Juli McClelland

How to focus and stay productive while the world quarantines.

It seems like the only thing we know in the midst of all this uncertainty is that we don’t know how long this pandemic will go on. I’m not sure about you, but I need to find a new way to live my day-to-day, cause what I’ve been doing has put me on a crazy train.

I’ve been waking up in the morning after a restful sleep, feeling positive, happy to have Travis working at the house. I make some palatable green juice and my favorite coffee and feel like singing (just in my house, not brave enough to try the balcony). I start working, being productive, and then inevitably, I’m lured into reading about another local business that’s temporarily closing its doors. Or I absorb the spectrum of Instagram posts, from people being loving and supporting of others, to mocking the media/government/virus/etc., to worrying about small businesses surviving or kids getting educated, to having deer-in-headlights fear.

Then the emails trickle in throughout the day telling me sad news, prevention measures, activities I was scheduled to attend that are now virtual. My monthly dog food shipment is going to be late, but they’ll send another email when it’s on the way.

I turn back to my work, wanting to be helpful to the world and my brain feels scattered. “How can I help people right now?” I think over and over. “What can I do take care of others or give to others?” I get stuck on that, and decide I can at least share some light, I can post to social media things that are positive and relevant, cause the “let’s just talk about something else right now” approach doesn’t feel comforting against the worry. 

At some point, I decide I’ll just have a peek at the headlines and find out how Italy is doing. I get sucked into the gazillion updates about the status of the virus all over the world and the worrisome warnings that “the US better start taking this more seriously, or else.” 

My insides feel like they’re withering with each headline I read. “No online schooling for PA? Oh my God, a whole system of kids held back.” I get sucked into the thought of the impact from all these different angles and think about all of the incredibly tough decisions that business owners and leaders are making, not just daily, but all day.

I snap out of my worry-trance and feel like crying for the world. 

I go back to work to focus on adding value and my high energy is gone. Instead of feeling strong and loving, I feel lost. My brain has asked more than once, will my role even be relevant when all this is said and done? Will anything besides our basic needs be a priority at that time? I’ve imagined the near future looking like what I imagine it did during the Great Depression: hungry families, people desperate for work…I cut that thought off as I spiral more deeply into fear.

By the time the workday is done, I reconvene with Travis, who’s been busily working all day behind closed doors, and I feel like I spent a lot of time doing much less than I’d planned. We change into workout clothes and, with little interest in moving, I pull on my rollerblades and head outside. The birds are chirping and singing, happy as ever. The sky is blue, the sun is shining, the air is warm, and there are more people outdoors in Houston than I have ever seen. It’s like the exact opposite of what I was feeling in my head all day. In fact, what I see is like a dream come true: fewer cars on the road, lots of happy, active people out enjoying the beautiful weather, bursts of colorful flowers and green grass around every home. 

Rollerblading forces me to be present, all I can think of is what I’m doing, and not tripping along the uneven sidewalk. And for the first time since the day started, I feel peace in my body. My head is more clear, it feels like the intoxication of the scary news has worn off, and instead of putting energy into worrying, I can be. I can just be right now where I’m at. I don’t have to fight what’s going on, or fear what I can’t see coming, or worry about how we will fix this. Us humans are very adaptable, we’ll figure out a way. There was never a manual during other hard times, and, I wasn’t there, but if the world could overcome WWII (to name one of the many inconceivable events), I feel like we can get through anything. 

So today, with a fresh, calm and clear mind, I recommit to contribution. I can’t help people if I’m the one who desperately needs help, so I need to take better care of my mind every day. It’s like the oxygen mask on the airplane, instead of putting mine on and breathing, I’ve been freaking out about the plane, gaping out the window, and definitely not helping my neighbors with their masks either.

So about this shift, how can we stay productive as the pandemic continues? There are three areas I help people connect with in coaching: God, self and others. God is the word I personally use to refer to the power beyond me, you can call it anything. Universe, Source, Higher Power, whatever you say. The “self” and “others” areas don’t need explanations, they are exactly as they sound.

Anxiety exists when we’re lacking trust in any one of those areas, and in this particular instance, it’s been a blend of all three for me. I take time to write my daily gratitude and pray, but when my mind has been sucked into the scary headlines and I’d worry about life as we know it, I wasn’t thinking about God at all. I wasn’t even acknowledging God’s presence or role in all of this. Therefore, I wasn’t trusting God to guide me, to guide the world. I was just a nervous wreck on a rocking chair, going nowhere but down the fear trap in my mind.

Trusting myself has been about contribution, and finding a way to help. In fear moments, my brain has devalued what I can offer to people, the support I can give. My brain has overlooked what I have, in search of something that I don’t, so I could have something more to offer in this time. 

And trusting others, hehe, I wish I could say I’d been doing more of that. That’s ranged from, “Seriously? Why are they shutting down the rodeo? People need to calm down,” to “Why the hell is the mall still open?! People need to stay home!” It’s involved watching the local and federal government’s every move and comparing it to what other countries say we should be doing. It’s been not trusting people’s reactions to this global event, first they were overreacting and then they were too cavalier.

When we don’t trust others, not only does it make us anxious, but as you can read from my own thoughts, we also judge them. And we can get defensive, and want to enroll them into our beliefs and write a dissertation about it. 

So anxiety isn’t a standalone experience, it’s a whole gaggle of terrible feelings and behaviors. And it’s just so easy to get highjacked by all of the fear surrounding what’s going on, but that’s not new, it’s always easier to fall for fear. So it is crucial to have some boundaries, unless the rocking-chair-crazy-person life sounds good.

I think it is wise to stay informed, for so many reasons, and personally, to have more peace during my day, I have to stop checking the news in the middle of my workday, or I’ll continue to be frazzled and get very little done. I can read the updates at the end of the afternoon, before I workout and have time to process things. That means I am in the right headspace to help people, I’ll have energy and clarity to be supportive instead of stressed.

To create more trust and connection in each of the three areas I mentioned, here’s what I will do (yours can be different). I will invite God into my mind and life much more frequently throughout the day. I feel God when I connect with people, when I’m walking my dogs and hearing the birds sing, when I stop to appreciate what I have and pray for guidance where I’m lost.

For self-trust, I can trust myself more when I make more space for God, too. It becomes like a partnership, and I remember I can do anything because it’s not all on my shoulders. It never was. As long as I have boundaries in place, it’s easier to maintain my self-trust.

The third, trusting others, means more listening, and being more loving instead of judging. And believing that our leaders are doing the best they can, because nobody was preparing for this six months ago. I can also remember that everyone is in a tough spot somehow, and nobody wants to stay there. We’re all in this together, and we’ll all get out of this together.

Life won’t always be this way. It’s like anything we experience, pain and discomfort are temporary. Who you are in those times matters the most, cause that’s gonna define how you show up when you get to where you’re going. So staying focused is going to be a practice, and it will be a daily commitment to having more trust with God, yourself, and people. Your boundaries can look very different than mine, you’re not me and you’re encouraged to choose things that feel good for you. You have different things going on than I do, and vice versa. Just start with one thing you can do to have more trust in each area, and keep doing those things.

Also, just as our leaders haven’t been running drills and practicing for this pandemic, neither have you (I suspect). Which means you can give yourself some grace as you settle into this new weirdness and find your groove, one day at a time. Hang in there, you’re not alone.

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