As the strange days of COVID-19 led to a strange year and beyond — now, we transition to calling them strange times — it can feel hard to catch a breath. On the radio today I heard a songwriter discussing how hard it is to write an original song about an experience that is currently so universal. Agree — it’s strange also to ask clients about any “important context” that might impact the upcoming projects they have planned. It seems that everything is context.
And yet, while the bizarre is now somehow becoming more mundane — yes, of course people wear masks all the time and stand far apart from each other or behind glass — I’m sometimes intensely struck by how challenging this all can be. It’s one thing to have a general sense of the broad dis-ease — health-related, political, or otherwise — but once in a while it really hits home. A example: To pick up library books today, I had to order them (online last week), call from the parking lot, wait while a librarian found them, wait while another librarian brought them out to a cart, wait until she got back inside and no one else was around, then put on my mask and retreive the plastic bag with my name and due date in permanent marker, drive home, take the books out of the bag, and wash my hands thoroughly. I totally understand how lucky I am to (1) be healthy and (2) have a library system that’s got it together. This isn’t a complaint about how hard it is — rather a trigger that caused me to reflect on how much is being done simply for me to get my library books through library takeout. The dedication, service, and commitment to shared values and community really hit me hard. I was — and am — truly and deeply grateful.
I know I’m not alone in the mixed emotions and profound feelings these strange times inspire. At the beginning of the calendar year, especially, it’s a good time to take stock of our mental health first aid kits. To take care of each other, we must take care of ourselves, and this starts with reflection.
Whether you’re reading this as a manager or employee, a student or teacher, or simply a human being, you know that “business as usual” simply isn’t on the table these days. What, then, are you doing to strengthen yourself to deal with “unusual” business? Even apart from health-related concerns, you may be dealing with extended isolation, work-life balance issues, financial stress… the list goes on, clearly.
As a team, we’ve been discussing some of these strategies. In this past week’s pulse check, we asked what strategies everyone is planning to try this year to take care of their own mental health. Here are the results:
While everyone is different and everyone’s situation is different, if these ideas are helpful to you, awesome.
How to take care of yourself
Sleep more / on a regular schedule
Show appreciation / kindness whenever possible
Start / continue an exercise regime
Eat a healthier diet
Learn something new
Regularly connect with friends and family
Spend more time outside
Take time off
Appreciate / make art
Organize your desk / space / life
Read / write
Listen to / make music
Practice / play a sport
Share / express your feelings
Take up a new hobby
Limit / schedule “screen time”
Meditate / pray / reflect regularly
Practice breathing exercises
Send “real” mail
Stretch / practice yoga
Volunteer / be of service
Create new traditions / celebrations
Set up casual catch-up chats with colleagues
But what about…
You’re right, I didn’t include watching TV or movies, scrolling through social media, or shopping online. While I do these things, too, overindulgence can suck your energy and leave you feeling even more disconnected. Yes, these were intentionally omitted. Use with discretion.
Pets? My apologies. While many might categorize time with pets under “Regularly connect with friends and family”, this was an unintentional oversight. I was lucky enough to be entrusted with a bird last year just before the pandemic started, and I’m thoroughly grateful to the friends and circumstances that conspired to bring us together.
Day A Month Club
While considering my own plans for the year, I’ve decided to make a concerted effort to actually take days off. Again, I know how lucky I am to both have a job and to have available paid time off, but I’m not great at taking off PTO in general. However, especially because my calendar is pretty much clear of all vacation plans at this point, I need to plan to give myself a break. To get organize about it, I’m planning to take off a day each month this year. Sound good? Sure! Can I do it? I hope so. Writing it down, it seems laughably easy — way easier than my 2019 goal to visit every state park in Virginia (nailed it!) — but I get really involved in my work and often find it hard to step away. So, the DAM Club it is. Are you in?
Beyond that, more yoga, trying to get back into running, sending mail, connecting with family — and yes, reading library books.