The pandemic persists. And you’re tired. No not tired, exhausted. Drained. Done.
You’re tired of missing your friends and family. You’re tired of meeting your colleagues on Zoom. You can only read so many books, or watch so much TV. And if you’ve got children endlessly beckoning as you try to make it through yet another busy workday, finding the time it takes to actually sit down and actually read an actual book probably seems like a luxury.
I’m reminded of one of the most spot-on quotes I’ve seen about the shared experience of COVID-19::
“We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat,” Leena Nair, Chief of Human Resources at Unilver, told McKinsey.
Some of you have lost jobs. Some of you have lost loved ones. And some of you have lost all sense of what you can do to break up the seemingly endless and painful, frustrating fatigue brought on by it all.
Maybe your boat needs an oar. Maybe it’s sprung a leak and you’re bailing it out bucket by bucket. Maybe it’s grounded, or flat out sunk.
There’s Real Pain Out There, and Hope Too
According to a recent survey of nearly 1,500 people from 46 countries, the vast majority of us are struggling with general and workplace well-being as the pandemic continues to rage, according to The Harvard Business Review. “These struggles are affecting our mental health and involve some of the key predictors of burnout, including an unsustainable workload, the absence of a supportive community, and the feeling that you don’t have control over your life and work.”
I don’t presume to have all the answers. But I do believe that there are positive steps you can take to to break up pandemic fatigue — today, tomorrow, and well into the uncertain future.
Let’s talk about three of my favorite strategies:
- Get more sleep
- Volunteer virtually
- Learn a new skill
Sleep: Give Yourself a Restorative Break
Lack of sleep has devastating effects on memory and our ability to concentrate, according to Matthew Walker, Director of the UC Berkeley Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab.
“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day,” Walker says in his 2017 book Why We Sleep, a brilliant summary of scientific research on sleep to date.
“The recycle rate of a human being is around sixteen hours. After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours.”
The complexities of life amid the pandemic can exacerbate the negative effects lack of sleep has on the mind and body.
Improving our sleep schedule and quality is an important part of coping during this stressful pandemic. according to Chandra L. Jackson, Ph.D., a research investigator with the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. ““Many people are sleeping less or longer than they need to, which can make people feel groggy, unfocused, and even irritable throughout the day. Some are sleeping at different times or getting a lower quality sleep than before.”
What can you do about it? As it turns out, you can do a lot: Make sleep a priority. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Meditate, take a bath, or listen to soothing music. Steer clear of caffeine. And avoid tablets or computers that lack a blue-light filter; using these before bedtime can interfere with your body’s natural rhythms.
Virtual Volunteering: The Next Best Thing
I’m a longtime volunteer, and I expect to be involved in charitable activities for the rest of my life. Animal welfare and mental health are my big passions. In addition to serving as a trustee for organizations dedicated to these causes, I like to roll up my sleeves and pitch in by cleaning kennels or simply spending quality time with animals waiting for adoption. And I encourage my team to take time off for volunteering too.
Why do I volunteer? I do it first and foremost because it helps. But there’s another important reason: I get back more than I give.
Indeed, research shows that among other benefits, volunteering reduces your risk of depression, gives you a sense of purpose, helps keep you physically fit and mentally active, decreases stress, and helps you develop new relationships.
It’s not easy to volunteer in a pandemic. Depending on where you’re at in the world at any given time, you might be on a strict lockdown. Even if you’re not, chances are you’re not taking too many chances with your health by exposing yourself to other people and places through extra activities.
For many people, nothing can replace the joy of volunteering in person. But there is an alternative, with virtual volunteering opportunities becoming popular in the past year. Are you a great communicator? There’s a nonprofit somewhere needing help with social media. Did you know the Smithsonian Institution is always looking for people to transcribe historical documents?
Maybe you’re sick of the computer and super handy. You can sew quilts for hospice patients or build wooden boxes for rescued rabbits.
The list goes on. In fact, Volunteer Match keeps a running tab of virtual volunteering opportunities. You can easily search by your location and find something that fits.
Learning: It’s Not Just for Work
There’s more to learning than finishing school and building your career. It’s not just about getting ahead. I consider myself a lifelong learner, and it’s not just because I need to pay the bills.
Learning can be about feeling good — especially during COVID-19.
Acquiring new skills can boost your mental wellbeing. More specifically, research shows it can increase your self confidence and self-esteem, help you build a sense of purpose, and help you find ways to socialize with others.
In our hyper connected world, you can learn anything. Information about hobbies is all over the internet. You can learn to cook, paint, fix a carburetor, grow an oak tree from an acorn, or complete that algebra problem you left behind in high school — all from the comfort of your sofa. When you’re ready to put your new knowledge to use, get out of the house and get started.
If focusing on your future success is in fact a priority, dive right into some work related upskilling! Chances are your wellbeing will benefit along with your job performance. It’s easier than ever to stay up to date with the skills you need to be successful, no matter what your career goals might be. More and more, employers offer employees online learning opportunities on thousands of topics available on demand as courses, videos, books, podcasts, and more.
Ready for even more? You can take your learning to a whole new level by finding and connecting with a mentor.
Whatever You Do, Be Kind To Yourself
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” I love that quote from author Vivian Greene.
Maybe you’ve got your sleep schedule nailed. Perhaps volunteering just isn’t your thing. Maybe you’ve already upskilled eight ways to Sunday.
That’s okay. You’ll find your way to better days.
No matter what boat you’re in, you can weather the storm with courage.