by Veronica Paula Castro
It has been more than a year since the government mandated a nationwide stay-at-home order as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without warning, people were forced to put all plans on hold, go in isolation and wait for developments to unfold as new information on the deadly virus is discovered every day.
In order to survive and move forward albeit remotely, businesses had to adapt to new ways of doing things by going paperless, contactless, and touchless. In our case, whenever possible, cascading of information is done through Viber groups, coordination, and collaboration via Zoom, review, and approval of documents over e-mail. While this shift to restricted, reduced, or remote work certainly has its upside, it also has many negative impacts on the employees’ mental health.
“The losses felt so real to me that it took a toll on my mental health.”
I have always been a fan of routines because they put structure to my days and help me feel organized and in control. Pre-COVID pandemic, only two things were constant in my day—work and working out with my workmates. Needless to say, the offices and workout studios closing down because of the lockdown restrictions completely disrupted my routine. The losses felt so real to me that it took a toll on my mental health. The feeling of isolation and loss of control over a lot of things caused overwhelming stress that I did not know how to manage, which in turn affected how I deal with work.
During the early days of the pandemic, part of my work was to facilitate sponsorships and donations of medical supplies, food, fuel, and toll fees to government agencies, LGUs, and hospitals. Thinking that work would be a welcome distraction from everything that was going on, I hustled 24/7, overextending myself to the point of burnout. By week two of the lockdown, I was already drowning in memo requests and summary reports.
Work suddenly becoming more hectic and me not knowing how to cope with stress was a recipe for disaster. I felt stuck and alone, and I caught myself becoming a short fuse with my team. Without an outlet to release stress, I could not help but feel miserable. I was most panicked at the thought that we might be in this situation for a long time. It did not help that the news only tells stories of how many have perished, how many are suffering, and how many more will be susceptible to the virus. It seemed to validate my own fears and feelings of distraught and hopelessness. Do I hold my breath until things go back to the way they were?
A month into the community quarantine, I decided to come home to my mom’s house. I thought a change in scenery might help with my sanity. Being with my sisters took me back to all the summers we spent wildly as children. I was reminded of our childhood when we were not allowed to play outside, and how that did not stop us from having the time of our lives in the living room playing the floor is lava, or pretending to be mermaids or ice skating on the wooden floors. My sisters and I have always found ways to entertain ourselves no matter the odds, and this lockdown situation is no different. This realization was a deliverance of the universe of some sort like someone slapped me back into reality. When we were kids, naturally, there were many things we do not have control over, but that did not stop us from having fun, getting creative, and letting our imaginations run free. I suddenly found comfort in the thought that when nothing is certain, anything is possible. What is stopping me from being happy?
Little by little, I learned to let go and breathe in the middle of it all. By the second month of the lockdown, I was able to create a workout routine at home to keep me moving and sweating. I have always depended on exercise to clear my mind, stabilize my mood and reduce my stress. It felt good to finally be able to knock down all excuses not to do it. I find comfort in belonging to a community that supports both my physical and mental health so I turned to an online fitness community for motivation and accountability.
Together with my sisters, I created a learning program for my youngest sister and niece to keep them away from their gadgets during the lockdown. The learning program was built on both their interests and the values we want to teach them. Every day for two months, we learned new words and cultures, wrote letters to God, created art, planted seeds, learned about the Earth and how we can take care of it, practiced yoga and meditation, talked about our feelings during the pandemic, and many more. The learning program provided us a venue where we can think and create and basically just be present with the kids. We thought we were teaching them but it turned out they are teaching us just as much.
Keeping connected with my family and friends took away most of my loneliness and anxiety. Social media has been beneficial as well. Reading about how people are coping (or not coping) with the pandemic grounded me. It made me realize that I was never alone in my dark thoughts and hopelessness. I felt an instant relief in knowing that someone feels it too, and that that is okay. At work, we organized online game nights, Zoom workouts and webinars on mental health to help check-in with our workmates.
Let go, breathe into the growth, enjoy the beauty of becoming. These are the words that help me cope everyday. I let go of people and things I have no control over; I breathe even when I am struggling with patience; I enjoy and celebrate my freedom to show up with my feelings. This is not to say that I no longer have bad days. Everyday is a challenge to be honest with myself. If there is anything this major shift in our lives taught me, it is to welcome moments of introspection because that is the only way I can hear my mind in the middle of this chaos.
Lastly, I learned to rest. I learned to listen to my mind and my body when they are calling for a timeout. Society has wired us to wear exhaustion like a badge of honor. We were taught to glamourize sleep deprivation and glorify busy-ness. We do not even realize this “sleep is for the weak” mentality is what is causing us to have breakdowns instead of breakthroughs. I am lucky to have found an oasis away from the city where I can just take a break from life (and the social expectations) when it gets overwhelming. They say almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes. That includes us.
There is no denying that 2020 was a year of change. Here’s to hoping that all our little steps will help us move toward a new beginning and a better normal.
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