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This is why you don’t need to be productive during a pandemic


June 1st, 2018

While it may seem like everyone else is re-organizing their homes, creating at-home workout routines, or perfecting the art of baking sourdough bread during the quarantine, there are many others who are sleeping in, binge-watching shows, or just taking each day as it comes.

And that’s OK.

That’s according to Toronto-based clinical psychologist Vivien Lee, who says people cope in different ways with the stress and anxiety of events such as the current worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone’s needs at this time are different,” she told during a telephone interview on Wednesday.

“A lot of people are working from home, a lot of people are taking care of kids. We don’t have our regular coping strategies available to us, like going to a gym or seeing friends, and it is a lot of stress and uncertainty right now. It’s OK to just get through the day.”

For some individuals, Lee said staying active and keeping busy with chores or hobbies can help them have some control over their lives when so much happening in the world is beyond their control.

For others, however, the changes can feel overwhelming and they need time to process it alone or with loved ones.

“For many people, it’s just a stressful time,” Lee said. “Maybe you have kids or other family members who are very worried and you just want to focus that time on bonding and relaxing and just trying to get through this together.”

Michelle Cederberg, a professional speaker and health and productivity expert, agrees that for many people, the prospect of this new “normal” lasting weeks or months longer can be hard to comprehend. She said that people who may have been motivated to pursue a lot of neglected chores or hobbies three weeks ago when the quarantine began, may be adjusting their expectations now.

“I think that a lot of us became really aware that all of that stuff is weighing down on us and like the last thing I’m going to think about is learning a new language,” she said during a telephone interview from Calgary on Wednesday. “COVID-19 and everything attached to it, it’s a high stress experience.”

Cederberg said that while some people may naturally have a higher tolerance for stress or they may have more time on their hands if they don’t have children or they’re not working from home, she said others may just not have the time or capacity to start new projects or learn new skills or hobbies right now.

“Because stress creates a lot of cortisol, the stress hormone, and cortisol and creativity don’t necessarily co-exist all that well, we’re not necessarily going to have the bandwidth to do something new,” she said.

For Gary Direnfeld, a Keswick, Ont.-based social worker, the goal for this period of quarantine amid the pandemic shouldn’t be about how much people can accomplish, but how they can get through it in the best way possible.

“For those who may be feeling guilty about not getting things done, appreciate that the goal is to survive and whatever you can do to meet that objective, instead getting things done, you’re already ahead of the game,” he told during a telephone interview on Wednesday.


While some people may be feeling guilty that they’re not accomplishing as much as their friends sharing achievements on social media, Lee said it’s important to remember that people don’t tend to share the menial or mundane tasks, such as making the bed or helping their child learn the alphabet, that should be considered achievements in their own right.

“We know that a lot of people would look at social media before all this happened and feel bad that they’re not fit enough, not pretty enough, good enough and it’s really hard to recognize that that’s not the reality for most people,” she said.

Lee said people should cut themselves some slack and recognize their achievements, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. She also said they should make time for pleasure, whether that’s watching a movie or exercising or being alone, during these uncertain times.

Cederberg agrees that it’s OK for people to be “kind and gentle” to themselves during this stressful period.

“I’m not suggesting that we just curl up in a ball and watch Netflix until this all passes either, but I think we have to be a little bit simpler in our approach to what success looks like during this time,” she said.

The wellness expert said it can be healthy to try something new and outside their comfort zone, but they should start small and focus on something that genuinely interests them.

“If you’re thinking I should learn a new language or I should Marie Kondo my closets, or I should write a book or I should, should, should, that’s putting unnecessary pressure on yourself,” she explained.

Direnfeld’s advice is even simpler. He said people should just talk to someone, anyone, whether it’s their partner, their children, a religious leader, or someone working for a helpline, they should reach out.

“Many folks are keeping in their fears and as a result, those fears are festering and making people edgy, creating issues of mental health for them, as well as problems in their relationships,” he said. “You can also acknowledge that you’re not looking for guidance or advice in return, only to be heard, only to give voice to that which you’re carrying inside.”

Direnfeld said people should strive to hear each other during this period and recognize that everyone is going through this experience in their own way.

“We have to give permission to one another to have different strategies and not shame, or hold one strategy over another,” he said. “We want to be compassionate with each other as we move through this.”