We’re 90 days into shelter-in-place and social distancing, and I’m beginning to feel the affects on my energy, mental stability, and emotional resilience. To be honest, I feel like a 14-year old teenager again. I notice that I feel way more uncomfortable, insecure, and worried about what other people think about me, at least more than I typically do.
Remember age fourteen? Yeah, I never thought I’d be back there again, but my brain and my mood feel eerily like I did when I was a teenager.
Awkward, uncomfortable, precarious.
This is not easy.
I was chatting with a business friend of mine about this feeling, and she remarked that it’s also an apt metaphor for what many people are going through right now. The choices we make as a teenager—like the choices to leave home, to choose a college, to get a job, to carve out our adult life—they are weighted with significance and importance. It feels heavy, important, hard. It feels like weights on your shoulders. It feels risky, dangerous, necessary.
Collectively, as people navigate the pandemic, the new world of work, the recession, the social isolation, and even in campaigning for change in government and policy—it feels like being a teenager again. We have to do things we’ve never done before. What we decide to do and how we do it are hugely important. If you’re new to these behaviors and social experiences; if you’re looking at doing things you’ve never done before; if you’re trying to carve out a path and a future that is unpredictable and you don’t know what’s next, well, it feels an awful lot like what it felt like to be a teenager.
All this to say, you’re not alone if you feel this way.
This is hard.
I’ve watched clients reconcile with old patterns they thought they’d long let go of; I’ve watched people break down and have mental relapses; my husband and I remind each other over and over again that no one is at their best right now.
Full disclosure: we went on our first outing together without our children since March 12th. We had four hours of time together, alone. I don’t get to spend much time with my husband right now, because one of us is always with the kids while the other is scrambling to try to get a few hours of work (or household management, or exercise) in between. At night, after the kids are in bed (around 7:30pm), we’re usually picking up the house and doing dishes and then we’re in bed by 8:30pm.
So on this adventure outside together, we had four hours together. We spent the first two silently reading books about ten feet apart from each other in the park, as introverts might do. Then, we walked back home, and we got into a fight.
It’s like when you get a facial after two years of not doing it. Lots of blackheads to squeeze out, amiright? Anyways, there was lots of junk to process and we’re still working on it. We’re human.
Here we are.
This is not easy.
Today I want to remind you to be kind to yourself, and to take care of your mental health as best you can. Rest is an act of rebellion, too. Today I want to share a few ways to take care of yourself during all of this.
Move throughout the day
We focus on exercise, which can be extraordinarily helpful in managing stress. Yet it’s the 23 hours of the rest of the day that matter just as much as the hour of exercise. Add movement back in by taking walking meetings and calls while walking, getting off the subway one stop earlier, taking the stairs as a rule, or adding short five-minute movement practices to your morning or evening routine.
I’ve taken to adding biking meetings, where I take my Zoom calls from my stationary bike, or I walk through the forest while I’m on the phone so I can stay moving while working.
Take a 5-minute breather
We’re programmed to work in 90-minute segments of max flow, and working straight through doesn’t actually result in more effective output. Schedule in breather moments into your workday by changing your default meeting settings to 25 minutes or 45 minutes to allow time space between activities. Add an egg timer to your desk or calendar alerts as a pause between activities.
In the five minute breather, lie down and focus on calming your nervous system. Do this by inhaling for a count of four, and exhaling for a count of seven. Let your belly completely relax. Let your shoulders sink into the floor. Close your eyes. Do this in between meetings, as much as you can—maybe 17 times a day if you need.
Journaling can be a balm for the soul, and a stress-relieving practice. Writing down what’s happening and listing your emotions can reduce your heart rate and alleviate stress. Start a practice with 750 words, read “Writing Down Your Soul,” or dig into Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way.”
Talk it out
Do you have someone trustworthy that you can talk to, and are you talking to them on a regular basis? This can be a parent, a friend, or a support group (basically anyone that listens to you without judgment). If you’ve fallen out of contact, reach out to someone and say “I miss you. Can we do a weekly chat?” Chances are they’ve missed you as well and will benefit as much from connecting.
Go to therapy
Going to therapy continues to get some stigma, but it’s life changing. It’s a privilege to have somebody who looks at the way you think, listens to you objectively without judgement, and is able to see patterns that you can’t see. Parenthood and our businesses require us to bring our best selves, and having someone dedicated to supporting you is a huge resource. If it feels awkward thinking about going to therapy, remember that learning anything new feels awkward at first.
My rule of thumb: go before you need it, if you can.
Also, if you want to know something you can do right now as part of your activism and support, donate to The Loveland Foundation, which supports therapy for communities of color, with a particular focus on Black women and girls. I have a recurring donation set up to them each month, and if you can put $10/month, please do. I know things are hard right now.
Quit social media (or at least take a break)
I’ve been numbing myself with hours of social media time, and I know it’s not helping my brain. Facebook is not a conversation, and it’s not designed that well for connection. Most of our social media tools were designed by awkward teenagers or college students and the very basis of their designs are about status signaling, posturing, ego, and shouting into the void. There are very real benefits to social media (especially for groups that are marginalized or oppressed), but you do not need to be on it every day to get the benefits. Take the weekends off. Take the mornings off. Take it off of your phone.
If you’re not sure, try a seven-day rest. It’ll still be there when you get back. I just finished a seven day hiatus and I feel remarkably different than I did a week ago.
Dedicate one or two days a month to getting more sleep
Sleeping enough can be a difficult feat if you’re working on your side hustle, or if you’re the parent of a young child, or if you’re trying to keep your job. Yet it is fundamental to your wellbeing. A study in 2011 found that sleep deprived participants responded more quickly to negative stimuli; not getting enough sleep can be a downward spiral for mental health. Perhaps sleep is the thing that will most improve your wellbeing right now. Instead of trying to nail a perfect routine, commit one or two nights a week to extra sleep, or add a nap into a weekend schedule instead of an event.
Going through this with so many of you.
I write a newsletter about personal development, psychology, and leadership. Recent essays cover how to make better decisions, designing your schedule and life, rethinking the structure of work to fit a more human body, and the intersection of parenting and work. If you're curious, seeking the spark of new and interesting ideas, and want some groundedness within the flurry of modern life, you will probably enjoy my newsletter. Don't see the form below? Head here to subscribe instead.