Revamp Your Coronavirus Routine to Avoid Burnout

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- Up until now, we’ve been living a simulacrum of our pre-Covid-19 lives. But two months into the marathon pandemic, our previous frameworks are crumbling under the stresses of adapting to a world in which unprecedented numbers of people are losing their livelihoods and lives. We have to figure out how to get through the day and absorb that stress without letting it overwhelm us. Some pointers on rejiggering your routine to do that:

The big idea. “You want to mitigate the effects of this collective trauma,” says Joyce Dorado, a psychiatry professor at the University of California at San Francisco who’s worked with people in distress for 30 years. “That chronic, long-term stress of a looming threat can wear down our brains and our bodies, and we need to address it.” Translation: Your usual cocktail of busyness, overwork, and denial won’t cut it.

Step 1: Ditch your old schedule. Your current one is likely dictated by work. As much as is feasible, build a day around your rhythms, not your job’s. Longtime work-from-homers frequently labor across 10-16 hours, with two to five hours off for errands, exercise, appointments, or family commitments.

Pro tip: Remote work dependably includes one unproductive day each week. Plan for it, and don’t beat yourself up for it—sometimes you’ll obey the siren call of a nap, and that’s normal.

Step 2: Build in wellness. With crisis comes opportunity, and the chance here is to scrap the parts of your pre-pandemic rat-race lifestyle that you performed out of habit. Instead, construct routines around wellness; as a bonus, when the pandemic ends, you’ll have new coping skills. Each day should include:

  • Connection
  • Movement
  • Outdoor time
  • Joy
  • Reflection
  • Rest

Add: Joy bursts. This is the special sauce that will save you. “When we laugh or feel positive emotions like joy, compassion, and awe, it fills our body with positive neurochemicals that combat the toxic neurochemicals of stress,” says Dorado. “Our body recovers and metabolizes stress neurochemicals and then we can dive back in.” If you skip this step, your body chronically builds up stress throughout the day, with adverse health effects.

Spend a few minutes between every task or meeting doing something joyful, even if it’s just a few minutes. That could be playing ukulele or stretching or learning a TikTok dance. If you have more time, read, tinker, decorate, or get some air.

Add: Connection. Contact three caring people outside your household every day, if possible. “We’re hardwired to connect with each other and to heal and be resilient within those relationships,” says Dorado. Call people who love you and treat you well.

Ditch: Headline scanning. The current news cycle is dipping your nervous system in a pressure cooker. Scan once or twice a day, max. “We tend to overestimate the bad that’s happening and underestimate our resources to cope with it,” says Dorado. She suggests counteracting it with hopeful and inspiring news, such as The Happy Broadcast.

Ditch: Overwork. If you’re working around the clock, stop. “Let’s not have this pandemic develop a habit of overworking,” says Dorado.

Step 3: Reevaluate. You’re not going to figure out a new routine all at once, and it’ll change as the weather gets nicer and going outdoors becomes more tempting. Periodically solicit feedback from friends, family, and co-workers. Ask: How do you think I’m doing? Keep tinkering until moments of self-awareness emerge throughout your day, such as, “I really need to move my body.” Then you’ll know you’re on your way to real change.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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