend this because I’m experiencing it.
I will not include here specific guidelines, there are plenty of resources online. What I’ve noticed is that snacks loaded with sugar and (unfortunately) fast food and takeaway usually comes with a price tag of sluggishness, heightened anxiety and low mood. When I use takeaway food to “eat my feelings”, I always end up lower than where I’ve started. This is a bummer because unfortunately, I love a good Chinese takeaway. But this is what it does to me, and I’m not alone with this.
When I stick to my mostly plant-based whole food eating habits, where I eliminate processed food and focus on fresh produce, my emotions are steadier and I have more clarity.
And no, I’m no angel, I still order my favorite Chinese, but I’ve managed to reduce the number of occasions. You don’t have to be perfect either, but at least try to eat clean as much as possible, knowing how much the food you consume affects your mood and emotions.
5. Daily exercise
The same applies to exercise. If you aren’t a naturally active person, then being in a lockdown can be a good excuse not to leave the house for days, but that’s not good for you, and you know it.
So lift that butt off the sofa, and drag yourself out for a 30-minute walk each day, especially when you feel anxious and have a bad mood. And of course, make sure to keep that 2-meter distance between you and others.
6. Staying close to loved ones
I know, you can’t go and meet your friends for a coffee or a glass of wine. You can’t go and hug your grandma, or your nieces. We are in lockdown, and it is difficult. My sister, my favorite person in the whole wide world lives a thousand miles away from me. But even if she lived across the street, I couldn’t go and hug her, because she’s got little ones and a husband, and I wouldn’t dream of risking their health. So what can we do instead? We can call, have a video chat, message each other and stay in touch as much as we can.
And let me point out something very important here: following a friend’s social media account and liking her posts is not staying in touch. Picking up the phone, sending a personal message, asking about her and her families’ well being, offering emotional support when needed - that’s what staying in touch means.
This is also a golden opportunity to start talking to someone you’ve lost touch with. This pandemic gives you the ultimate opening line to revive a friendship that was neglected before.
7. Getting immersed in hobbies
The definition of a hobby is this: “an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure” (Google search result). It is something that you do because it makes you happy or gets you completely immersed in the activity. It stimulates and relaxes you. That should be the main purpose of it.
Find something that makes you happy, helps you lose track of time and makes you emerge from it refreshed and relaxed.
If you don’t have a hobby yet, maybe this is the time to find one.
8. Limiting social media and news consumption
This one I really mean. Following the news is important as long as you aim to stay informed to know what’s going on and what you need to do.
Be very protective of your mental energy and be selective when it comes to social media and news. Learn to identify fear-mongering news items and articles and steer clear from them.
And as for social media, this is the time to choose NOT to engage in the comparison game. I know it looks like half of your friends on Facebook have already launched businesses since the start of the lockdown, or bake homemade bread every morning, using their very own homemade yeast, or paint like Picasso in their free-time, or decluttered and decorated their flats in a mere 2.5 days. Good for them. Move on.
Even if all that is true, it doesn’t mean you have to do the same thing. We all deal with this situation in our own way, so be kind to yourself, stop comparing your own progress to others and limit your daily social media consumption.
9. Be kind to one another
Yesterday I had to go to the post office, and on my way, I was careful to keep the recommended 2 meters space between me and others. Most people didn’t even lookup. It seems the fear of the virus made everyone walking with their eyes cast down. But then there was this older man walking his dog, and as it happens, the pavement widened a bit as we approached one another, and I could give him and his dog an even bigger space to move. He looked at me, smiled and thanked me. And this was enough to make my day.
It doesn’t take a lot to be kind and considerate. A smile, a kind word, a nice gesture goes a long way, especially now. And it will give you an immediate mood lift as well, so you win as much as the person you were kind to.
I’m sure there are other methods to improve your emotional wellbeing, this little list just shows what works for me.
What matters here is this: we all deal with this crisis in our unique way. Instead of beating yourself up for not being productive enough, focus on your emotional balance. Make sure to give yourself enough space to deal with your feelings, acknowledge them, sit with them, write them down, and create habits to promote balance.
You will have good days and bad days, so be gentle and patient with yourself. When you’re ready, your productivity will increase as well.
But first, it’s OK to deal with your emotions.