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Handling upheaval and navigating uncertain times

by Carmel Eve

 

I doubt that it’s escaped anyone’s notice that we have suddenly been thrown into a world which is pretty unrecognisable from that of even a few weeks ago.

I know I’m not alone in finding it difficult to comprehend and accept the scale at which our lives have changed. And I won’t pretend that I’m managing it well all of the time, but I thought I’d quickly run through a few strategies that I’ve used to help manage some of the challenges.

1. Take a breath

I think it’s important to remember that none of us have faced anything like this before. It is understandable therefore that in suddenly being thrown into a whole new world of unknowns and experiences, many of us are struggling to hit the ground running.

And, really, I don’t think we should.

It is important to take a moment, take stock of what’s changed, and to acknowledge and recognise all the thoughts, observations and emotions that come along with that. Without doing this we risk burning out due to unrecognised fatigue from trying to “push through” the new mental workload.

2. Remember that you’re not alone

In the age of technology, the world is extremely connected. I personally can’t imagine what any of this would have been like even 10 years ago. But I think that even with phones, social media, and 800 different video apps, it’s still easy to feel cut off from the rest of the world. This effect is amplified by the fact that many people are no longer working, or are now working remotely.

There are two ways in which I think this has a big mental impact:

Firstly, I think that one of the main factors in this is that we have suddenly all been cut off from everyone outside of our immediate bubble. We are now almost exclusively limited to our family and friends, and, for those of us still working, our colleagues. I think this leads to a bit of a disconnect from the world. I find it weirdly comforting to remember that there are little bubbles of people all over the world who are doing the same as me. Some of them are working, some of them are looking after kids, some of them are somehow managing to achieve both… And people everywhere are working on their kitchen table, deciding how to exercise today, writing extensive shopping lists, participating in online quizzes, and starting 2000 piece jigsaw puzzles.

Secondly, I think that something which can be difficult to build virtually is an emotional connection. Emotional conversations over instant messenger can feel stilted and meaning is often misconstrued or misunderstood. Video chat improves this, but I think that even in this case virtual experience sharing takes some getting used to. In this, remembering that almost everyone is struggling is incredibly important. Remember that you are not alone in finding this hard, remember that your support network still exists despite feeling more inaccessible right now, and remember that sharing when you are struggling not only helps you but provides others with the opportunity to do the same.

3. Do things which make you happy

I don’t know about everyone else, but my social media is currently full of people doing all kinds of productive quarantine activities.

In some ways this is nice, because it shows that we can all find enjoyment in the face of these challenges, but it also applies a kind of pressure to be “spending this time well”.

I think it’s crucial in a time where there is huge external mental pressure, not to apply any more internally. Paint if that’s what makes you happy, but if what makes you happy is getting a Disney+ subscription and committing to rewatching every childhood film then that is just as valid. Exercise is important, but in reality most of us weren’t exercising every day before all of this happened, so if you want to go on that walk, that’s great. But I am trying not to feel pressured to do so just because I can (this is also why I flat out refuse to take up running – if I’m going to go outside once a day I am not going to spend that time hating every second of it…).

And finally, personally I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of virtual meetings I’ve been invited to. This isolation has triggered a lot of people reconnecting with a whole host of family and friends. And don’t get me wrong, I love that everyone has responded to this by reaching out to as many people as possible. But as someone who is quickly exhausted by social interaction, I’ve been struggling to keep up. Therefore, I think it’s important to remember that in the same way that it’s okay to have a night (or 5) at home, it is okay so turn down the local virtual quiz night.

4. Build some kind of routine

I’ve said this before, but I find that routine is extremely important for mental stability. This change has been such a huge shock to the system partially because for many of us it’s destroyed routines which we’ve spent years curating. This is why I think it’s important to build some semblance of one. This doesn’t mean that every day has to be a planned “and then I shall go for my afternoon walk” (I do also think that “taking each day as it comes” has helped me a lot in the last couple of weeks), but I think that having a vague idea of what your day might look like can help ground you.

Here at endjin we are fortunate in that we’ve been working remotely for over two years so mostly already have home-working routines in place. But I know that those who are managing children alongside work have laid out set hours devoted to homeschooling, and those which are dedicated to working.

Personally, I’ve adjusted my hours so that I am now starting and finishing earlier in order to make the most of the light in the evenings, but I am still consistently working the same hours each day. Outside of work, I know that my parents are listening to Chris Packham’s “wild mornings with Chris” each morning at 9AM, and I think that starting each day in a consistent way has really helped them. I am also doing Jimmy Carr’s “tiny quiz of the lockdown” every evening, which is actually a really great quiz and recommend if you find yourself with 10 minutes to spare!

I think that these small routines are extremely helpful in at least imitating some level of control. And control is something which I know I need to feel a little of in order to not drive myself mad.

5. Give yourself a break

And finally, I think it’s important that everyone gives themselves a little bit of a break.

I know I’ve been struggling to feel productive day-to-day, spending all day trying to concentrate and ending up exhausted and feeling like I still haven’t achieved anything.

Someone I know said something which has stuck with me – “We are not all just ‘working from home’, we are at home, trying to work, in a time of global crisis”.

This is new for all of us, no-one really knows what the next few months will hold, and it’s understandable to not be able to function quite to the level we were before such a huge upheaval. You can only do as much as you can, and with the whole of society attempting to navigate these unknown waters, I think it’s the least we can do to not punish ourselves when the sailing’s not 100% straight.

About the author

Carmel is a 3rd year apprentice software engineer focusing on Azure based solutions for data handling. She has a masters degree in physics from the University of Manchester which has given her a keen interest in problem solving in new and imaginative ways. Carmel has spoken at NDC London in January 2020, and at Azure Oxford on: Combatting illegal fishing with Machine Learning and Azure – for less than £10 / month. You can follow Carmel on Twitter here.