For over two weeks I have been in a mental slump. I feel tired, no matter how much I sleep. I wake up in the middle of the night. If I sleep, I have crazy and vivid dreams. I have been having migraines. I lack creativity and strive – usually I never find it hard to open my laptop in the morning and get started right away. Due to the lack of sleep, the current uncertainty and the pressure I put on myself to be productive, I have been in a grumpy mood. As Austria has been opening up, I started meeting more people to see if all of this was due to the lack of social interaction (in real life; I tried to stay in touch as much as possible via video calls with my friends). It was not.
I had quite a few conversations with friends if they are feeling the same. Most of them are. I think it may be the uncertainty which still prevails. Even though Austria, Thailand, Hong Kong, most of the EU countries are coming back to life, I have the feeling that most people are still in a kind of waiting position and hesitant to live like pre-corona.
Over the past weeks we all have developed coping mechanisms. And after thinking about my current mindset and reading tons of articles online, I realised that maybe my coping mechanisms contribute to my toxic state of mind. I identified the 5 “overs” I have been doing for the past weeks. Maybe some of them were your way of dealing with the current situation as well?
I love what I do and I love to work. The first three weeks of social distancing, I worked so much because I wanted to make the best out of the situation. Furthermore, it allowed me to shut out all the scary news and thoughts. After those three weeks, I had a brief slump but then kept on working, basically non-stop. I pressured myself to deliver and to make the best out of the Covid-19-situation which will affect most businesses for a very long time. I wanted to be all set for this uncertain future. About two weeks ago, I reached a point where I just could not keep going anymore. I felt drained, tired and just not in the mood to do anything. This coincided with the start of my current mood.
I guess once I stopped applying the coping mechanism, my body probably realised that the pressure was suddenly gone. All the thoughts I had successfully suppressed for weeks were finally coming out. Hence, I felt really tired and grumpy.
2. Over-Using Social Media
In a grumpy state of mind, the worst thing is scrolling through social media. For professional reasons, there is no way around social media for me. I spend most time on Instagram. In “normal” times, I went online, posted the content I planned, maybe checked out two to three accounts but then I was out. Since the start of social distancing, I have caught myself over and over opening Instagram and keeping on scrolling or watching silly stories until I realise the reason I opened the app (ie. work) and that I forgot to post and actually need to move on. I guess because we needed to stay at home, we tried to compensate real-life interaction with a virtual one.
Over the weekend, I unfollowed all accounts I deemed negative for my mindset. I had been following many lifestyle and travel bloggers for inspiration for my own projects. For a long time I have been annoyed about their superficial content. When social distancing and blacklivesmatter started trending, the content and attitude of many of these lifestyle bloggers became even worse. Hence, I finally decided to unfollow. I also unfollowed “real” people I felt obliged to follow but do not have any relationship with them in real life.
It sounds silly, but now I only open the Instagram app twice a day to post. I watch some stories of my friends and then I am out. Much better for the mind, I can tell you!
Without a doubt, social distancing was a necessary measure to flatten the curve. When the Austrian government decided to slowly open up, I made small steps back into the “real life” – walks with friends, eating at restaurants, exploring museums.
I realised that during the time of the lockdown, I not only went down a “real” rabbit hole because we could not meet anyone but also a virtual one – I did not feel like talking much on the phone or organising Zoom-parties on many days.
I read that our brain needs a certain amount of stimulation. If we sit at home all day, work and do not have many social interactions or experience new things, changes of scenery or situations, our brains tend to compensate that in our dreams. When I started being more active outside, my crazy dreams reduced. Looking back, I can see a correlation between the days I was mainly at home on my own and my dreams or lack of sleep.
This is my area of expertise. In general, I overthink way too much. (Read more about it in Postcard #88) Give me a positive development and I can draw out ten worst-case scenarios of it. This is a great asset for being a strategy or risk management consultant, but it is very toxic for your mind.
Social distancing forced us into our homes and to spend a lot of time on our own. It is natural to overthink everything in such a situation. When I now realise that I am going down a downward spiral, I listen to a song I re-discovered. It is a Viennese operetta song with the lyrics: “Those who forget what we cannot change, will be happy.” (“Glücklich ist, wer vergisst, was doch nicht zu ändern ist.”) I start the song and am reminded to re-focus. (Insider for all Austrians: to make it more fun, it is the Peter Alexander version of the movie “Zum Weißen Rössl”.)
5. Over-Engaging in Toxic Relationships
This is closely linked to overthinking. Because we are at home and spend so much time on social media, we re-evaluate toxic relationships we have already left in the past. Maybe we overreacted? Maybe they changed? Maybe we should reconnect?
There is a reason why you cut ties in the first place. Unless there was a recent positive development which made you overthink the reason for ending the relationship, just do not think about or engage again. It is just not good for you.
I do not know if you are also experiencing similar things at the moment. I wrote this postcard also for myself, to write down and analyse what could be the underlying reasons for my mood.
Just as a general piece of advice, I would like to share two approaches which I found helpful: Firstly, when I catch myself in a negative spiral, I play the song mentioned above or I remind myself that I need to put things into perspective. Is everything really that bad and are we really doomed? Probably not. Secondly, you cannot force yourself to be productive. The more pressure we put on ourselves, the worse. Head out, go for a walk, meet a friend, visit a museum or enjoy a good meal. Whichever activity works best for you, positive outlets really help change focus.
Have a good week ahead!