As we look online these days – and let’s be honest, we are online a lot – we see posts from friends sharing that they are baking sourdough bread, cleaning out long-cluttered closets, or doing fantastic chalk projects with their children on their driveways. In the next moment, we see an ad that encourages us to use our time to learn a new language or take a master class. We hear news stories about how Shakespeare and other famous artists in history accomplished so much during the health pandemics of their times.
Seemingly everywhere we look, it feels as though everyone around us is using their time more productively, somehow getting so many things done during this national crisis. It can be easy to feel that we alone are feeling anxious, unproductive, and without direction. Isn’t everyone using this time to somehow better themselves, their children, or their homes? It can be easy to think, “What’s wrong with me?” when we aren’t feeling similarly productive.
If you have been feeling this way recently, then you are not alone. Why is there so much pressure to get so much accomplished at the same time we are going through a national pandemic? And why, for most of us, is it so difficult to do?
Part of why we are all feeling this pressure is simply that we are online so much of the time these days. Whether we are working from home or have been temporarily furloughed, those of us not working essential jobs are finding ourselves with more time to scroll through Facebook and look at social media.
We all logically know that social media is not an accurate reflection of life. People don’t tend to post about their unproductive days, their worries, the times when they cry or fight with a spouse, or the nightmares that keep them up at night. Instead, when they manage an accomplishment, they post about that. (Thus, the pictures of the homemade bread and the driveway chalk drawings.) We see those posts and assume that this is the way that people are living throughout their days. However, what we see online is the highlight reel of other people’s lives, not necessarily their moment-to-moment experiences.
It’s so easy, when we’re online, to compare ourselves to what we see there. Happiness experts nationwide often share that there’s a “formula for happiness.” The formula involves the ratio between what we have and what we want. When we live our lives focused on our own families, our own homes and our own children, it’s easier to feel satisfied and to enjoy the good things in life. But when we see that others have more than we do, or seem to have it better than we do, suddenly we want more. And in comparison, our own lives can seem a little less exciting or productive.
It’s for this reason why one of the healthiest means of self-care right now is to limit our exposure to social media. This isn’t easy, because again those of us not working essential jobs may have more time on our hands than we used to. And yet, we know that the evidence is clear. Even when we aren’t going through a state of national emergency, people who engage with social media more often are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than people who engage less frequently.
Another reason why we are not getting so much done, and let’s be honest with ourselves here, is that many of us have tremendous workloads just getting through our days. Suddenly, we are responsible for supervising our children as they are doing schoolwork from home. The volume of email has exploded, and just keeping up with our inboxes can be daunting. Unexpectedly, work projects that wouldn’t have required our attention for months to come must be dealt with right now, as changes must be made and decisions considered as to how to move forward with the project, given the new state of life.
Those of us at home alone these days can feel an even greater pressure to be productive. Without children to homeschool, it can feel like there are fewer “excuses” not to be super-achievers right now. With pressure from social media and from (often well-meaning) friends and family, it’s easy to slip into an attitude that equates achievement with self-worth and downplays the importance of rest and self-care.
But amidst all this pressure for productivity, our supervision of our home-from-school children, our bursting email inboxes, and increased work challenges, our brains are simply trying to process the trauma that we are experiencing. Brain experts teach that when we experience traumatic situations, or experience high anxiety and high stress, that this is, by definition, a time when we are not likely to be very productive.
Currently, our brains are focused on survival. For some of us, this means trying to get needed items from stores that are not nearly as well stocked as usual. Many of us are anxiously watching the news, and wondering when in the world life will return to normal. Some of us are surviving on less sleep than usual, as our anxieties are making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep each night. Going through life with additional, stressful responsibilities and an uncertain future on little sleep is simply not a recipe for productivity.
So the next time you see that post on Facebook from that friend… you know the one… who has made a new gourmet meal, or created a creative music video with her whole family, or is redesigning their kitchen during the pandemic, relax. No one, not even that friend, is being all that productive right now. Put down your phone, get off social media, and do something to take care of yourself. Get outside for a walk, enjoy a healthy meal (no, it doesn’t need to be fancy), talk to a loved one, enjoy a good book, or take that shower that perhaps you’ve been avoiding for a few days. Your only job right now is survival.
The phrase that we hear everywhere today is that we will “get through this together.” And we will, but we don’t have to learn Chinese or build a new backyard deck in order to feel that we have used our time well. Your time is well spent in caring for yourself and your loved ones, staying home, and staying safe.
Amy Maus, MSW, LCSW specializes in services to schools. She provides presentations for educators and parent groups, training and consultation for Care Teams, facilitation of principals’ consultation groups for area school administrators, and direct intervention with at-risk students and families. She enjoys providing training seminars to groups of all sizes. Amy also provides psychoeducational testing, assessing students for ADHD and other mental health and learning challenges. Along with two colleagues, she is co-author ofThe Care Team Approach, a book for school professionals.