Who’s feeling more stress than usual these days? We’re nearly a full year into this pandemic and still we see so many people feeling frustrated, burned out, stressed, and overwhelmed by their “normal” workload. Let’s talk about this.
First: if you’re experiencing high stress or struggling right now, know that you’re not the only one.
I’m sure you’re tired of hearing that, but we need the reminder sometimes! Most of us are not comfortable with public vulnerability, so we don’t see the truth of others’ struggles, but right now we are all struggling. While you might not always be able to see it, know that we all need more than we can provide for ourselves or for each other right now. You are not broken.
Now, why are we struggling with productivity?
Well, mainly because there are a lot of extremely stressful things happening in the world right now.
While there is new hope as the vaccine is being rolled out, we are still living through a pandemic. This means you might be remaining more isolated in order to keep to CDC guidelines (only seeing people in your “pod”, social distancing when in public, working remotely, etc.) or you might be an essential worker having to face working conditions which feel dangerous or risky. These are not our “normal” ways of working and either condition is a lot for your brain to process.
On top of that, we’re also living through an incredibly high stress political moment, where we turn on the news and see things like an armed mob of white supremacists storming the Capitol building to overthrow an election. We struggle to cope with the division and hatred in our communities, and to understand the struggles of others.
And, amidst all of this, your own life doesn’t stop. All of the personal and professional challenges, relationship issues, and mental health struggles, and reasons for stress in your life have not gone away, but are layered on top of all of our national struggles.
Is it any wonder you’re feeling overwhelmed? Even just reading all of that at once makes us weary. Of course you can’t achieve the same levels of productivity as you do in “normal” times! So much of your mental energy is being pulled in a hundred different high-stress directions, there is no reasonable way you can balance that and the jam-packed workload you might be used to.
The simple truth is you can’t apply pre-pandemic, non-crisis standards to yourself or your productivity during these unprecedented times.
You CAN be honest, kind and gentle with yourself, and start adjusting your expectations towards goals that are more realistic, attainable and clear. Some strategies to start out on this path:
Make rest a priority in your schedule, and PROTECT that time.
Instead of looking at those blank spaces on your calendar and thinking “what can I squeeze in here?” We’re going to urge you to protect that time for rest and recovery. We all need at least half an hour of time for ourselves every day. Unless you’re incredibly busy. In that case, you need an hour. Instead of seeing it as a luxury, see it as an essential foundation for what you’ll need tomorrow.
Take advantage of autoresponders to reduce extraneous stress.
We all need to slow down a little. Pushing ourselves as hard as we can for as long as we can is a one way track to burnout. And these days that track is hyper-speed. When your plate is full, consider putting an autoresponder on your email to let people know that you might be a little slower getting back to them. Maybe provide a window of when they can expect a reply! This empowers you to both step away from your inbox so you aren’t overwhelmed by a hundred new emails as you’re trying to get your work done, and also shows respect for your colleagues because it doesn’t just leave them wondering if you got their message or if you’re planning on responding.
Determine your new “project capacity”.
What would you consider to be a full plate in “normal” times? Knock a bit off of that, and consider that your new normal. If you can get done more than that, then great! If not, it’s okay. There is no shame in having to let someone know that you’re managing all you can at the moment. Be realistic and kind with yourself when determining how much you can take on.
Be extra kind when things are extra hard.
Check out our post from last week on 8 ways to cope after a hard week for more specifics on this, but making sure to be honest about the way current events are affecting you is crucial to caring for yourself emotionally.