How to stay calm during lockdown
Today’s post is on how to not go crazy in crazy times. Don’t be afraid. It’s not a rant full of negativity. It’s not about quarantine or lockdown or vaccination or any of those other topics you probably don’t want to hear about anymore. It’s about how to get out of a rut, how to remain productive to a reasonable degree, how to be as calm as possible, as little stressed, exhausted and anxious as you can. In short: how to not go crazy.
The idea for this post doesn’t come because I have accidentally inhaled some sort of wisdom. It comes from me realizing that I have yet again failed to follow my own goal of “not letting things go crazy again”. And, of course, they still went crazy. But I got through (at least I think I do…) and here’s what I’ve learned.
The context is that I was exhausted after my PhD submission (still kind of am a little bit, even though it has been 6 months now! How time flies!) and decided that from now on I needed to focus a little harder on having a life and not being so stressed. Don’t get me wrong, I always do a ton of things, so – strictly speaking – I have always had a life despite crazy workloads. But I knew that my body couldn’t continue handling all this stress in the long term. So I committed myself to be better and I was when taking time off in September. And then term started again in October. And then I wasn’t.
Who would have thought? The only horrible thing is that it took me almost a total of two months before I realized that I had fallen into the good old rut again and was on the brink of exhaustion. This is why I now felt like sharing some insights I have had, in case you’re feeling the same way.
Self-confidence is about controlling time
A while ago, I have stumbled on a Youtube video which started playing on auto-play. I’m not really the type of person who types “how to be confident” into the search bar but I do watch a lot of productivity hacks content. I don’t even know why I actually kept watching this video as it started playing. Usually wouldn’t be my thing. But I quickly realized that this might be relevant for teaching and I’m now doing more of that. So the guy in the video suggested that you come across as confident when you control time (and your space) and don’t let yourself get stressed.
So I tried applying that in my teaching, not scrambling but taking my time to do things properly etc. I think it’s working?
I even remembered this advice so fondly that it came into my mind many more times and I repeated it to friends. Maybe I had to go over it again and again because I had missed the obvious application for it in my life: If you control time, you don’t get so stressed. You do better work. You have better judgement. You are clear about the priorities. It now dawned on me that this is probably what Brendon Burchard means when he says that stress is self-created. I always remembered this quote and repeated it to myself many times but I didn’t seem to get it. Like I totally appreciate the wisdom but I just couldn’t bring myself to implement it in my own life. I needed to feel it first.
Experience the elements
I think the “controlling time is confidence/calm” is why certain activities which force you to be in the moment and to be one with your body are so relaxing. Time stops. For me, the effect is immediate when I’m confronted with the elements. Especially the cold and water. So I decided to make due on my resolution to get a surfboard to practice paddeling in a local lake. I have only done it once so far but the effect was immediate. Just what I needed. The cold does the trick for me every time.
Like Wim Hof, the inventor of the “Wim Hof Method” which combines breathing exercises and cold exposure, says: Our bodies were made to survive extreme conditions – the cold wakes us up. At least I definitely feel this way and can’t wait to get back out on that lake again, paddeling away through the early morning fog.
Find your unique way to experience the elements, it’s so important to reconnect with your body and get outside when you’re spending so much of your time locked up (in your appartment and your head)!
Exhaustion is a vicious cycle
So ultimately, I understood that I needed to feel like I control my own time again. Logically, of course I know that I do, in fact, control my time (most of it anyway). I control my reaction to things. But it’s so easy to get drawn into a cycle where you feel that things are controlling you instead of the other way around. It’s a horrible feeling being in that rut. Feeling like you “have to” do all sorts of things. Waking up early in the morning to work, finishing late and then collapsing at home, and in return – it seems – you only get the knowledge that you will have to do it again tomorrow.
Exhaustion is a vicious cylce: You’re exhausted, nothing gets done, the stress increases, repeat. The dread grows bigger and bigger, you procrastinate. I’m currently listening to Devon Price, Laziness does not exist (Atria Books 2021) – a book about how the “laziness lie” our culture perpetuates has obscured the fact that our “lazy urges” are often signs of your body that it needs a break and they it’s actually vital to your health that you let yourself “succumb” to them!
