9 tips for dealing with the emotional effects of post-COVID life

In Australia, life is returning to normal in most areas but the background threat of snap lockdowns in the face of any locally-acquired cases of COVID-19 is a constant source of anxiety—resulting in ‘lockdown fatigue’.

In Indonesia, the healthcare sector is stretched to its wits’ end, with the highest number of cases in Asia and 18th in the world—with an end is nowhere in sight as the country grapples with managing the virus.

In Singapore, schools and businesses are slowly but surely going back to normal. Although many organisations still operate remotely and virtually, leading to a secondary phase of burnout with many suffering under limitless working hours, job insecurity and zero work-life balance—where everything and everyone collide under one roof.

Different countries and communities are facing different effects of the pandemic across the world, but one thing’s for sure. The sense of overwhelm caused by the chaos and uncertainty in our lives and a sense of absolute confusion and anxiety in anticipation of if/how/when we’ll ever overcome COVID-19 and go back to the way life used to be is unanimous.

While we wait for vaccines to roll-out and restrictions to ease, find out how post-COVID life could be affecting your emotions—and nine ways you can deal with them—below:

PROBLEM: You constantly overthink, and feel anxious and overwhelmed.

ADVICE: Form new “tiny” habits

Habits are behaviours that are automatically repeated in certain situations. Experts say habits take 21 days to make or break, although many fail to stick because they’re either too ambitious, or not enough time has been committed for them to fully develop into their lifestyle. The “tiny” habits approach suggests making small, positive tweaks that don’t drastically change your lifestyle, but simply enhance your day-to-day routine. For example, instead of forcing yourself to do a painful 100x burpees a day, why not subscribe to a fun 20-minute K-pop workout instead? Or simply replace one coffee a day with a green juice? How about indulging in a self-care home spa/beauty moment every 2-3 days? It’s the little things, done consistently, that will slowly but successfully transform your behaviours and outlook on life.

PROBLEM: You have no separation between work and the other parts of your life because everything happens inside your home.

ADVICE: Focus on things completely outside your job

Try a 60-second reset many times a day. Gather together the things that are joy triggers for you. These could be photos of people, pets and places that you love, music, and deep breathing. In just 60 seconds, you can change your mindset. Gratitude is the greatest antidote to stress. Remind yourself of who you are outside of this situation of stress and adversity.

ADVICE: Create after-work plans

Schedule and engage in social activities with your spouse and/or kids. This could be anything from making a trip to the supermarket, playing a game of chess (while watching The Queen’s Gambit perhaps?), or simply cooking and having an intimate, homemade meal together. The key is to avoid all work-related conversations and leave devices on silent and ‘do not disturb’ mode.

ADVICE: Take a short lunchtime walk outdoors

Green environments have a particularly restorative effect on the mind and psyche. Get outside (safely) for a mindful moment in the fresh air.

ADVICE: Cultivate your identity beyond your job

Many of us define ourselves by our profession, while our employers define us by our performance. Take the weight off your shoulders by balancing out your work identity with putting equal effort into who you are outside of work—like being a great parent, avid cyclist, e-sports enthusiast or aspiring chef.

ADVICE: Re-organise your home

Establish a clear demarcation of where you work and where you don’t. Reduce all visual reminders of work (like laptops and documents) from your non-working space and store them only in your working space, and vice versa.

PROBLEM: You feel unmotivated and unproductive.

ADVICE: Set small daily goals

Dissecting your day’s work into smaller, more doable tasks will increase your productivity. Not only will each task be easier and quicker to check off, it’ll increase your sense of achievement and instant gratification, which will in turn boost your activity levels and self-confidence. Reward yourself after each completed task as well—this could be a 10-minute power nap, a chocolate bar or perhaps an evening run for a mood-boosting shot of endorphins!

ADVICE: Try the Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique is where you work for a specific period of time, then take a break, and repeat. It could be a 5-minute break after every 25-minutes of work, or a 10-minute break for every 90-minutes of work you do—you control the time to focus and the time to rest.

PROBLEM: You’re feeling burnout because of unmanageable workloads, limitless working hours, and constant multi-tasking at home.

ADVICE: Schedule time for ‘recovery activities’

‘Recovery activities’ can be passive (like watching TV, reading a book or lying on the beach) or active (like going for a walk, doing a workout video, playing a sport or creating a work of art). Focus on your ‘recovery experiences,’ which are moments during and after those ‘recovery activities’ that will help you to truly recover emotionally. Five types of ‘experiences’ which the extent of each will determine how effective your ‘recovery activities’ are, include:

1. Psychological detachment: You need to be fully disconnected during these non-work periods—both physically and mentally.

2. Relaxation: Take a few breaths to ease into these off-duty activities and release yourself of any unwanted tension or anxiety.

3. Mastery: Zoom in on situations that give you a sense of progress, achievement or instant gratification (like painting).

4. Control: You have the freedom to choose what to do, so be decisive and passionate about the process.

5. Enjoyment: Be sure to savour the experience—allow your mind and senses to be fully immersed in the task at hand and derive as much fulfilment, replenishment and pleasure from it as possible.