A short disclaimer: When the team suggested I interview a few Tymeshifters for a post about how the pandemic has impacted them emotionally, I wasn’t sure where to start. It’s a touchy topic. No one wants to exaggerate their own experience or take away from people who have gone through something worse. So please know I’m writing this with understanding and respect. We are all exhausted in different ways and have different experiences. My aim is simply to share a slice of the conversations going on at Tymeshift and how we’re trying to cope.
Let’s be real
There are so many reasons people might feel exhausted, anxious, and just not themselves right now. At the same time, companies are trying to make up for lost progress and revenue. I’ve even heard rumors that some workplaces are encouraging staff to forego holidays to balance things out.
I get that money doesn’t just make itself. But company growth that comes at the expense of employees’ mental health doesn’t make sense either. Work/life balance is a phrase that’s been tossed around for years. This situation is about a lot more than that. This is a time when the core of peoples’ lives has shifted. Some lost loved ones. Some put themselves at risk to care for others. Some took extreme measures to stay safe. And damn near everyone has felt afraid whether or not they want to admit it.
We shouldn’t ignore the fact that we’re all humans. We have all experienced a very traumatic pandemic, and just because it’s been going on for months doesn’t make it less frightening than when it began.
When home became the office
Over the past few months, I’ve heard people reduce this situation to:
“Well, staying at home isn’t that hard.”
I do want to acknowledge that we are lucky to still have jobs amid these uncertain times, and there are many positive sides to working from home. However, those WFH benefits shouldn’t be applied to situations where it’s not a choice. This was an unplanned, unwanted, and frightening change. It’s not a time where we can all just pretend that we are simply working at home. We’re working at home while worried about our loved ones and trying to block out lingering fears.
There are complex underlying issues that people don’t consider when they talk about how easy it can be to stay inside. Ivy, our Partnerships Manager, found the WFH shift challenging. In fact, I had such an eye-opening conversation with her that I needed time to sit quietly and think after our call. Because her quarantine situation isn’t simple, and you’d never know it since she’s so upbeat and present every day at work.
Ivy has been quarantining in the house she grew up in — a home filled with happy childhood memories of years spent with her mother. After her mother passed away in 2014, Ivy was inconsolable. She is now surrounded by memories of that loss every day.
“I’ve tried to make things look different, so it doesn’t feel the same. I’ll hang new curtains, and it will work for a short time. But not very long. It still reminds me of my mother every day, and that can be so overwhelming.” — Ivy
It’s difficult to imagine how many emotions she has to wade through just to keep quarantined in that house. Not that the memories are negative, they’re just a constant reminder of one of her favorite people in the world that she misses so much. Living in that headspace on a daily basis can undoubtedly affect the way she perceives working from home.
Elisa, our CBO, also experienced a lot of growing pains when it came to developing a new work setup. Her love of looking out the window during the day to see the bustling streets of Lisbon was replaced by silence. It took about two months for her to figure out that she was choosing to work at night to avoid this reality and distance herself from the fear that would creep into her workday.
“One of the hardest parts has been that I like having my space. A lot of times, my work is my space…that kind of disappeared.” — Elisa
She’s a person who really needs room to decompress and separate family time from her time as an individual. Her home space and work space collided. She had to care for a young daughter eager for interaction and knowledge while also working from home. Like we mentioned in our recent working moms post — the divide between being a mom and being a manager suddenly disappeared.
It’s not that she’s just sitting in the same room as her family to do her work, it’s that she’s teaching her daughter algebra while trying to shut out the fear that her daughter might not get the chance to grow up the way Elisa had envisioned. Suddenly, that overwhelming lack of control hits Elisa, and the thoughts knock the wind out of her.
Another issue for many people is the complete shutdown of social spheres. Elisa found this to be one of the most jarring aspects of the current global situation. A huge part of her role is traveling to events, doing onsite visits, and meeting new people. She’s passionate about it, which is precisely what makes her the perfect face of Tymeshift.
When all of those international opportunities disappeared in March, she immediately doubled her therapy sessions. Yes, that did mean she had to create a little Zoom tutorial for her therapist so they could switch to online meetings. But it worked out well. Elisa mentioned that doing so many online meetings for our company got her used to having deep conversations on a video platform, so the switch to digital therapy wasn’t as tough.
I also checked in with Laura, our Marketing Manager, about feeling cut off because she thrives on social interaction. She’s based in France but travels to our Lisbon office frequently (well, she did). How is she coping?
