The challenges of 2020 continue, and many lines are blurred. Are we working from home, or living at work? What can we do to hold on to whatever marbles we have left? I decided to have a serious conversation about sanity with my friend, Dr. Maria Bruce.
Maria is a licensed psychotherapist, coach, and consultant in NYC. In addition to her private practice, Maria also works as a coach and consultant, helping teams and companies manage stress and boost productivity.
Her first tip came as no surprise: create a new routine. But here's the helpful twist: Maria says that it is essential to include a variety of self-care in that routine.
"We get used to things we like, and ultimately they lose their positive impact," she says.
Right then and there, I suspected her of spying on me and my latest Netflix binge. Seasons one and two had been downright addictive, but now in season three, I was losing focus and not feeling the escape and enjoyment I had previously. What black magic was this? Has the pandemic broken my ability to enjoy a good show? Have you also wondered why a recent indulgence has become not so indulge-y? Fear not. The answer is simple.
"There is something called hedonic adaptation," Maria says. "This means that once people start doing things over and over again, it doesn't give you the same pleasure anymore. It loses its impact."
Well, that makes a lot of sense. I wasn't broken, nor was season three. I was just over-adapted.
The solution? Variety. Maria recommends making a list of things that we enjoy. Then choose something different from that list every single day. No huge time commitment - even five minutes helps - as long as they are five present, engaging moments of self-care (and not just Netflixing a new show).
But what about those of us who are less skilled in the art of self-care? What about those of us who might struggle with guilt when it comes to spending time on ourselves? Some of us have a hard time taking an extended hot shower because we are convinced the world might end while the door is locked. Now Maria says we should overcome this guilt and anxiety and add variety? It is easier said than done for many of us.
We've all seen the flight attendant instruct us to place the oxygen mask on ourselves first, and then help others. We understand the concept: if we are no good to ourselves, we are no good to others. But new life and work challenges are piling on even larger helpings of guilt. How do we chisel out the time we need for ourselves? Where do we get our oxygen?
"Most people don't realize it, but the more you take care of yourself, the more productive you become," says Maria.
That's a whole new hidden incentive. More than the immediate benefits of lower stress and increased focus - there will be an ultimate reward in terms of long-term productivity. And, increased productivity helps us get our work done faster, which allows for even more me-time?
Wash, rinse, repeat. Self-care is obviously important, but it is also more valuable than we ever seriously consider.
Maria says that stress and anxiety (which we all have a little extra of right now) materialize as a lack of focus and concentration.
"When you take care of yourself, you will be more productive and finish tasks in less time than usual," Maria says. "At the end of the day, taking care of you is a win-win for everyone."
So, schedule more "me-time," but don't stop there. Maria also recommends repainting those blurred lines between work and personal time.
"The pandemic has made us more dependent on digital living, and we're creating new habits because of it. We are constantly checking our email, for example. If we want to change that habit, we need to become aware of it and make a choice. 'Do I really need to check my email right now?' We can choose to create a routine that lets us take a break from technology, and that allows us to enjoy the present moment, for ourselves and our families."
Again, she was right. It is difficult to be mindful of our choices with so much technology at our fingertips. What starts as a personal check-in with a friend or a scan for funny cat videos can quickly be interrupted by work emails and other requests for our attention. At all hours. Everyday.
Conscious choices, she says, are the only way to stay sane. Choose a routine with more time for yourself, doing a variety of enjoyable things. And be more conscious about disconnecting from your emails and obligations. These are actionable ways to hold on to a few more of your marbles and make it through 2020.