For those of you in Asia going through a second lockdown, this post is especially for you.

I don’t know about you, but going into a second lockdown feels so much harder for me than the first one. Like everything new, the first lockdown wasn’t great, but there was at least some novelty to it. It was the first time I actually had time to get in a 20-min yoga session in the morning and still login early for work — that was time I otherwise would be spending running for a bus, and then a train, and then another bus just to get to work, and then some more. I was learning how to use Zoom and all its cool features. I was enjoying not having to walk 10 mins in the hot sun just to get to a meeting at another part of campus and getting drenched in sweat en-route.

All that novelty is now gone.

Now I’m exhausted from logging into work early and logging off late. The initial joy I got from being able to do morning yoga is far negated by the fact that I never leave my office which is literally in my living room. Weekdays and weekends don’t feel any different anymore. Working hours and non-working hours don’t feel any different anymore. Public holidays? What’s that?

Now I relish the ability to meet someone in person. That’s my highlight of the week, the one thing I look forward to, even if it means I’m going to be drenched in sweat. And Zoom? God knows I’ve got muscle cramps in my face from fake smiling in the camera.

Staycations don’t make a damn difference because I’m in the same city. I’m not exploring a new place, experiencing a new culture, eating new food, immersing myself in un-curated and uncrowded nature — all the most important mental cues from travel are not there in a staycation. These are cues that tell my brain that I’m on a break and I can stop thinking about work now because there are other wonders in the world to learn about. I’m separated from my loved one(s) and I’m in a constant state of missing someone and living an incomplete life.

But I don’t want to just rant. I know there are others who are suffering even more. And for my fellow researchers out there, I know there those of you who have to grapple with other great challenges. So I want to use this post to bring us back to the things we can control and the little things you can do to gain back at least some feelings of positivity in the days, weeks and months to come.

Other modes of work-home separation

If you are like me and your work from home space is your dining table in the living room, it is easy to think that it’s just more convenient to leave your computer, note books and documents there so you don’t have to set things up again the next day. I did this for months and I ended up never logging off work.

So for those of us who do not have the luxury of having a home office, it is so so important to find other ways to create the physical cues in your home to mark the separation between work and non-work hours. Now when I’m done with work for the day, I clear my dining table. I move my computers, books, documents, EVERYTHING, off my table, into a cabinet — OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND. This way, I’m not constantly reminded every time I walk past my dinning table that tomorrow is going to be exactly the same as today.

Check your screen time

At some point, I realised that I was spending more than three quarters of my day looking at a screen. I wake up, I read the news on my phone or TV. I log-in for work, I look at my computer screens. I log-off work, I look at my TV screen. At this rate, if I don’t lose my sense of taste and smell from COVID, I’d lose my sight from looking at a screen all day.

So I changed my daily routine. Now the first thing I do in the morning is go out for a walk without my phone. I go to the convenience store on the way back and buy a hard copy of the newspaper. So now I read the news from actual paper — GASP! I know…maybe it’s just a sign of my age, but I have to say, it really makes my day.

I realise how the shift to online news consumption has really shrunk our propensity to read and learn about an issue or event more deeply. People have less patience to read through long-form journalism in an online format, not least because it’s tiring on the eyes to look at the screen. So journalists have also had to adapt to more shallow forms of reporting to keep readers’ attention. So I’ve discovered a newfound pleasure in reading the hard copy of the newspaper, where my eyes don’t get tired from reading and I’m slowly regaining some discipline with my attention span.

Track your vitals

On a related note, it is so important to track your vitals. And I don’t mean your heart rate, etc. I’m referring to tracking your screen time, sleep, meals and takeouts, emotional state, and if you’re like me, your wine consumption.

When you’re in a dark place in your mind, all the other vital things like drinking enough water, eating healthy, exercising, etc, will seem so tiring to do. But not doing them will only deepen the darkness in your mind. All that yoga and meditation you do will have little impact if you’re not hydrating, eating healthy, and applying moderation to your alcohol consumption. But if you’re not tracking these things, you can’t know that you’ve neglected the good stuff or if you’re over-doing the bad stuff.

I’ve also found tracking how I feel overall about the day quite an illuminating exercise. I realised that the days where I’m feeling good are tied to certain activities like my tennis practice or my frisbee training, or when I changed something in my daily routine. Tracking these things essentially provide you with the database for what makes you happy in these COVID times so you can do more of it.

Cook/eat healthy

For me, cooking is a kind of therapy and a way to not look at my phone or TV screen. If you live in a country like mine where you are surrounded by really cheap and amazingly delicious food from the hawkers, the temptation is to not cook and just do a takeaway. But if you do that too often, not only is it unhealthy, it also takes away the time you can carve out for yourself to not be thinking about anything else other than not burning that chicken breast.

So even if you’re a bad cook, start cooking anyway and maybe you’ll emerge from COVID an A-start cook. Or worst case, you’ll lose some weight — how bad is that?

Get the hell out of your flat

When you’re feeling like shit and your head is hurting from your thoughts going in circles and going nowhere, get your butt out the door — of course, only if it is safe for you to do so. Again, tracking when you went for a walk or jog is also a good way of noticing things you otherwise would miss. Maybe you’re feeling shitty today because you haven’t done any exercise in more than a week?

There’s only so much yoga and meditation can do for you. If you feel too tired to run or jog, then go for a walk. You need those endorphins to pull you out of dark spaces, but you have to work for them. And fresh air, I’ve found, is way under-rated.

I hope this post is useful to whoever out there who’s going into second lockdown or have been in lockdown. I’m still figuring things out as we bumble through this pandemic which we’re all so sick off right now.

Hang in there. I’m hanging too.

One thought on “Preventing burn-out during COVID-19 lockdown

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