It’s the bog standard question to open a conversation, and in the past few months our answer to “How are you?” has become a pained one. We’re “fine”. But perhaps the better way to say it is that we are “pandemic fine”.
It’s such a popular term that it’s even made it into Urban Dictionary. Clearly we are ok. We are privileged to work in an industry that is still able to operate despite the myriad restrictions, and running our own small business means we aren’t forced to put ourselves physically at risk to continue to do our jobs.
But it’s still all a bit meh.
It does always help to put a name to something though, and as Adam Grant outlines in the New York Times, the word for this specific feeling is “languishing”.
This rings true. Endless conversations with friends starting with shrugs, and mehs and raised eyebrows followed by tiny sighs as if to say: “How am I? How else could I be?”. And yet, many of us are not quite depressed, not quite happy, not quite burnout (yet).
Grant writes: “Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.” It has certainly felt this way, especially as the path out of lockdown can feel far too long.
So what can we do when we’ve already tapped out our most valuable resources for resilience?
Recognise and react
In an article for The Atlantic which begins “Congratulations if you aren’t burned out”, doctor Lucy McBride says we must now recognise that burn out creates real mental and physical health implications including high blood pressure and headaches.
She says in dealing with pandemic burnout to firstly recognise it (hello, yes, me too), seek reasons for optimism (we will get out!) and lastly to take back control.
Although it can seem we have little autonomy in a lockdown and pandemic, one of the most famous stoic quotes emphasises the importance of focusing on what we can change, not what we can’t.
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5
Believing you have control of your situation is a choice you can make even within confines of this situation. Making this shift can restore our self-determination and sense of agency.
Saying this is easy. Achieving it is lot harder.
But the Greek philosopher Zeno said:
“Well-being is realized in small steps, but it is no small thing.” And so we have taken this on board to find tiny ways to improve our days.
More micro interactions
Remember those conversations at work in the kitchen or the bathroom? Probably not, but chances are these “micro-interactions” impacted your mood.
Since reading this ABC article on the benefits of micro-interactions, we’ve been seeking them out and they truly have made a difference.
A casual and quick chat in the supermarket, while waiting for a coffee, at the playground, or connecting over pets gives us a small chance to smile and laugh each day.
Finding calm in the calendar
Since settling into lockdown, a CEO told me he now blocks out 90 minutes every day for exercise at lunch time. He also spoke to his staff and ensured they know they are able to work flexibly to accommodate what they need. This is not a luxury everyone will have access to, but where possible booking time to do something important to you like exercise creates space for it to happen.