Most of us are feeling stressed out these days. In Canada, we’re in the middle of week 8 of working from home and physical distancing. Non-essential businesses – many of them service-based and small businesses – have shut entirely. Schools, playgrounds, and amenities such as libraries, art galleries and museums all remain closed. Supermarkets are limiting the number of people in their stores at a single time, creating long queues at all times of the day. Millions of people are out of work. Renters are anxious about how they are going to pay their rent. The stock market has been down. Working parents must work from home while caring for their children and maybe continuing their education if they can.
I find that when my brain is overloaded and overwhelmed, it’s difficult to think clearly. It’s not something I can think my way through to resolution. Instead I need three other remedies.
Our travel is limited, our creativity is limitless
Since my young child has been home from school, I have done a lot of drawing. I’ve been commissioned by my four foot tall boss to draw babies, fairies, and her favourite cartoon characters. We have graduated to doodling after discovering a small book of doodles I had started over 10 years ago. The requests for drawings started well before COVID19, but during this pandemic I’ve been forced to practice – a lot. To the point of me actually enjoying drawing again.
We have dance parties. We sing along to our favourite songs. I’ve learned four chords on the ukulele.
My child is missing her school friends and we’ve both really had to use our imaginations to escape the monotony of shelter-at-home life. I’ve witnessed her play make-believe with her stuffed animals and invent adventures with her imaginary pets. I’ve engaged my imagination too. I’ve made up games and stories. I conjured up a magic gate down the road that zapped us to her grandparents’ house.
A friend sends me and five friends a poem a day.
With shelter-at-home protocols in place, my surroundings and sources of stimuli are more limited than usual. We are coping because of our imaginations and limitless creativity. At first, being creative took effort. But like any muscle, using it repeatedly, through training and practice, creativity and imagination become the regular go-tos. It keeps boredom at bay. It soothes my restless 5.5-year old who longs for fun and social connection. It eases the tension and believe me – there is a lot of tension.
In the first week of work-from-home, I head outside for a walk around my neighbourhood every morning. There was one day that I didn’t do it and I was very irritable by the time 5pm rolled around. I ended up going for a late-afternoon grumpy walk.
There was a writing tip I once saw. It was something like, “If you can’t write, get up and move.” Our bodies are not meant to be sedentary. Cabin fever is described as irritability, listlessness, and similar symptoms resulting from long confinement or isolation indoors. We need to move and ideally do it outside. It gives my eyes a break from the computer screen. I get fresh air.
And when I’m not outside, I’m moving inside. I can go long bouts, glued to my computer. I take my phone call standing up, while pacing the room. The dance parties I noted above? They’re part of this movement.
Studies show that moving helps us be more creative and generate new ideas. When the world is changing rapidly and with great uncertainty, new ideas help propel us forward.
No future facts
Past performance is not always a predictor of future success. That couldn’t be more true that in a situation where there is a lot of uncertainty. As Jason A. Voss, an investment manager and author of The Intuitive Investor, wrote, “There is no such thing as a future fact.” The future is very uncertain. It is challenging to analyze our way forward when we cannot analyze things that haven’t happened yet. We need to cut out the noise – through meditation or walking or whatever the practice for silencing the chatter in our minds – and listen to our intuition to guide us through this pandemic and global crisis.
None of these ideas are rooted in analysis or left-brain thinking as a way of coping or dealing with the disruption we’re facing. Instead, their roots are emotional. I wrote previously about how emotions, empathy, and empathetic leadership are at the forefront right now.
Creativity, movement, and intuition help us channel our emotions, express them, and apply them to make decisions at a time when making decisions feels challenging.