It's OK to be tired right now. We promise.
Just thinking of all the effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on our lives is exhausting, as is the daily drone of trying to keep going even as it feels like the world is crumbling.
Some have responded to the pandemic and stay-at-home orders with a whirlwind of productivity. Many have pointed out that Shakespeare wrote "King Lear" amid an epidemic. Recipe challenges are swapped on email, Instagram is littered with perfectly baked sourdough bread and workout challenges, and it may seem like everyone on your social media feed is doing something with all this "extra time" we supposedly have without commuting, going to school or leaving our houses on the weekends.
But more time spent at home hasn't meant more free time. For many, the pandemic means balancing their jobs with childcare and home schooling duties. For others, a layoff means filing for unemployment and finding ways to cut costs. Many of us are cleaning more, to prevent the spread of the virus, and cooking more, as restaurants close or offer limited takeout. As people work from home, the ability for work hours to bleed into personal hours becomes easier. Health-care and essential workers are also facing the stress of battling the virus on the front lines.
The pandemic has not given us time to self-actualize. It has robbed us of time and exhausted us. And it's OK feel that way, experts say.
"Try to not judge yourself by a standard set by someone else about how you should be spending your time," says C. Vaile Wright, director of clinical research and quality at the American Psychological Association. "It’s OK to not be OK right now and to just do your best to get through this truly unprecedented time."
At the beginning of self- and government-imposed social distancing, there was a flood of online discourse about how to spend quarantine, and some found it overwhelming.
"I felt an immense amount of pressure every time I'd get an invitation to some sort of Zoom story hour or art class that conflicted with a work meeting," says Robyn Rizzi, who works in ad sales marketing in New York. "(Or seeing) someone's color-coded 'home-school calendar.' I don't even have the time to make this type of chart, let alone have any chance in the world of sticking to it."
Rizzi unequivocally says she has less time since she started staying home, between taking care of her 4-year-old son with her husband, constantly disinfecting her home, doing more cooking and laundry, and checking on friends and loved ones.
Parents working from home have a unique strain during this time, says Dyan Hes, a pediatrician in New York with Grammercy Pediatrics.
"Some parents feel that they have to be super-productive because the kids are out of school and they need to be occupied all the time," she says. "Lots of the 'online' schooling is really just online homework, which is super-stressful for parents. They may seem extra-productive, but they are really trying to become teachers, while working from home and maintaining their household."
Even without childcare responsibilities, the threat of coronavirus makes it hard for all of us to complete tasks, says Kathleen Cadman, an assistant professor of nursing at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.
The pandemic has placed many Americans into situations where physiological needs such as food and sleep "are no longer met," she says. "Safety is now a concern. ... This makes it difficult, or arguably impossible, for (people) to stay fully engaged."
Getting through a regular workday, let alone side projects like reorganizing your kitchen or writing a novel, is hard enough. Alison Green, a workplace advice columnist, thinks employers need to manage their expectations for what their staffs can achieve in the middle of this crisis.
"Employers who try to hold people to the same expectations they had before are going to end up with a frustrated, demoralized workforce," she says. "Once you show your employees that you don’t value them as humans, you usually can’t ever regain that trust."
Rather than setting unrealistic goals at work or home, psychologists recommend practicing self-care, which doesn't require much extra time.
"We can practice relaxing as we are walking, cleaning our house, doing the laundry," says neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "We can also practice a little self-compassion at these times, recognizing that no one is perfect and not being too hard on ourselves for failing to accomplish something in the time we had originally planned, for example."
A silver lining of the coronavirus pandemonium is recognizing what we have, Davidson notes. He recommends practicing appreciation, in addition to self-care.
"So much of our lives depend upon others," he says. "We need others to help us get our food, to pick up the garbage, and, of course, to care for our health. Intentionally cultivating appreciation for these many people who are serving others in this challenging time can be enormously helpful in promoting our own well-being."