In human history, when has there ever been an expectation that we work from home, relax and only leave the house for food and exercise? At the best of times, our lives are intense. Now, we’re in the midst of enforced time off. It’s a chance to take stock, focus on ourselves and come out the other side of this pandemic with renewed vigour – for work and life more generally.
When it became obvious that my family and I would be spending an increased amount of time at home, the first thing I thought was how I could best use my extra time. I worked out the tasks I could do remotely. I set myself a schedule of what I needed to do each day. I walked around the house and spotted things that needed fixing up. I wanted to make this period of isolation ‘worth it.’
Human beings put an immense amount of pressure on themselves to be busy. You only have to hop on to Facebook and Instagram to see evidence of this. With everyone in isolation, all people ever seem to post is proof that they AREN’T relaxing and enjoying this respite from life’s intensity. Australia has a guilt complex; we are ashamed to take time off. Of the seven deadly sins, sloth is considered the most egregious.
It’s difficult not to feel this way when society tells you that the only thing of worth you can take from isolation is achieving something out of the ordinary. I’ve been told by at least six different people that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined during The Black Death. Some people are setting up home gyms to maintain their chiseled physiques. Others are baking cakes large enough to feed a city. The expectation is that we all need to be working on amazing passion projects to justify our time away from our jobs.
I want to correct this narrative. It’s ok to do nothing. In fact, it’s more than ok. In doing nothing, you are managing your mental health in a way that isn’t possible while you are at work. You can’t be distracted. It’s you, your thoughts and the chance to truly evaluate where you are at in life.
You can’t let this opportunity pass you by.
Not for one second am I saying that you should not be active during your time in isolation. If that’s what is best for your mental health, then go ahead! Everyone should use this opportunity for whatever purpose suits them the best! What I contest is the idea that the only way to ‘do’ isolation properly is to approach life with the same intensity as you do your job.
According to a survey from the American Psychological Association, 56% of respondents reported their highest levels of stress at work. In contrast, only 29% experienced greater amounts of stress at home. These figures emphasise what, on the outside, appears to be common sense: for most of us, getting away from work is a chance to free ourselves from stress. The COVID-19 shutdown takes you out of a high-stakes environment and into one where you are free to nurse your mental wellbeing.
Substituting work with another intense activity at home undermines the benefits of being away from the workplace. The things that make you stressed at work are merely projected onto the new activity. You are still contending with deadlines, judgement and your own expectations. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. We have so much to worry about. If you’re struggling, don’t add to your burden by pressuring yourself to do something amazing.
The ideal balance between intensity and relaxation will differ from person to person. What remains constant is the necessity of reflection. No one can know what’s best for them without taking a moment to think about it. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or overworked, perhaps you need to make a change. There’s nothing on the agenda right now, so it’s the perfect time to start.
Pause. Take some time for yourself. Evaluate where you are at in your life and your career. Consciously assess how your energy levels are.
The best isolation project to undertake is the maintenance of you.