Be Gentle with Yourself

I was talking to my friend Kristin today about getting stuck in the void of isolation – I’m at day 26 of lock down and I’ve really started to notice how the days are all blending into one. Wake up, breakfast, work, lunch, work, walk, grocery store, dinner, chores, relax, bed, repeat. And how much of an emotional roller coaster it is — one hour it’s fine and suddenly you’re bottomed out under the weight of misplaced existential dread and your place in the suffering Olympics, and in a few hours its fine again. It can be tough (yes, this blog is about First World Problems, let’s get that out of the way).

We were also talking about the wave of “don’t feel bad if you’re not being as productive during this time as you think you should be or as that person you stalk online is or as social media is telling you to be” memes that are everywhere now. I brought up the fact that I don’t even really know how to define ‘productivity’ for myself anymore. It used to be that my “productive” time was meant for weekends, and anything I accomplished during the week was my bonus time. Now that I’m home ALL. THE. TIME. it should seem like I could be doing all the things all the time. But it’s not that easy.

I think, for people who can’t work right now and who don’t have to worry about money (the lucky ones), or for people who are working remotely and have very flexible jobs, it’s easier to worry about squandering this ‘bonus time’ in which we’re encouraged to stay home and not be busy. But for people working remotely 8-12 hours a day in a set time period, you really don’t get heaps and heaps of ‘bonus time.’ You basically get the hours you would have spent commuting. And if you’ve spent years with a long commute and long work hours, you might be spending this little bit of time letting your body recover. And if you have kids, I imagine it’s near impossible to use that ‘bonus time’ just for yourself. But we’re supposed to be taking advantage of all this ‘down’ time by being productive. So I can absolutely see how it’s so easy to fall into the “I’m not using my time wisely” black hole (after all I spent 2 years in therapy crawling out of said black hole).

I had a think about my situation. I’m (thankfully) still working full time. Pre-COVID, I was out of the house for usually 10 hours a day. Now I’m on the clock between 7-8 hours a day (or up to 9-10 on some really long days at first). So really I’m getting an extra 2 hours to my day. This adds up to about 10 hours a week. Which, if you got them all at once would cool, but spread out over the course of a week doesn’t give you much to work with. 

Or at least that’s what I thought.

I had spent the last few weeks in an exhausted funk. I made it past the crippling anxiety of the first couple weeks at home, and suddenly drove straight on into a brick wall. I saw the Depression Train coming, and I knew I needed to switch the tracks before shit got worse. I was talking with my coworkers about what they were doing to make their days better, and surprise surprise, they were all taking care of themselves – which I wasn’t. I was dehydrated, tired, and burned at the edges. So I decided I needed to start using those 2 extra hours a day to take care of myself.

First, I made myself to finally create a new work/life balance. I decided to stick to my shift hours (not working more than 30 mins overtime), because it finally occurred to me that no one can do everything all at once.

Next, I made a self-care calendar on Excel – one tab has a calendar, and the next tab has the following categories: Indulgences, Enrichments, Connections, and Chores. For Indulgences, I listed my favourite ways to treat myself (that don’t involve spending $$), Enrichment is activities that make me feel less like reality TV watching potato – writing, reading, crafts, fitness etc; Connections are different ways of reaching out to people and checking in; Chores, I listed all the things we do on a daily/weekly basis to keep our place not looking like rat’s nest. I decided to do one thing from each category per day (for example: watch a re-run of my favourite show; unload the dishwasher; write for 20 mins; and text someone back) and chart all the things I do on the calendar.

(Nerd alert – but hey – it keeps me accountable)

At first I was firm with myself about doing one thing from each column every day, but I knew that was a quick way to set myself up for failure. So I decided on Doing One Thing from Chores, and just One Other Thing from the other categories. It was a low pressure way to do good things for myself. I slowly started to feel re-charged, and I found that once I didn’t pressure myself to get all the things done all the time, the more personal bandwidth I suddenly had. I want do 2 or 3 things from each category as long as I don’t demand them of myself. It’s a low-pressure way to check in with myself.

This self-care management plan has me feeling less stuck in the void than I have in the last 6 weeks. While I don’t feel more “productive”, I feel better. I feel more like myself. I feel less stuck. And that counts for more. This coming week, I’m going to try and add a tiny bit of structured fitness (besides my daily mental health walk), and see how that goes.

So maybe that’s how I’m going to define productivity – by forgetting about it all together. Forget productivity – Focus on positivity – and taking care of myself.

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