I was excited after the second instalment of the ‘building mental fitness in the new now’ online community discussion. The online community was setup as a safe space for us to discuss ideas and collaborate on how to build mental fitness in the present environment. The idea behind setting up the community was to find a way to become great prisoners from the enforced lockdown we find ourselves in. The community is made up of close friends, guests from my video chat series and previous clients, spread out across the UK, US and Europe. This allows us to get a diverse viewpoint on the challenges and strategies people are using to maintain their mental fitness and mindset. The energy of the group is amazing and the discussions are always so informative and healing, borrowing from the old adage ‘it’s good to talk’. After our last call, I started reflecting and decided it would not be fair to not share some of our DIY solutions from our discussions with others looking to improve their mental fitness. I will be sharing these insights in my next two blog posts.
Social distancing outings:
Most people in the UK and Europe have been living with reduced lockdown restrictions, with some even going back to work for nearly 3 weeks now. The initial pure elation of finally being allowed out of our caves to enjoy human contact is slowly starting to subside as the realisation of the new now settles in. Our group discussion includes several people who have returned to work at a hospital, high school and corporate office. They all agreed the increased safety protocols have contributed to heightened anxiety levels, resulting in them feeling like they had been 10 rounds in a boxing ring with Mike Tyson at the end of each day. This additional stress is due to the increased cognitive load of dealing with safety concerns. The consensus was that more time would now be required for rest and rejuvenation after the work week.
Social gatherings in our new now seem to require military-precision strategies to maintain social distancing and feel safe. Even with your careful planning, you often encounter the renegade who breaks protocol and starts hugging everyone. In my case, my 8 month old son didn’t get the memo and started licking everyone he came in contact with during our first time out.
We all crave human contact and I can attest that the emotional boost received from our first BBQ outing was immense and definitely worth the risk. However, the more outings you go on, the more your boundaries are likely to be broken, which leads to more stress and anxiety when you return home.
With some friends having to go as far as attending funerals with their loved ones and still having to maintain social distancing, I can’t even begin to imagine how tough that must be. It did make me think that if you can go through that kind of experience and maintain social distancing, you can do so in any condition. We need to get better at setting boundaries, communicating these boundaries and being willing to remove ourselves from situations when our boundaries are broken. Don’t worry what people think of you or how they might judge you. Focus on why you set the boundary in the first place (your family’s safety).
Always switched on (Technology):
However we want to slice or dice it, and whatever angle we choose to look at the issue, use of technology has skyrocketed. These days, the entire working day is spent on Zoom or some alternative video call application. I just have to look at my wife, who is trapped on endless video calls for work. Her schedule of calls is, on most days, so back-to-back that she doesn’t even have time for toilet breaks and is forced to take her lunch at sporadic times, often in 5-10 minute breaks.
To add to this, when we want to unwind and connect with our loved ones and friends, guess what? We’re back on Zoom or whatever app. A friend recounted to me how she got on a video call with a good friend, someone she loves so much and has known for years, only to realize. midway through the catch-up call that it was difficult to generate the energy to continue. They were both bored and teched-out, so they agreed to end the call instead of dragging out the pain.
Many of us would not have been as honest. We’re slowly learning that the emotional connection we need and often get from catching up with friends is not quite coming through now that we spend nearly every waking moment, both while working and during our personal time, online.
To top it off, we very rarely go out to buy anything anymore—nearly everything we buy these days is from an online shop or marketplace. My running joke is that we should get our salary directly paid to Amazon. I’m kidding...but only kind of.
My wife said the funniest thing the other day, she turned around to me and said she felt like she had lost control of her inner mental dressing room. We have a joke between us that in her head she normally has a chimp (her reptilian brain) and a hamster running on a wheel to keep everything ticking smoothly. Somehow, over the last 3 months, her daily morning routine and headspace has been replaced by sitting on the toilet for nearly an hour catching up on social media (she will kill me for putting this on here). Suffice it to say, she is now unable to switch off, and her sleep quality has gone out the window. Her sleep quality was already on thin ice, with our 8 month old son currently teething. It’s been over 6 weeks now, still no teeth in sight.
Now more than ever, we need to monitor and schedule downtime by creating routines that enable you to take a break from technology during set time slots throughout your day. Another idea is to intentionally designate parts of your home as tech-free spaces. I have learnt to switch my phone to airplane mode and hide it from 8pm, as well as to not pick up my phone before 10am.
And before you jump on that next video call to catch-up with friends, stop and ask yourself: Is this what my soul needs right now? Will this nourish me? Or just drain my energy? Would it be better for me to go for a walk in green space nearby instead? As I write this, my screen time weekly report has popped up to tell me my screen time is up 121% from last week. I will take this as my cue to stop.