Because of COVID-19, many of us are working from home so we don’t have the usual commute time each week. Some are working reduced hours and many others have lost their jobs. Social events have been scratched from the calendar, along with kids/youth sports. With this extra time, you’d think it would be easier to get some wish-list projects done. But whether it’s a professional or educational goal, a home improvement goal, or a personal one, we’re finding it harder to concentrate.
If you hoped to get in a lot of summer reading but your focus drifts from the page, it turns out you are not alone.
While researching for another blog post, I came across an online article in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, “A Side Effect of the Covid-19 Pandemic? Reading Got a Lot Harder.”
I read the article and did a simple google search on the topic which yielded several more articles on the subject. What I learned explained what I’ve been experiencing and what others I know are experiencing. Getting things done has gotten harder. And according to neuroscience, this is a normal reaction to the stress we’re experiencing.
One of the articles talked about the difference between fear and anxiety. We fear a known assailant or event. Fear is specific. Anxiety, however, is about uncertainty—the unknown. And with so much still unknown about this pandemic and how it may affect us or our loved ones, our brains are working overtime to resolve an issue that can’t be readily solved. This reaction to the enormous uncertainty we’re facing requires mental attention, and that requires energy. Energy to process what’s happening around us, and energy to try to—as Oliver J. Robinson, neuroscientist and psychologist puts it— “resolve an uncertainty that is unresolvable.”
It’s exhausting being anxious. Lisa Yaszek, professor of science-fiction studies at the Georgia Institute of Technology says, “It takes a lot of energy to live through history.”
Yeah, I’m feeling that. You too? So, what can we do about it?
Here are a few practical ideas, definite steps to take as we navigate the indefinite.
- Make smaller, short-term goals. Large projects may be overwhelming so divide them into smaller tasks with breaks in between.
- Keep active. Small, simple actions will get you through.
- Go outside and enjoy nature. It’s beautiful out there and it’s a great place to think on the bigger picture.
- Limit news/social media intake if this causes you stress. Occupy your mind with something peaceful and beneficial.
- Help someone else. You may not be able to change your situation, but chances are you can make life a little easier or better or happier for someone else. And that feels good.
What about reading? Here are several ideas to help you read during times of uncertainty.
- Don’t force yourself to focus if you can’t. Take a break and come back to it.
- Reread your favorites. There is something very comforting about the familiar stories we love.
- Take a walk and listen to an audiobook. Borrow them free at your library. (If you tried audiobooks in the past and didn’t enjoy them, give them another try. Life has changed and you may be surprised to find how helpful and enjoyable listening to books can be.)
- Read history and historical biographies. People have lived through extraordinary times and their stories will encourage you and broaden your understanding of the human experience.
- If you have trouble reading a book, put it down and find another. Our reading needs change. Find a book that gives you what you need today.
Have you had trouble concentrating too? What positive steps are you taking to get through?