In a time of lockdowns, self-isolations and quarantines, we’ve come to understand that the world we once knew will mostly likely cease to exist. This is not dramatic, sensationalist, hype or fear mongering, it’s the reality of living in Covid times. Global governmental responses to the SARS-CoV2 aka Coronavirus and its associated Covid-19, has meant that when we arise from the grips of this pandemic, life will operate very differently and different isn’t always easy to handle. However, the challenge with facing this divergence is that it often leaves us disoriented; human beings don’t like change and, when dealing with a change of this magnitude we have a tendency to go full tilt : into work, into activities that keep us productive, because productivity ultimately gives us a sense of control. The rationale is that if we continue to stay busy, perhaps we can hold onto a large part of the world we once knew. Some psychoanalysts refer to this behaviour as a manic defense or panic working.
The South African Lockdown, 21 Days of mandated, nation-wide quarantine was implemented by our President Cyril Ramaphosa on the 26 March 2020. Just under two weeks in, I’ve been chatting to friends and family, who are working from home, about how they’re responding to the lockdown and how they feel about working at home. Their answers all bear a similar sentiment: pure exhaustion. The lack of structure and boundaries plus the desire to prove that one is indeed productive at home and thus ensuring post-lockdown job security (or at least hoping to), coupled with the pressure to meet professional expectations means only one thing: inevitable burnout. In this article, Life & Relationship Coach Leah Sefor discusses what’s really going on inside the minds of those of us frenetically working to maintain control in a world that very much appears to be spinning out of control.
#FindYourFit | #FindYourHappy
When lockdown started everyone got into action. There were going to be schedules and routines and the kids weren’t going to fall behind on their school work and the de-cluttering would begin en-masse and all those things we hadn’t had the time for, we’d address now. We’d learn to cook, read that book, do our filing, re-sort our wardrobes and work? What about work?
Working from home became a massive adjustment for most people. How do I manage myself? How do I use Zoom? How do I get things done? How do I stay connected to my clients? How? With the realisation that you suddenly had more time that wasn’t being spent on driving and traffic and school pick-ups and trips to the gym and shopping and extra-murals, you suddenly had a whole lot more hours in your day to get things done. And you started to fill that time with anything that was going to keep your mind off the drama out there. Work, for many, has become a convenient crutch to stay ‘busy’ and distracted. Many people are spending too much time handling emails, managing clients, having meetings, clearing up admin, updating information, creating new projects and coming up with ways to survive in the online space. As the whole world is moving their businesses online, you can’t afford to be left behind, can you?
There has been an unbelievable amount of pressure to use lockdown effectively and efficiently, especially with work. But, ten days in, the cracks are beginning to show and all that anxiety you’ve been feeling isn’t being soothed away by work anymore. It’s time for you to get real with yourself and face the truth – that you may be using work as an avoidance technique to not face the emotional state you’re really in right now.
You’re not working with ease, you’re working with panic and it’s creating most of the fear, uncertainty and anxiety you are feeling under every work decision you’re trying to make right now. It’s behind all those questions and worries that keep you up at night:
Are you still delivering in a way that makes your boss happy? Are you going to get a full salary at the end of this month? Are you going to have a job at the end of this lockdown? Can your boss afford to keep you when this is over? Are you employable if he doesn’t? If you’re a freelancer or contract worker, the fears are just the same. Will your clients come back? Will there be enough work? Will their businesses survive to even retain your services? Will you still be relevant if you’re not operating completely online?
On top of all the fear, you’re still trying to deliver and work clearly and stay on ahead of things which is proving harder and harder to do because panic-working is triggering your fight/flight/freeze response. The FFF response hinders your ability to think rationally or logically or make clear, strategic decisions. You’re tired and stressed and raw and so easily triggered into reactions, leaping without thinking and rushing forward with blinders on, unable to see the consequences that are waiting down the road. You think that if you’re busy, you’re being productiveand if you’re being productive then you have things under control. If you just keep moving, then you won’t collapse into the black hole of fear you’ve trying to avoid with all this ‘doing’.
The problem with trying to do things the same way you’ve always done them, is that it makes you think you can keep things the same way they’ve always been. It’s survival. It’s control. It’s denial. It’s trying to convince yourself that this is all temporary and things will just go back to ‘normal’ once this is all over.
But, and I know that you’re tired of hearing this, things will never be ‘normal’ again.
It’s time to stop. Take a breath. Step away from your computer or phone. Go into your garden if you can or stand at a window where you can soak your face in the sunlight and take another deep breath. It’s time to stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’.
Accept that right now, you have no control, no-one does. You cannot make things into what they aren’t. No-one knows what’s going to be happening next week or next month. Everyone is in a state of shock. The void this disease is going to create in the world is going to be immense and everyone is going to have to re-frame what life and work means for them. But you can’t come up with all the answers now. All you can do is take this time to relax so that your thinking is clearer. Be creative instead of reactive. Have fun, watch a comedy, laugh so that you can reduce your stress levels and disable your FFF response.
Now is the time to make sure you’re not going so far down the ‘panic-working’ rabbit hole that you can’t return to being still. Now is the time to breathe and move slowly. Now is the time to let go of all of your expectations of what tomorrow should bring and just be in the present moment. Now is the time for finding balance in how you are spending your days, it can’t be all about work. Now is the time for resting and looking after yourself carefully so that you have the energy to participate meaningfully in all areas of your life.
We are living through an abnormal experience. Normal doesn’t apply anymore. It’s not going to work for what’s coming. All you can do is stay open to new ideas, share what you’re going through with your colleagues and your boss. Bring compassion and patience and kindness into all of your work calls and emails and meetings. Support each other to let go of ways that no longer work for your business and move slowly down new paths, across unchartered territory.
None of us can do this alone. We’re all going to need to hold onto each other as we cross into our uncertain future together.
Leah Sefor is a straight-talking life and relationships coach who has worked with individuals, couples and organisations in over 10 countries for more than 24 years. Specialising in communication, relationships, authenticity and shadow work, Leah shows others how to get real about their lives, relationships and communications. Leah is one of the most booked personal coaches in South Africa, appearing regularly on Real Health, a lifestyle show on DStv as well as being a guest contributor on podcasts, TV and online & print media. She is the creator of a web series called Real Talk and is the author of The Freedom Factor – an eWorkbook on Boundaries. She has a private practice in Johannesburg.