“Lazy urges” are actually important messages from your body to take a break!
So from Laziness does not exit I knew that I needed to honour my tiredness and indulge in it. But I still didn’t know how to escape the hamster wheel. Things got so bad that I decided I needed to uncommit from one thing. I did. It turns out, it wasn’t as essential as I thought it was and I’m already feeling so much better just days afterwards.
I see so much clearer now and feel like I’m in a position to take back the steering wheel once again. It was just that one thing that was too much, even though I still kind of have the feeling that I could pull it off (especially now that I have more time again). But I know now that it was just one thing too much.
You need to get out of that place of extreme exhaustion before you can see clearly again. Initially, I tried to get control of the situation by micro-managing. But the thing is, in order to control time, you need to accept time first. The fact that you can only do one thing at a time. That time passes. Once I accepted that I was not being realistic about how much I can do in the time I have, things got better. I needed to relinquish those control meachisms (which are such a typical thing for me to turn to!) in order to actually regain control over my time.
You’re not seeing clearly when you’re tired to the point of exhaustion
Now that I’m seeing clearer once again, it’s so much easier for me to prioritize and to “eat those frogs” like they say in productivity lingo for doing the most important, most dreadful task first thing in the morning. But it’s also easier to tell which things can wait and how to unwind after a “just do it” session of getting something done. I guess the takeaway is that you can’t regain control over chaos while tired. And you can’t get out of the tiredness cycle while you’re beting yourself up and not seeing things clearly. You can’t solve a problem with the mindset that created it in the first place.
But how you do you get out of your head? Take some time off, at least one day or one weekend if you really can’t get any more. If you’re inte the Humanities like us, there really isn’t a good reason why this should be impossible. And maybe get outside and expose yourself to the elements. It did the trick for me anyway. Maybe part of it is also that I feel like I’m almost always available at home. But I truly can’t be reached when I’m on the water and/or have no signal.
Being in a rut feels horrible but I’m often surprised how easy it was to get out of it in the retrospective. And wonder, very much, why I didn’t do it earlier. But I guess that’s part of the learning process. The key takeaway from all this: Give yourself the rest you need, get out in the cold (and/or other elements) so you get out of your head and into your body.
Practice actively being in control of your time
And remember that it will be easier to believe in yourself, i.e. have self-confidence, when you control time. I often find it hard to work on self-esteem. But we all have fluctuations in how much we believe in ourselves, that’s no secret. Maybe you’ll also find it easier to believe in yourself again when you regain control of your time (that means both free time and work time!). It means you know what to do when. When to work and when to stop. When to be available and when to tune out. You’ll know what to prioritize and what to leave for later or to toss out completely. And after having crossed the most important/essential task off your list, you’ll have no problem logging off for the day.
So I recommend (I’m a Dr, after all :D) you practice your relationship with time in any way you can. It will remain something you constantly need to practice but it will help you in so many ways, not only your speaking and presentation abilities! I will definitely start to work on how I control time more actively now and you’re welcome to come along on the journey!
Essentially, all sorts of yoga and meditation practices are about controlling time by controlling your breath – and about getting out of your head and into your body. It really doesn’t matter exactly how you practice it, I guess. You just need to become more aware of it, so you can make it a daily practice. Logging into your work email is just as much a practice in controlling your time as logging out of it is (and switching off the notifications!). We just need to make an effort to use these opportunities throughout the day. Much harder said than done, especially in periods of stress! But as they say:
You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”Sukhraj S. Dhillon (according to goodreads)
In the end, the beautiful (and terrible) realization is that you were in control over your time all along. Even after periods where you felt contrlled by external pressures. It’s hard to realize that it’s your own responsibility to work on this. But it’s also empowering – after all, you’re in control of your life!
That’s it for today.
I hope you’re not going crazy. But if you are, just don’t guilt-trip yourself about it. It’s ok to go crazy in crazy times. Listening to your body and letting go is the first step towards regaining control – so that’s what they meant by time management 😉