“At first, it was fine because we did Zoom hangouts and happy hours. I was actually seeing friends I hadn’t caught up with in a long time on a regular basis. After a while, though, I realized how much it was impacting me. It was weird because I wasn’t keeping up with the people I saw almost every day before quarantine. And even though my parents were just a few hours away, I didn’t see them for months.” — Laura
Some days, Laura just felt off. Being away from the friends she regularly saw, not being able to go to the office, and having all of the events she was scheduled to promote just disappear took its toll. I remember a few weeks before we knew what COVID burnout was, she apologized to me for being “off.” I hadn’t noticed because we’d just been communicating via chat, and she’d constantly been working. Behind all that productivity, Laura felt different, and she didn’t know why. She wasn’t really sure what to fix or how to fix it. Laura was trying to fill the gap she felt when all of her in-person social connections were cut off, and it led her to overwork.
After a while, we all started hitting that same point…
“I can’t focus on my work. Is my output enough? Am I enough? I am totally going to get fired — I bet my boss thinks I’m slacking. I mean, I don’t have anywhere to go, I probably should still be online. Especially with all of the layoffs around the world. Plus, my coworkers are getting way more done, I bet they think I’m the weak link. I better work this weekend.” — The racing internal pressure of pandemic working from home.
Feeling cut off from human interaction has led to a lot of internal confusion. Untangling that fear and figuring out how to continue with work is difficult. I know I’m guilty of overscheduling and pressuring myself to work more so that I can try to fill the social void in my life.
Everyone has a past
The source of my pandemic-related exhaustion has strong ties to my past. When I spoke with Ivy, she shared that she’s having the same issue. When we are vulnerable and not in control of a situation, sometimes our brains bubble up negative thoughts and make unfortunate connections to memories we wish we could forget.
Ivy brought up how a simple trip to the grocery store during the pandemic reminded her of an incident from her childhood.
“When I was eleven, we lived in Argentina. It was during an economic and political collapse, and things were chaotic. One day, we got a call saying we needed to evacuate our home because protestors had shot a guard nearby. We couldn’t go home for almost a week. And for some reason, after COVID began and I went to the store and saw everyone in those masks and looking so afraid, that was the same feeling I had when I was eleven. So I came home and just cried.” — Ivy
While my story is different from Ivy’s, the resurgence of old, negative fears is similar. When I was 22, I was an active graduate student. One semester I started seeing intense flashes of green. I dropped off my last final on a cold Friday in December and swung by my eye doctor’s office. I assumed I was studying too hard. Nope. I was quickly booked with a specialist and told nothing.
The next Monday, I sat on an exam table while clutching a clipboard as a doctor drew all of the places where my retinas were detached on a piece of paper. I was, to put it simply, very close to going blind.
As part of my recovery from the ensuing parade of surgeries over the next year, I wasn’t able to leave the house for weeks at a time. I could only lay in certain positions to help my retinas heal, and my world shifted from being a happy 20-something to lying on the floor in my living room. If I didn’t follow the doctor’s instructions, it would cost me my eyesight.
When lockdown started, I felt that same panic I’d experienced during my recovery days. “If you don’t do everything perfectly, you’ll end up in the hospital,” is the thought looping in my brain. Even though the issues & possible outcomes are quite different, the fear I felt at 22 has resurfaced throughout quarantine.
Taking steps to readjust and continue
Now and for the foreseeable future, we will all be living in a state of uncertainty. The only thing that seems certain is that confinement is a way to lower the risks to ourselves and others. With that confinement comes mental and physical isolation that impacts us in different ways. How can we take care of ourselves, our families, and our colleagues while continuing to function in this new reality? Well, I don’t have the answer, but I do know it’s something we are all thinking about.
Our CEO, David, recently started standing virtual office hours for us to talk to him one-on-one about anything. Being able to ask a person outside of your direct friend group or management structure about concerns is refreshing. The open (virtual) door policy leads to increased transparency, and a lot of us have been able to voice and tackle fears that we would have otherwise let fester.
Shifting regular meetings to audio-only and using that moment to go for a walk has allowed us to pull ourselves away from our screens. Since I’m walking my dog, Musashi, a lot more these days, turning off the camera and wandering through a park while I discuss work has also boosted my creativity.
Ivy mentioned that setting firm hours and sticking to them has been helpful for her. She turns off notifications and gives herself the headspace to take a break every night, even going so far as putting her phone on airplane mode. This was something she discovered when her home wi-fi wasn’t cooperating during the pandemic. Even after it was fixed, she still decided it was healthier to disconnect.
For all of us, patience and understanding are going to be key. Listen to your coworkers with compassion and empathy. Be kind to yourself — it’s a huge step we all need to take. I’ve heard so many apologies for kids singing in the background of calls, people feeling like they aren’t working hard enough, and just generally people being tough on themselves.
It’s okay not to be okay right now. Acknowledging that is important so that you can start to do things that make you feel more comfortable in this new reality. Mental health needs to be considered more than ever moving forward. Be patient, and give yourself and those around you the space to adjust.
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