A year into the pandemic, and we’re still cooped up in our homes.
We’re itching to do something more with our time, find a sense of fulfillment despite the uncertainty. To fight off stagnation and escape the dreary day-to-day, we turn to our work. This may mean taking up extra hours at your job (totally understandable), obtaining side gigs, monetizing your hobbies, and turning them into online businesses.
These efforts are extremely admirable.
However, they do more harm than good if we’re using them as a way to run from our messy thoughts and difficult feelings. It becomes unhealthy when we glamorize productivity as the only way to respond to the pandemic. It becomes unhealthy when we choose work over all the other aspects of our lives, including self-care.
2020 (and 2021) brought over a seemingly never-ending stream of losses. Grieving has become a regular activity caused by financial anxiety, cancellation of plans, loss of safety, worry over health, feelings of isolation, and fears for the future.
There is no one way to cope with grief, but working yourself to the bone should not be your only option. In this 2017 article in The Atlantic, self-proclaimed workaholics were interviewed on why they subscribe to extreme working hours. One respondent said:
‘When [a traumatic event] happens over and over again, after a while, your system tells you that anything can be a threat. [Through work] I could predict something. It makes you feel as like you know what’s going on.’
When nothing makes sense, the grind becomes a source of control — a way to assure ourselves that everything is normal. However, minimizing and denying that we are struggling will make us struggle even more.
Has it been difficult to focus on your tasks? Having you been sleeping more or not sleeping enough at all? Are you angrier and more irritable than usual? Have you experienced any headaches or stomach aches? Are you just so tired?
If any of those words strike a chord, then you are experiencing grief. If overworking is your coping mechanism, don’t fret; there are healthier ways to establish control.
Respect your own boundaries
When time no longer seems to exist, we may end up working to the point of burnout. If you’re the type to make endless to-do lists, it might help create a defined working hours schedule.
Set rules for yourself. You will take 10-minute breaks between each task. You will only work until 6 PM. You will not answer any work-related calls or messages once you clock out.
Boundaries aren’t just guidelines on how other people should treat you; they are also reminders of our own wants and needs. You need time to rest. You need alone time. Hustle culture has taught us to be productive at all costs. However, there is nothing shameful about having limits.
Stop running away from your feelings
We’re made to believe that we should avoid our negative emotions at all times. But, emotions are neither bad nor good; they’re just human. Being able to feel a wide range of emotions is a sign of good mental health.
It’s okay to feel that heaviness in your chest. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel a lot of things at the same time. Processing your feelings is a skill that takes practice. You can do it by writing in your journal (no need to be a poet), making art (no, it doesn’t have to be good), or simply talking to someone you trust.
By allowing yourself to feel what you feel, you can avoid manifesting them through problematic behaviors like overeating, oversleeping, splurging, and even projecting on others. Let your feelings pass through you so they won’t control you.
Treat your body like the temple that it is
We cannot emphasize enough how good exercise is for your body.
You don’t need fancy equipment or a crazy diet plan; you just need to get up and move. Try to replace fatty, sugary, and processed foods with vegetables and lean meat to complement good sleep and exercise. It might also help to have a healthy diet, lessen your caffeine intake, no matter how sacrilegious that sounds.
Your mind and your body are connected; nourishing both will help you feel safer and more at home with yourself.
Don’t rush the healing process
It can get tiring to marinate in our emotions. It’s why fight or flight becomes an instinctive response.
We may end up forcing self-care to fit in a strict schedule, saying things like: ‘I should be feeling better by now’ or ‘I should get over this by tomorrow.’ And when this doesn’t happen, we feel ashamed for not healing fast enough, for not being as okay as we want to be.
We then do everything we can to prove ourselves otherwise, i.e., overworking.
Margaret Paul once said, ‘Many people would rather feel an awful feeling that they are causing than feel the authentic, painful feelings of life.’
Shaming yourself into feeling better is not the same as healing. To process grief, we must be patient and compassionate with ourselves.
Again, your worth is not defined by your productivity.
This pandemic is an extremely stressful and traumatizing experience. It would be best if you cut yourself some slack for enduring it. It’s not easy to sit or stand still, but consider pausing the hustle. Little by little, let yourself just breathe.