8 Tools to Improve Well-being in the Midst of a Pandemic
Contributing Authors: Kirsten Pabst, NDAA Well-being Task Force Chair
Follow In Recess, the Prosecutor Well-being blog at ndaajustice.medium.com.
Are the unwelcome changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic grating on you? Do you feel like you are stuck on a hamster wheel? Has this been going on forever? When will things go back to normal? After weeks, months and now the better part of a year, COVID-related pressures — from isolation, to concerns about our health, our kids’ education, rising rates of domestic violence as well as community unrest — are wreaking havoc on our sense of safety and well-being. Here are 8 resiliency tools to help us get through these strange times.
1. Define your workspace. If you are working remotely, it is as important as ever to keep work-related pressures contained in both space and time. Devote a specific place in your home for work, even if setting up a home office is not an option for you and make a point not to work in other areas, like the kitchen, bedroom or — in the case of my 6th grader — the bathroom. If noise interrupts your space, put on some headphones and listen to something soothing that suits you. Limit work to work hours. Draw as many boundaries between work and non-work as you can. It is better for your brain and makes you more productive in the long run.
2. Mind your schedule. Without the normal commute, it is easy to jump out of bed and fire up your laptop and start processing your in-box while making coffee. Try to maintain a normal routine of bathing (if that’s your thing), having breakfast and, instead of driving or riding to the office, use that time to transition into your day and go for a walk instead. At the end of the work day, set aside or shut down the work devices and avoid the temptation to check email after a certain time. For some, scheduling check-in calls and video chats with colleagues and/or supervisors at specified times throughout the week can ease social isolation and help define each day’s beginning and end.
3. Limit exposure to media. If you find COVID-related news distressing, try reducing your exposure to incoming negative information. Allow yourself to check-in on new case numbers at a certain time each week and, until then, avoid the constant buzz from the media, including social media.
4. Breathe. Breathing is anxiety’s enemy. Thinking about the breath can pull awareness from chaos in the head into the body, resulting in lower heart rates, reduced stress and increased resilience to life’s unpleasant surprises. One of my favorite teachers, Davidji, discusses the power of using your breath to ‘interrupt’ a negative response, in How to Stay Calm When You Are Triggered, one of his short and practical Life Tools videos. Another quick go-to I often use is the One Two Three Four Five hack, which helps me reset and redirect.
5. Focus on now. Multi-tasking hasn’t lived-up to its hype. It is well documented that bringing our attention into the present moment — what we see, hear, feel, smell, taste, know, experience right now — reduces anxiety and promotes well-being. Allow yourself the luxury of concentrating on the most important thing in this moment and give yourself permission to limit multitasking.
6. Stay connected. Just because you can’t go to a concert with your girls, doesn’t mean you can’t stay (mostly) connected. I meet on-line with a group of women DAs that gets together for a scheduled happy hour once per month, just to check in, laugh, connect, and support each other. My family has also started gathering via Zoom, notwithstanding occasional tech challenges. Reaching out to someone on your radar is as easy as sending a text, letting them know you are thinking about them, or sending a cute kid/dog/cloud photo to an isolated friend. There are tons of new connection apps in addition to standbys like Messenger, Teams, Skype, Zoom, and Google Meet, which all allow video calls. On Netflix Party, you can even watch bad TV with your buddies and chat on the side about whether that guy was on Lost or is a cylon from Battlestar Galactica. You’ll have to bring your own chips and dip but the therapeutic value of just ‘being’ with other humans cannot be overstated.
7. Adjust your standards. If you are still stressing because, due to juggling so many demands and dealing with transition angst, it is ok to allow yourself to temporarily be less productive, answer fewer emails, or order pizza for dinner.
8. Don’t wait for ‘The New Normal,’ write it!
Now is the time to reflect on what is working, what is not working and how you can re-draw the landscape of your life. Notice what patterns are no longer serving you and take efforts to re-write them. Remind yourself of the importance of connection and commit to reaching out to important people, even after the pandemic ends. We don’t have to compromise or settle on normal, it can be even better than ever.
Kirsten Pabst chairs NDAA’s Well-being Task Force and serves at the County Attorney for Missoula County, Montana.