How Criszel Ann Acuna Overcame Her Pandemic Slump

The HR Business Partner made small changes to eat healthier and boost her energy.

For many people, the pandemic changed everything about how they lived and worked. The pandemic affected me as well — I just didn’t realize it. It took me about six months into lockdown to notice that I was really struggling. One day it just hit me. I felt stressed. I felt out of focus. And I decided I needed to start adjusting to this new normal.

It first started to manifest through my work. My job requires me to deal with people experiencing issues and I often have to make big decisions, but I just couldn’t focus. When I had to make decisions — which was often — it took me a long time to put my thoughts together. After a while, I even started to second guess my judgment. I also wasn’t sleeping well. And I never felt well-rested, no matter how many coffees I drank in a day. 

I didn’t realize that, in the transition to working from home, all of my routines had changed. Before, I’d wake up, take a moment for myself, eat breakfast — maybe a banana, toast, pandesal, or an apple — and commute to the office. Just six months later, and I was barely halfway into my coffee before checking my email. It was so difficult to set boundaries when working remotely, but I knew I had to make a change. I was more stressed and foggy than I’d been before, so I committed to making small changes every day until I felt better. 

The first change I worked on was my caffeine habit. I used to drink three or four cups of coffee a day. When we were still in the office, people would always say, “Let’s get a coffee and catch up.” It became part of our routine, until all of a sudden we were drinking way more coffee than we needed. I maintained that habit during the pandemic, and I think that it didn’t help my sleep issues. So I cut down on coffee little by little. Now I’m down to one cup a day! And instead of starting my day with caffeine, I have a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon and some delicious Manuka honey that my sister sent me from New Zealand. 

The next thing to tackle was soda. Like coffee, I was drinking three or four cans of soda a day. It’s easy to say that you need a little energy boost to help you focus or be productive, but once I hit my pandemic slump, I realized soda wasn’t actually doing me any good at work. So, again, I started little by little. One less can today, one less can tomorrow. I’m still in the process of taking soda out of my routine, but I’m definitely doing a lot better now. I’ve been replacing soda with water. I purchased a 1.5 liter water bottle, and I make a habit of getting up regularly to refill it. I feel more hydrated and I don’t have as many sugar cravings.

These changes have improved my sleep patterns as well as my brain fog. I’ve always had difficulty sleeping due to my working hours. I work from 2 p.m. to midnight, and working late can make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. Now, I force myself to take at least 30 minutes to unwind from work before bed. It really helped improve my quality of sleep, and ultimately I feel more well-rested. I also refrain from drinking water before bed so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night for bathroom breaks. When I’m really having a hard time sleeping, I usually drink a warm glass of milk.

I’m facing a new challenge now that I’ve recently started to work in the office once a week — limited food choices. The only accessible options are nearby fast food chains. To address that, I eat lunch at home before leaving for work and I pack my dinner with me. This way I always have something nutritious to eat.

As the youngest child in my family, it’s tradition that I live with and care for my mother. Being able to stay home with her has been such a blessing. We get to spend more time together, and I’ve been able to teach her how to cook. Every morning we’ll have a few fruits, and for lunch some meat and vegetables. Some of our best recipes are sinigang and adobo, so that’s something we like to make together. 

My biggest piece of advice for someone who’s in a slump right now is to listen to your body. My body told me when things needed to change — all I had to do was listen and take small steps toward feeling better.

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