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Build up pause rituals during the pandemic

Loss of meaning, purpose, motivation or engagement could signal that we have hit a ‘pandemic wall’

All the places that felt familiar, even a refuge, are places we can’t access as we work from home. Detail from photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash
All the places that felt familiar, even a refuge, are places we can’t access as we work from home. Detail from photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

In April, The New York Times had asked readers about their experience of work burnout during the pandemic. The article, summarising the responses, said, “At this point in the pandemic, it feels like we have all, collectively, hit a wall.” Now, as some parts of the world begin to open up and experience the intimacy of in-person interactions, at work or socially, in India more and more people feel like they have hit a pandemic wall.

The reality is this feeling has been gnawing at most of us but we may not even have given ourselves permission to articulate this sentiment. Once vaccination started, there was hope things would settle. Then the second covid-19 wave hit, bringing with it shock, grief, sadness and helplessness. Now I often hear clients tell me: “It’s hard to keep going, I don’t know what I am working towards. It feels so mechanical, and I have moved to a point where nothing seems to spark joy in me, it all feels the same.” Or, “I have had my worst parenting moments in the pandemic, I feel like I am failing at parenting and at work, the achievements don’t seem to register at all. How can one move forward, build hope and recover? I feel stuck.”

Also read: Have you been at your worst with your kids during the pandemic?

The pandemic wall shows up in different ways: loss of meaning, purpose, motivation, even engagement. In India particularly, it’s something people are experiencing currently, either in relation to their work or personal lives. This is a function of the fact that our lives have been suspended in a state of limbo and prolonged uncertainty. The possibility of a third wave is exacerbating the feeling of helplessness. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, all the places that felt familiar, even a refuge, are places we can’t access as we work from home. This ambiguous grief is showing up in feelings of sadness, loss and monotony. To complicate things further, most people are feeling overworked and overstretched. I feel that since last year, we have been moving from one task to another; there is no time to pause and savour moments of connection. Yet we feel something or the other gets left behind.

Having said that, dealing with this pandemic wall and the ambiguous losses requires us to step back and acknowledge all this. We need to ask what are the feelings that kept us going and identify our unmet needs. Our need for space, spontaneity, the ability to experience warmth and the capacity to savour or celebrate experiences is affected as we move from one online meeting to another. Reimagining these needs while staying indoors is crucial for our well-being.

Also read: How to grieve and heal during the pandemic

We need morning rituals and closure rituals so that there is a start and an end to the day. Choose to have your breakfast, take a shower, arrange your desk space as part of your morning rituals. Choose to have closure rituals: whether it’s in the form of changing to home clothes, an exercise routine at a fixed time or choosing not to answer work mails after a certain time. Our frustration and anxiety are getting locked in our bodies, so find a way to engage in activities like making art, exercise, dance or even simple mindfulness exercises. We also need pause rituals. I came up with this term during a personal burnout experience. In my book, I define these: “It involves creating a set of self-soothing activities into our daily schedule instead of engaging only when we are headed for a breakdown or meltdown. The key idea is that we monotask as we engage in them.” Whether it’s journaling, a cup of tea, watching your favourite show or gardening, build your own pause ritual.

Also read: Why you should address vicarious grief

The pandemic wall is a reminder that we are social beings and miss our emotional connections. We need to remind ourselves that how we rest, pause and connect with others determines our productivity and life satisfaction.

Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.

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