I stare at my day planner, a feeling of dread growing inside. Like every other entrepreneur in Canada, my business has been affected by COVID-19. I contrast the numbers and data from February to the month of March. Just when I was gaining some momentum with my practice… I think to myself, a wave of frustration inevitably following.
“But I can use this time to be productive!” I tell myself. I make a list of all the work projects I’ve put on the back burner, the therapy books I’ve been wanting to read. I remind myself that at-home workouts, meal prepping, and learning a new skill are still options right now. You’ve been complaining about not having enough time—now you have it! I go to bed and commit myself to a productive day of work, exercise, and self-care tomorrow.
There’s only one problem…
The sound of my 7am alarm clock feels more masochistic than helpful. My schedule of activities looks daunting and exhausting. My list of self-care ideas seems annoying and ironic.
It occurs to me: I’ve been spending the past however many months working hard to grow my practice—waiting a moment to just catch my breath—only to find myself saying I need to swim harder when such a moment arises.
I’ve noticed this exact trend happening with my patients. COVID-19 has not only brought a new set of standards for hand washing and social distancing, but also for ourselves and ideas about productivity in general. In session, people tell me that playing video games for longer than usual must be a “sign” that they aren’t “using this time well.”
Apparently a pandemic isn’t even a good enough excuse for us to chill the f*ck out.
So here’s what I'm getting at…
If there’s small silver lining to this pandemic, it’s that it gives us all an opportunity to slow down and truly look at what’s in front of us. Being unable to go into the office might make your lack of hobbies appallingly obvious. Spending every day with your partner might reveal some cracks in your communication patterns. Having free time might highlight just how much you hate having free time, which is something to stop and take a look at in and of itself.
My advice here is to move toward whatever emotions, thoughts, or feelings are coming up for you rather than trying to avoid them. There’s a term in the field of psychology called radical openness that summarizes this approach to life perfectly. Rather than taking life at face value or being scared of change, radical openness is a state of being that involves “advancing courageously to the source of unknown with proper humility,” according to the term’s creator. It involves saying, “What might I learn from experiencing this more fully and with less judgment?”
The beautiful thing about radical openness is that it looks different on everyone. For me, radical openness might be about saying, “What is it about not being productive every day that’s worrying?” For one of my patients, it might be, “What is it about avoidance that I find so comforting?”
I remind practically every person I work with about the importance of finding a balance between accountability and compassion. Excessive compassion can easily transform into self-pity, while excessive accountability can easily transform into looking and living like an emotionless robot. Each of us need to discover what this unique balance of accountability and compassion looks like on us, specifically.
The Bottom Line
For anyone reading this post today, I’d like to remind you that this is a very difficult time for all of us. We’ve had to adjust to new schedules, excessive amounts of time with people—which is hard no matter how much you love someone—and losing support systems, whether it’s other people or our favourite exercise class. I repeat: this. is. hard.
And yet, so many of the things we’ve been longing to have a break from are now being recreated on a personal, micro-scale. We lament about the boss that micromanages us only to end up micromanaging our newfound free time. We wish our employers would let us leave work at a regular hour, only to find ourselves staying up until 10pm working for fear that we have “nothing better to do.” We finally get a chance to play that video game we bought eight months ago, only to get down on ourselves for actually playing it.
I’m not saying that we should all just say “screw it!" and spend our entire day watching Netflix, playing videogames, and eating chips. Nor am I saying that scheduling your time is a bad idea because, hey, that can be genuinely helpful. What I am saying is that this time of self-quarantine doesn't have to become something more than it is. Yes, we have more free time on our hands. Yes, we can get to things we’ve put on the back burner. But, no we don't have to use every second of that time finding a cure for cancer. And no, you don’t have to finish that project you don’t care about any more just for the sake of finishing it. Take an honest look at the habits in which you’re engaging right now so you can see what might be helping or hurting your mental health but also go easy on yourself.
I can't tell you how many times I've recently said, "Have you not killed your partner or kids? Have you been doing small things that are in your control to just stay afloat? If yes, you're doing a good job. Period."
So, my dear reader, let me assure you: you're "doing" this whole quarantine thing just fine. I promise.
If you or someone you know could use some extra support right now, I’m offering online and in-person sessions with very strict precautions at my Markham office. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your appointment.