Is it really June already? Somehow, amidst all the planning, working and adapting to shift to remote teaching in the wake of the pandemic, half a year has slipped away. And as Lucy recently put it in her Futures post, Autumn session really has been like no other. It’s been a time of immense achievement for the UTS learning and teaching community, and after witnessing the extraordinary effort by staff to adapt to our new conditions, I too am joining the (virtual) chorus of applause and cheers for you all.
But, it has also been a time of extreme worry and anxiety. From the beginnings of 2020, shrouded in ash and smoke from the Australian bushfire disaster, to the outbreak and spread of COVID-19, we have all been dealing with real and present dangers. While the change to remote working has yielded benefits for some who have enjoyed more flexibility, many have struggled either with the sudden change, the difficulties of mixing home and work environments, or with the increased demands of work. Some may have even had to deal with more personal issues, such as moving to a new house or caring for a sick family member, complicated by the restrictions of lockdown. Our present circumstances continue to create unforeseen challenges in both our professional and personal lives.
Living in the new normal
An oft-repeated phrase in recent media is ‘the new normal’, generally used as a catchall term for the myriad of new precautions and guidelines we must now accommodate. After three months, there is perhaps the implication that we have all successfully adapted to this new way of being. But can we really call any of this normal? While each of us has our own unique version of ‘normal’, these are especially uncertain times. The closure of interstate and international borders is far from the usual state of affairs. Waiting in line to enter a shop that has reached the maximum number of socially-distanced patrons feels slightly surreal. And the temporary state of the UTS campus without the hustle and bustle of students from places local and abroad is strange to think about even if you’re not back on site yet.
All of these reasons and many more are why the idea of using the word ‘normal’ to describe the present situation or an unpredictable future hasn’t exactly gelled with me. So with that in mind, here is a list of some things that might help to bring a bit of normality back to your life, or at least assist in coping with the current lack of it.
- Reconnect with friends: I don’t think the impact of isolation on mental health can be overestimated. The gradual lifting of restrictions means we can finally enjoy the freedom of being in the same space as our loved ones again, or at least those who live in the same state. Now might be a good time to shake up your schedule and spend some time with someone you haven’t seen in a while.
- Give yourself some alone time: on the other hand, the changes have necessitated a near constant online presence for many. Science shows that Zoom burnout is real, and maybe disconnecting for a little while would provide some much needed space. Setting aside some time to engage in a little self care might be the thing you need to feel refreshed.
- Maintain some form of structure or routine: it’s not easy to keep a routine when your normal routine is obliterated, but many people who have experience in isolation point to routine as an important tool for differentiating work hours and downtime. Try to shake off any pressure you may feel to be ultra-productive, the best routine is simply the one that works for you. With less restrictions that we’ve had in the past few months, it might be a good time to re-examine your routine and incorporate new activities.
- Plan something to look forward to: it’s been a year of cancellations – overseas and domestic travel has halted, concerts and festivals have been called off, and personal events like weddings and celebrations have been postponed. Without all of these things to look forward to, the future can sometimes seem bleak. Creating some excitement can mitigate that bleakness, and there are now more opportunities emerging to do something other than stay at home. Making a plan to do something (or multiple things) that you’ll be able to look forward to may help to break up the monotony.
- Look away from the timeline: the news of late is a heady mix of COVID-19 updates, social upheaval and strong reminders of deeply entrenched social inequities. It can sometimes feel like looking away from the news means missing out on important information, but the constant onslaught might prove more traumatic than insightful for some. In particular, people who have personally been affected by discrimination may find that distressing media and images can carry harmful psychological effects. Consider it an act of self care to give yourself a break if you need it, especially if recent events have meant you have found yourself overwhelmed with questions or requests.
- Keep moving: this one tends to circulate a lot, so it’s near the bottom of my list because you’ve probably heard it repeated ad nauseum. But, for as much as it’s repeated, moving around or exercising is one of the most effective ways to pull yourself out of a slump and away from the screen. Gyms are starting to open up if that’s your thing, or maybe you’d prefer to use the reduced travel restrictions to head out to a new spot for a walk. I’ve forced myself out of my office chair by scheduling short 5-10 minute YouTube workouts throughout the day, which seems to have stopped my joints from rusting over (mostly).
- Reach out for support: While feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed is absolutely a normal reaction to present circumstances, there is support available if you need help coping. The UTS Counselling Service is available to all students and staff members and the Employee Assistance Program provides assistance for all staff. There is also information and resources available from organisations like Beyond Blue, Headspace and SANE Australia. In such uncertain times, services like these may provide the extra assistance that will get you through.
What are the things that have helped you to feel ‘normal’ in these strange times? Let us know in the comments.
Feature image by Nick Fewings.