Recently, the Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation” affecting the U.S., outlining a framework to address the issue. I found this timely and appropriate because I’ve talked to so many people recently who’ve expressed growing anxiety, despair and a general feeling of doom and gloom.
While the pandemic drove some families, partners, and coworkers closer, we can’t forget about the population that didn’t thrive during COVID – perhaps if you lived alone or in a cold climate without neighboring parks to visit. Even if you had a “COVID circle”, the entire pandemic changed not only the way we live, but the way we think about things.
Even now, as life has supposedly transitioned to post-pandemic, my professional life [to me]doesn’t feel “normal”. Not that there was ever really a “normal”, but at least there was a familiar social and cultural expectation. Or at the very least a routine of some sort that involved interacting with other human beings…in real life.
I worked remotely prior to the pandemic. Most of the team worked in a physical office. Two of us did not, so selfishly – because I was not in the office to have daily physical interaction – I came up with the idea to have a “coffee talk” meeting every morning at 8 AM. My coworkers at headquarters would all gather in the physical conference room, while two of us at home got our fill of “human-coworker-love” for the day. How annoying am I?
My coworkers who lived nearby our office had to wake up, shower, get ready, perhaps get kids on the school bus, drive to the office by 8 AM, and then sit through a 30-minute “coffee talk” meeting…every day of the work week. Because of me. Because I needed some human contact. Because I was lonely.
And I still struggle with this today – although not as much as I used to, even pre-COVID. So, while the Surgeon General offers these suggestions, I am going to offer up some tips [that have helped me]to stay sane while working from home:
- Get outside. When the weather’s nice, I go for a walk. I see flowers and trees and sometimes even an animal. Movement in nature does wonders for the soul.
- Find a friend. When you need a laugh, when you’re having a bad day, find someone you can call. And if you don’t have that at your company, find someone else to talk to – your partner, your friend, an old coworker – find someone who understands.
- I know it sounds like bullshit, but it works. I have arthritis. I started practicing yoga because of said arthritis and it’s been life-changing.
- Keep laughing. Nothing turns a frown upside down like a good dad joke.
- Listen to music. Or a book, or a podcast, or anything other than sitting in silence. Creeps me out sitting in my house with no sound.
- Join a group fitness class. You’ll get to meet people who live in your community and get healthy at the same time. Unless it’s Zumba, I’m terrible at Zumba.
- Get together with other WFH friends. Even if they aren’t in a similar role or field – just being around others can spawn some great ideas. How do you think we came up with the name RepDonkey?
- Call someone. I used to hate the phone. Then COVID happened and we averaged five bazillion video calls a day. I love the freedom of having a conversation without staring at my laptop (plus I can fold the laundry, water the plants and clean up – not that I do any of these things while I’m on the phone…).
- Volunteer locally – get involved and give back to your community. If you have kids, bring them with. A lot of organizations, including your local library and the YMCA have volunteer opportunities for those of all ages. You might just learn something too.
Meet your coworkers in person. Travel to your headquarters. Travel to conferences. Meet up with your coworkers in person. At the end of the day, the best work STILL gets done in person.
I’m not trying to downplay loneliness because I know personally how debilitating it can be. The mental health crisis in our country is no joke. I’m just sharing what’s worked for me over the past few years in hopes to help somebody else. And just know that the old “normal” isn’t normal anymore. We’re weirdly still all in this together – it just feels different.