Hi. Remember me? It’s been a while.

I was all hyped up to do my weekly coaching spiel – then COVID-19 became a household word. Suddenly, no one knew if it was safe to work out at the gym. Was produce safe to eat? Ok, now the gym is closed.

Whoa, now the University is closed. Well, not really, we just can’t get to our offices. Through the miracle of Zoom, GoToMeeting, and other conferencing software, we can get everything done from the comfort of our own couch.

Wait a minute. I worked mostly from home anyway. This shouldn’t be a shift, right?

It was more of a shift than I thought. I don’t have kids, but Spousal Unit is home most of the day. He’s been great, honestly, and understands my hectic/not hectic work life. I’ve moved from the couch in the living room to the couch in the basement. I’m doing way more webinars than I ever thought possible, and I put three additional mini-certificates under my belt (Weight Management, Complex PTSD, and Telehealth). However, life has changed. I think when I had my first panic attack, ever, during a routine call is when I realized maybe things aren’t the normal work-from-home, and maybe I wasn’t 100% ok.

I’m putting on some poundage, and my central fat is growing. That’s the dangerous fat around your midsection that is sometimes called “stress fat.” At my last specialist appointments, it was pointed out that I am overweight and deconditioned. In other words, this COVID-19 has made me stressed, fat, and out of shape.

Let’s face it, if you like the gym, you probably picked it at least in part for social reinforcement. Yeah, there’s Zoom, but that’s different, right? Like we are in an episode of the Brady Bunch. I don’t know of any peer reviewed articles on Zoom Fatigue, but there does seem to be some anecdotal evidence supporting all this screen time being less than good for us.

I also know some of my colleagues are dealing with much bigger stressors than my whining about ANOTHER meeting about meetings where we plan future Zoom meetings.

And let’s not forget the number of our friends and family dealing with COVID-19. I can say as of this writing, I’ve known a few people who may have had it, but I have not lost any friends, family, coworkers, or students. I’m lucky – not everyone is.

I feel as if I should work hard right now, not because of them, not to get ahead, but FOR them. So they can tend to their needs with a little less stress. I’m fortunate to be healthy right now as well as open to do work – SO I SHOULD DO IT. As such, my basement has become where I spend the majority of my time.

But overworking isn’t the answer, either. So, I’m going to put on my compassion fatigue hat and consider some better ways to do things.

  • I’ve been telling parents in the telehealth seminars, “you’re doing great, your good enough is good enough.” (Yes, spellcheck, that is grammatically correct. Now put your red dots away.) And I believe that with all my heart. But sometimes, well, most of the time, self-compassion is tough. I like Kristin Neff’s definition: “treating ourselves as we would a good friend.” Would you tell your best friend not to take a break? That they’re not trying hard enough to get their kids to sit through e-learning? So why is it so easy to tell ourselves, “I’m not working hard enough, I should be more, I should be self-actualized when this is over?” Sorry for my cuss, but bullshit. I, and most likely you, need to be more gentle with ourselves.
  • Set some boundaries around work life, so that there is time for socialization. Work from 9-5, or 10-6, or 11-7, or something like that. Setting boundaries around my work and stopping when the workday ends is better than trying to hit some sort of arbitrary metric.
  • Take one day “off” a week – this is something I’m trying to do, but am not as successful. I always want to answer that one email that will take 5 minutes, right? Then all of a sudden you’ve worked on 5 different projects? I took one day, so far, to do nothing. I need to schedule those types of days more often. Maybe not do nothing, but no work.
  • Remember my hobbies and interests. Tang Soo Do still exists. My guitar is right next to me. My piano is upstairs. I’m not a sewer, but I spent an entire day setting up my sewing machine and making masks. Mom would have been proud. But then I looked at my to-do list and admonished myself for wasting the day. Nope, not going to beat myself up for doing things that bring me fun and enjoyment.
  • Taking regular breaks to eat, exercise, and relax – instead of trying to eat at my makeshift desk, skip the workout for something “more important,” and have the ding of my email remind me there is a message there. Which, once stimulus control is established, must be answered RIGHT NOW.

For all of you who are healthy, please take care of yourselves and stay that way. For those of you who are not, or are caring for someone who is not, take the time to get well. School, scholarship, and service will wait patiently for you, and those of us who can are ready and willing to help. And please remember that your good enough is, indeed, good enough right now.

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Categories: free programs

1 Comment

Michael Partie · April 29, 2020 at 2:24 pm

Thank you for sharing your reflections, which strongly resonate. In a time of shared anxiety and hardship, the cultural demands to suck it up or offer it up (depending on your childhood programming) can be an impediment to self-care. To be in good health, to have uninterrupted income, and have the company of loved ones, and still complain feels unseemly. On the other hand, to feel pride in productivity and happy in accomplishment feels self-indulgent and insensitive. Disconnecting from our feelings can surrender our behavior to whatever accidental reinforcers bring comfort without our awareness and consent, so “self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting.”

The profusion of clashing signals at home is challenging. Working in the same environment where I relax, socialize, watch television, play with the dog, and eat (and drink) creates conflicting behavioral cues, so I’m trying to amplify the stimuli that signal work, and make them distinct from the ones that mean leisure. For instance, I have found music I only play when I am writing. When I write, I play it; and I never play it unless I am writing. It is a clear discriminative stimulus for me to work.

Now, reading your post, I wonder if borrowing a unit of etiquette from martial arts would be useful. In a dojo, we remove our shoes, and bow before entering the practice area. This acknowledges the specialness of the space, which was created for training body, mind, and spirit. We bow at the start of class to set aside all other thoughts and concerns, and to focus on the work at hand. When practice ends, we bow again to mindfully bring the lesson with us as we return to the everyday concerns of life. Perhaps a starting-work ritual would sharpen our focus and productivity, and an ending-work ritual would encourage us to leave work tasks at work.

Some martial arts classes are held in spaces not owned or managed by the teacher, such as a recreation center, YMCA, or church basement. It’s common to set up icons such as flags, emblems, flowers, or a picture of the founder to create an atmosphere that focuses practitioners on the task at hand. When class concludes, the icons are retired. Doing this in our homebound COVID workspaces would be a way of controlling the stimuli that control us, as Skinner Sensei often said.

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