Coping for the Long Haul: The Pandemic Marathon and how you can cross the finish line intact
Try these six tips for getting through the last leg of the pandemic marathon
“It’s called bonking,” said one of my clients in a coaching session. “That last stage of a marathon when you have a sugar low and your body has basically given up. It doesn’t have any more stamina, drive, determination or energy.” So what do runners do to get through this and finish the race?” I asked, always happy to play with a good metaphor to inspire new perspectives. Without getting into a healthy debate on sports nutrition here, it does come down to what you put in your body, before and during a race, and this will impact not only how well you’ll physically perform, but also how well you’ll mentally perform.
An article by Adam Grant of Option B fame was published in the New York Times recently: “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling; It’s Languishing.” Grant talks of “the dulling of delight,” “the dwindling of drive,” and “slipping slowly into solitude” that many of us are experiencing.
It’s not quite depression, but after 14 months of screens, staying put, and minimizing in-person human interaction, many of us are certainly not feeling on our ‘A’ game, to say the least.
What I loved about Grant’s article is the naming of what we’re experiencing. “One of the best strategies for managing emotions is to name them,” says Grant. Once we know what we’re dealing with, it’s easier to design and implement coping strategies.
Searching for bliss in a bleak day and purpose in a lonely week, as Grant coins the experience, can be found in a few ways. Arianna Huffington and Shirzad Charmine have also given me new tools backed in by science. With hope, I recently tried implementing some of these strategies. I was heartened to find I was intuitively doing the right things, but now that an expert told me they were right, I’ll implement them more with purpose. Because I can tell you, I definitely don’t enjoy the experience of “Languishing.”
Six things you can do to help you mentally and physically cross the Pandemic Marathon finish line:
1) Experience Flow
This is a mental state I probe my clients about often. “When have you felt most alive?” I might ask. Or “what is an activity that you do where you lose all track of time?” These are activities where you experience the mental state of flow. For myself, engrossed in healthy debate around a subject or a good writing assignment can get me there. Laughter, family game night, and great conversation can get me there too. Thankfully, Netflix counts. Those shows you’re binge-watching? They can help you experience flow. Regardless of what they are, take note of when you experience flow and implement more of these strategies into your days
2) Make Progress
The most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress, Grant tells us. As one who loves a good project and likes to see tangible success, I connect with this. We’ve just come off a four-month home reno. Honestly, the weeks would have disappeared without remark were it not for my walls literally changing around me before my eyes. Taking a course, welcoming daughter #1 home from her second year of university, seeing the scales go up (or go down) all are visible signs of time marching on, because you can see a change.
Years ago, after I had given birth to our second child, I was showing off some of the scrapbook pages I had created of her early days. I remember my Father-in-law looking at me incredulously, marveling at when I might have found time to do that. I looked at him and said that I needed to do something that marked the passage of time. Dishes, diapers, laundry, and sleepless nights all blur into one giant never-ending to-do list. “No one is sneaking upstairs and ripping pages out of my scrapbook,” I said. It gives me tangible, visible progress and I love seeing the pages fill up with every few moments I manage to pour into its creation. I knew that seeing tangible progress somewhere would help my diaper-filled days feel a little less monotonous.
3) Take breaks throughout the day
This may seem obvious, but one of the things contributing to the “languishing” is the virtual fatigue of screen time. The chair and the monitor may be the same, it’s just the people on them that change. Arianna Huffington speaks of short breaks during the day as a way to prevent stress from becoming cumulative. In a recent article, Huffington cites research that shows that virtual fatigue begins to set in roughly 30 minutes into a meeting. Further research released this month shows that taking breaks between meetings stops cumulative stress, while back-to-back virtual meetings weaken our ability to focus and engage. Taking breaks, even short ones reduces stress.
Lately, I’ve been working with Positive Intelligence. Through prompts on an app, the program invites you to take 2-minute breaks several times a day to reset your brain and halt the beta waves that cause stress. As a practice I’ve incorporated into my workday for several months now, I can attest to the fact that when I force myself to take these two-minute breaks, I can return to my screen with a renewed focus and a refreshed mind.
4) Shift Perspective
I brought the topic of languishing to my own coach as I shared that it was the topic that many of my clients were bringing to me. “I need some new perspectives.” I said — “I’m running out of ideas in these last miles of the pandemic marathon.” I had decided to take my coaching call with her off the beaten track of my usual run around the neighborhood and sat on the hill, in amongst the bushes, overlooking the lake by my house.
We had some fun seeing the perspective of the family of ducks swimming by, the newly fallen snow on the mountains, and the smell of the soil in the early days of Spring. Seeing my days from the lens of a different path opened up so many new ideas for me, and I set about implementing them with purpose.
5) Carve out Uninterrupted Time
Sometimes seen in “Revenge bedtime procrastination” — yes, it’s a thing, Grant shares the Chinese even have a word for it, in fact. It’s when you stay up late to reclaim the freedom you missed during the day. But it turns out to have a purpose — it’s a perhaps unconscious desire to do something without interruption. I found myself doing this a lot when my children were young. After I finally had them settled I yearned for “me” time when no one was calling for anything. During a year where all lines are blurred between work, home, and personal time — many of us no longer have that uninterrupted time. Find ways to carve it out in your day — or before bed or in the early morning, before everyone wakes up.
6) Focus on Small Goals
Take that project off the shelf you’ve been procrastinating, or read that book you were going to read “when you had time.” Carve out time to accomplish a small project, so you can feel satisfied with accomplishing something that’s not on a screen, and that can stoke your fires that need the satisfaction of completed projects to feel fueled. I may even pull out those unfinished scrapbooks!
Having tangible things to implement that I know are backed by science has already helped me languish less and live more. How will you implement one or more of the above recommendations today?
Looking for more resources on managing through the pandemic? Read Connection Lost: Intimacy Found on reclaiming your connection with self and others and 7 Ways You Can Rebuild the Resilience You Lost in the Last 12 Months on building your personal resilience so you can keep going and maintain a smile in the process. For more perspectives on perspective, read How a change in perspective can open up your world.
Looking forward to climbing out of the languish, rebuilding resilience, and reconnecting with….. so many people.
From my bubble to yours,