GTPulse: Why Does Isolation Make Me Feel Like an Underachiever?
American culture values productivity. The more productive a person is, the more value we assign to them. We revere those who boast vigorous 5 a.m. morning routines that consist of mirror mantras, egg white omelets and running. We praise those who put in overtime at work, those who put in hours at the gym, and those who always seem to have their groceries stocked and their homes orderly. I remember learning about Spanish culture in school. Even as a kid the idea of a ‘siesta’ was hard for me to wrap my head around. People nap in the middle of the day? What about their work? I wondered. Our breakneck work culture is ingrained in us early, and I don’t know about you, but it’s followed me into quarantine.
When quarantine began I was initially excited. Finally, I would have time to become perfect. I could reorganize my home. I could go on a juice cleanse to reinvigorate my mind and body. I could learn Farsi! My quarantine time was quickly becoming spoken for as the project ideas piled up, but like most things, expectation and reality didn’t align. I began ending my days upset with myself for not deep cleaning the fridge or performing an intricate, 15-step skincare routine. Even though I was still getting my work done, and a few other day-to-day tasks, I found myself feeling like a failure as another day passed with no Farsi learned and a dinner that consisted of pizza rolls and chips. ‘Why am I failing?’ was the question I kept asking myself when in reality I should be asking, ‘why am I being so hard on myself?’ It isn’t easy to show compassion and gentleness to ourselves sometimes, especially in a moment like this where we lack control. But now more than ever, we need to be kind to ourselves.
“We lead these lifestyles that are always go, go, go, and then something like this happens and it all stops,” said Nick Erber-LaPierre a local Ph.D., LPC, and Counselor. “Your mind needs to catch up because it’s going a mile a minute in a forward direction, and now it’s overstepping itself. Some people crash and burn, and some people slow down.”
We’ve all reacted differently to being quarantined. Memes about introverts rejoicing and extroverts manically cradling their knees and rocking in a corner have placed us into two categories; those who are dealing with quarantine well and those who are not. Those who are admirably doing home renovations, and those who are lazily bingeing Netflix. Even in a pandemic, we’re still trying to stereotype and label people. In actuality, it’s not always someone’s personality type that determines how they’ll react to being quarantined.
“For some, slowing down means making less money. So, the financial aspect comes into play. They’re told to stay home, they may feel like they’re able to relax, and they can’t relax because they need to pay their bills. At the base of all of this is the perpetual problem of humanity where we feel like we should be somewhere else, doing something else and we’re not.”
That dissonance between what we feel like we should be doing versus what we are doing is what is causing some of the discomforts many are experiencing by being home all of the time. Whether you’re a person who copes by trying to relax or a person who copes by trying to remain busy, we’re all reconciling with the discomfort of that gap between feeling and doing. By going into productivity overdrive we feel like we’re creating control. Many times, what this does is set us up to feel disappointed when we don’t accomplish everything we’ve set out to do.
“It’s really about accepting what you can do and letting go of what you can’t do. I work a lot with addictions and the Serenity Prayer is a good reminder of that. It’s kind of an extension of mindfulness.”
Understanding where we do and do not have control in our lives is an act of self-care. I’ve been thinking about this more lately. I have control over how I feel physically when I eat healthfully, drink enough water and get enough sleep. Part of maintaining that healthy control in your life is asking if what you are doing is helpful or purposeful to your future self, and designating some semblance of a routine to make those things easier to do. I have been a remote worker for almost a year now. When I started seeing people who had just started working from home talk about how they’re still putting on work clothes for their workday I scoffed. ‘Corporate slaves,’ I thought. Whether people have been steadfast in maintaining their business casual attire from the couch or not is none of my business, and my initial harsh judgment ignored the fact that routine is what helps a lot of people feel calm and in control.
“You should still get up and shower. You shouldn’t just move from the bed to the couch.”
Another point Nick made to help people in isolation feel more at ease is putting boundaries around time and space. When you move from the bed to the couch in the morning, you blink and suddenly soap operas are over and the evening news is coming on. Anything you had planned on getting done that day is pushed to tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes. Designations in the home should be made for where to work and where to relax. My couch dwelling lower back is giving me side-eye.
“It feels a little gluttonous because I have two computers in the house. One is for work and I only sit at that computer when I’m working. Having boundaries around physical spaces in your house, and having boundaries around time is really important. Cognitively, I know if I have to do some heavy thinking stuff, that’s better in the morning. I get everything I can get done in the morning because once noon hits I know everything’s going to be downhill.”
Maybe you’re most productive at night or mid-afternoon. Whether you have work to get done or not, it can feel like you didn’t do anything when you sit at home all day. But ask yourself, did I drink water? Did I feed myself? Did I do something that made me or someone else feel good? All of those things count towards productivity, and in normal life, you would have felt accomplished if you did those things without the blur of being home all day. If you haven’t learned a new language yet or Marie Kondo’d your house, don’t worry. If you’re running out of projects to work on, hold tight. It may not feel like a lot, but you’re doing so much just by staying in and keeping yourself and others safe.
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