Countless articles have been written about the changes in behavior and general lifestyle adjustments that have resulted from the pandemic; and, more specifically, from being quarantined for months. Folks are discovering all sorts of new things – how to plant a vegetable garden, how to log in to seventeen different Google classrooms, how to do the Macarena (as my 5-year-old can attest from his recent virtual PE dance assessment).
One discovery that surprised me: COVID Collarbone.
During a recent work call with a colleague, after catching up on a variety of tasks and status updates, the following conversation took place:
We both burst into giggles, and our current reality was very apparent. Our interaction has become completely relegated to above the shoulders. We are all just talking heads – and collarbones.
After our laughter subsided, she asked me how I had achieved my weight loss, and what we were now calling COVID Collarbone, when so many people had been reporting on gaining the COVID fifteen while housebound.
I reflected on my personal pandemic journey.
In the beginning, I did not cope with the pandemic well. I am a very social person who gets energy from being around other people. When in lockdown at the onset of the pandemic, I felt like a caged bird. My stress levels rose – my anxiety was palpable. My emotions took over, and I was crying for what I thought was no reason. I had to break out of my cage.
So, I started taking short walks to get fresh air and escape the confines of my house. Those walks turned into longer walks. Which turned into jogging a mile. Which turned into running a mile. Then three miles. Then four. Soon, if I didn’t get out of the house for a run nearly every day, I found myself feeling blue again.
As I explained this to her, I realized that COVID collarbone wasn’t the only thing that had emerged from this new routine. New self-awareness and best practices were emerging from this one decision to go for a walk. Best practices that I have decided to carry forth in a post-pandemic life.
Put well-being ahead of all else.
Be it physical, emotional or mental well-being, I’m learning that it’s ok to make self-care a priority above all else. Pre-pandemic, I would often block time on my calendar to go to the gym only to inevitably ignore or delete the block if a meeting came up, or if I got sucked into a project. I never treated it as an appointment – only something that would be nice to fit in. I even found myself canceling doctor appointments for the same reason. As I mentioned, I did not cope well with quarantine. Once I began taking walks to lower my anxiety, something else happened. My thoughts became clearer. Ideas started flowing in. I started taking conference calls on my walks – if the calls did not require me to view a screen or be on camera. I soon realized that I was more engaged in the calls this way – more tuned in. I wasn’t distracted by attempting to multi-task in front of my computer during the call. I contributed more. I had more creative ideas. It energized me mentally, too. I made a decision that post-pandemic, when we return to office work in any capacity, I will continue to take at least one call a day on the trails around the SAS Software campus – to fortify my mental, physical and emotional well-being, keep my creative juices flowing and focus my attention on the topic in that moment.
Stop apologizing for having personal obligations.
Pre-COVID, I would apologize if I had to miss work, or was late to a meeting, due to a sick child or other parental obligation. I would reprimand my kids for interrupting me on a work call, or too often ask them to keep quiet in the backseat if I was finishing up a call after picking them up from daycare. In a mid-COVID world, I realized how many of us are juggling all the things. Getting a figurative and literal glimpse into the homes and lives of my colleagues really helped me put into perspective that we are all doing the best we can, to be the best professionals, best spouses, best parents – best humans – that we can. And, more often than not, we give 110% effort to our work to make up for those moments we’re away. Further, those moments we’re away often provide much needed introspection, clarity and moments of inspiration to take back with us to our desk.
So, when my 5-year-old little monkey decided to crash a team meeting – we soldiered on.
Building off the previous section, I discovered the importance of giving grace. None of us are at our best all the time. We have moments of weakness and bad decisions. These moments don’t define who we intrinsically are. Missing a meeting, over-reacting to a situation, a momentary lapse of judgment shouldn’t become a Scarlet Letter for anyone. Working in these trying times, over-extended and unsure where the line between personal and professional is drawn anymore, this has become more and more apparent. I’m grateful for the grace that has been extended to me – and I am making a concerted effort to reciprocate that.
Don’t try to eat the elephant in one bite.
As a self-proclaimed ultra-Type A multi-tasker, I often try to do all the things all at once. In fact, there was a time when linear thinkers drove me crazy. I couldn’t process how people in life couldn’t move on to Task B if they hadn’t fully completed Task A. I’ve always been the person spinning all the plates at once and prided myself on not letting one drop. Enter COVID. All the plates came crashing down when I tried to be an always-on communications professional, mom, teacher, chef, wife, daughter, friend, IT support, PTA member, home repair technician and home health nurse. Over the past six months, I have learned that it’s ok to take life in smaller bites. To control what I can control and focus on one thing at a time. Sure, there are times when that’s not an option. But I’m learning to embrace the times that it is an option, and just slow down.
On one of my recent jaunts around the park, I had just wrapped up a morning conference call. In the past, I would have disconnected from the call, and immediately switched to email to see what needed a response. I would have done this while continuing my walk – looking down at my phone the entire time. This particular day, I opted to stick my phone in my pocket and just be. And, seconds after I made that decision, a deer hopped out of the bushes next to me and trotted right across my path so quickly it was a blur.
I immediately realized that I would have missed seeing that had I been checking my email and the immortal words of Ferris Bueller popped into my head:
What lessons have you learned during the pandemic that will benefit you beyond COVID?