Why is lockdown and working from home so difficult?

Why do you feel like you are losing focus all the time while under lockdown and working from home? You used to be really good at juggling things and now it’s just hard. You’re more tired, emotional and irritable than seems reasonable. Why is this?

In the past, you would go through your day moving from task to task effortlessly. Of course, there would be some stressful days, but somehow you made it through.

Meet the superstar – the juggler – that makes it all work for you

You have this superstar internal juggler in your mind supporting you. He has a few balls in the air – your primary tasks – and you can go back and forth between them with some ease, thanks to his nimble work.

Imagine it like this: one of the balls is a document or a spreadsheet you are working on, one is a social media thread you’re following, another is an ongoing discussion you are having with your teammates and yet another is your evening plans with friends. During a day you move between these easily. The Juggler is designed to handle those, he does a good job and you do a good job too!

Part of what makes him – and you – successful is that the Juggler is also doing some extra jobs. He manages to quiet the whispering voices elsewhere in your mind (more on those in a minute) that are concerned about that uncomfortable incident on your commute into work, your upcoming doctor’s appointment, hunger, a nagging pain, disagreements with a loved one, children acting out… In addition to juggling your tasks, he is calming those whispers and keeping them at bay, so you can focus on your important work.

The juggler gets tired and can lose it completely

Then there were those days when it didn’t quite work: you had too much on, the worries and concerns got really loud, and you – your Juggler – started dropping balls. Stress, overwhelm, losing details, being forgetful, maybe having a sleepless night now and again… That happened because the Juggler can’t juggle infinite numbers of balls or maybe those background whispers became too loud for him to manage. With too many things to do, he starts dropping balls. That’s normal, he’s got limits.

On a really tough day, the Juggler may just drop all the balls. When you’re shocked by some news or your whispering worriers start shouting, the Juggler will drop everything.  Then he needs to pick up the balls and get them flying again. It takes energy and effort to refocus.

The worried whispers from the shadows

Where do those shadowy whispers come from? You have some other characters – big domineering hulky guys who usually hang out in the shadows of your mind. Their job is to protect you and keep you safe in a multitude of ways. These Hulks are powerful and loud, and, while the Juggler often has them tamed and quiet, they can overpower him easily when they are really concerned.

All of that was going on in your mind on a normal day, BC – before corona. Now it’s even more dynamic.

Your mind under lock-down

Now, all the characters in your mind are working double time – at least. There are many more balls in the air: your new work environment, learning new collaborative tools, being on conference calls for hours and hours, trying to separate “work” from “home”, reducing your exposure to the virus, managing the call from the fridge and demands from pets, children and your spouse.

With so many more balls in the air, your juggler is more stressed and worn out than usual. On top of that, there are many more of those whispers he used to manage well because the Hulks have so many more things to worry about. The Juggler can hardly keep them quite like he used to.

More tasks and more things to worry about

In normal times, those hulky guys rarely had to worry about your physical safety and actual survival. Now they have a lot more to worry about: will you get sick? Will you have enough to eat? What about your friends and family, will they be OK? What about your job, your income, your work in the future, will your company stay afloat? What about your partner’s job? The economy?

Every worry is like a loud whisper, the Juggler can hardly function with all that racket going on. And he’s the one that is supposed to help you focus.

Have you washed your hands enough? Oh no, you touched your face! Is that a sore throat coming on? Maybe you should have another snack, just to be safe. OMG, there are so many people getting sick!  Are we flattening the curve? Why won’t those people do the right thing and stay home!? Oh, the poor doctors and nurses. The tragic stories from around the world…

OK, enough, the Juggler says, it’s time to get back to work, pick up those balls again. He picks one or two, gets into a rhythm, and… in the zone! You get to focus for a little while.

Then, ding! Another message: more bad news on the COVID front! And the balls come crashing down.

At some point, the Juggler gives up. No more picking up the balls. No more focus. It’s just too loud and too much drama and the Hulks are just too noisy. You put yourself on auto-pilot, take care of what you can or perhaps you head for the fridge, liquor cabinet and Netflix.

So what is this really all about?

How can you manage these characters so you can stay sane and get a few things done?

The Juggler’s fitness is your level of resilience. The balls he juggles are the things you tell yourself you should focus on. He helps you focus and he keeps everything else at bay so you can do your best work. His fitness is paramount to your success.

The Hulks that normally stay in the shadows are the different parts of your brain that are designed to keep you safe – they help you avoid physical danger, get enough to eat and make sure that you are safe within a tribe with some certainty about the present and future. They are fast, strong, negatively oriented, self-centered and always awake.

So how can you best support yourself and your juggler and calm the Hulks?

Give the juggler a break

First, it would be useful to focus on fewer things and give the Juggler a break. Maybe even limit yourself to one primary task for a day or half day period. Stop multi-tasking.

Also, taking good care of yourself and your body will support the Juggler and its ability to manage the Hulks and their constant worries.

Don’t indulge the Hulks

You can also calm those loud whispers and worries in the background: Make sure you aren’t indulging the Hulks and their drama – they love drama; they’ll convince you it’s good. They want more news and they love conspiracy theories and blame. They want to hoard food and toilet paper. They worry – about not seeing your friends, about the uncertainty of the world. They ruminate endlessly; they’ll make up tales and stories that scare you and keep you up at night.

But you do have some control about how much they go on about their worries: listen to them and name the worries. Notice how their stories are exaggerated. Perhaps laugh at them – aren’t we funny as human beings about how we desperately fill our shopping baskets as if the world is ending?

You can also train them. They’re a bit like puppy dogs: you have to be clear and firm with them: it’s time to stay indoors; this ensures safety. The world is not ending; there is enough food to go around.

Don’t feed them a lot of news, especially not at night before bed. Don’t get your news from your social media outlets; look for fact-based information. Insist on reason and rationality.

Don’t buy in to their drama schemes. Limit how much you listen to the ridiculous voices and internet trolls; they only create more drama.

Give yourself a break – you’re only human!

Most of all, recognise that what you are experiencing is all very human and normal, given the design of our brains. It is normal to be extra tired, to not be your usual efficient self; it’s normal to be extra emotional and to crave safety and security – even in the form of toilet paper.

The best thing you can do right now to support yourself is to reduce the expectations you have of yourself, because putting the pressure on yourself only makes those Hulks louder.

Admit to yourself – and your Juggler – that this is an exceptional time. You won’t be as efficient as usual; you will need at least as much sleep as normal and you need more rest during the day. The good news is that taking care of yourself – and your Juggler – will also strengthen your immune system. And that’s clearly a good thing for your body and all the characters in your mind.

If you want to learn about strengthening the Juggler, click here