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Why Are We Busier Than Ever Despite Having Nowhere to Go?

Staying at home during quarantine is time consuming. Here is why.

Money Crashers, used with permission
Source: Money Crashers, used with permission

With 22 million Americans having lost their jobs so far during the coronavirus pandemic and essential workers putting their lives at risk to help others, this is hardly the time to complain for those of us lucky enough to have a job and the luxury of being able to work safely from home.

Yet the stress still runs rampant among the rest of us. Today was the first time I sat down and did nothing for 20 minutes. But if we don't even have to leave the house, why are we so busy? Why is staying home during lockdown so time-consuming? Here is my list of reasons. Feel free to share yours.

Meetings Around the Clock

Some time in mid to late March, the University of Miami decided to move activities online. They were generous enough to give us five whole days to move all of our classes online, which required making substantial changes to the course schedule, assignments, and testing, and familiarizing ourselves with the various features of Zoom. Switching to online teaching mid-semester was, and remains, enormously stressful, and preparing for classes populated by students who may be struggling, hungry, and grieving is touchy and extremely time-consuming.

Teaching is only one part of my job. College professors are required to do a substantial amount of administration—in the euphemistic parlance of academia, “service to the university.” This requires serving on various councils, senates, boards, and committees. During quarantine, these demands haven't eased up or lessened. Quite the contrary. Novel challenges arise and need to be addressed, such as the various issues troubling the students and the inevitable budget cuts, pay cuts, and hiring freezes. And despite the increased teaching and administrative workload, higher-up administrators nonetheless still expect us to publish peer-reviewed papers and books in prestigious venues.

Perhaps the most striking difference between now and normal, however, is that our service Zoom meetings now regularly are scheduled before or after normal work hours, for instance, at 7 pm or at 6 am. Apparently no times are off-limit now that we are all just sitting around at home with nothing better to do.

You Are a School Teacher and Daycare Provider

A lot of parents have to work fulltime, homeschool their children, and serve as full-time daycare providers. Working from home is hard, but it's even harder when you are expected to work 50 hours a week while taking care of your children's needs. Even when schools offer distance learning for children, as the schools in Miami do, parents are not off the hook. When not propped up in front of their tablet, where a teacher is narrating Power Points, your child needs your help to understand class material, complete homework, and cope with the tragic consequences of the pandemic.

Cooking and Cleaning Are a Major Daily Ordeal

As I am a single mother, I normally have a lot of driving to do. I initially thought that not having much driving to do would save me time. I was wrong. With people and pets in the house 24/7, I have to clean for far more time than I'd normally spend driving. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks have to be prepared and dishes washed. With people and animals in the house 24/7, a lot of dirt and dust accumulates, not to mention all the stuff—books, pet toys, board games, cookie dough cutters, and dirty socks—that gradually comes to cover tables, chairs, and countertops around the house.

Grocery Shopping Is an All-Day Outing

Even activities as simple as grocery shopping become major challenges. My weekly outing to Publix, our local grocery store, runs something like this: Drive to to the store. Place yourself at the end of the 300-foot-long line of shoppers waiting to get in. Wait 60-plus minutes in the sun. Get permission to enter. Enter. By all means, get everything the first time you walk down an aisle, as the pathways between aisles have been turned into one-way streets. If halfway through the store, you realize you forgot to get rice when in aisle 1, you will have to leave your oversized shopping cart behind, meticulously follow the one-way streets back to the rice aisle. Once you have checked off every item on your list, determine where the shortest line is for checkout. Wait behind the four customers with carts packed with groceries. An hour later, pay and load the groceries into your car, and hit home.

The whole ordeal—from leaving my home and until the last grocery item has been put away—takes four to five hours. I only go once a week. But even then, grocery shopping during lockdown can be a full-time job, especially when supplemented by the daily chores of cooking, cleaning, child minding, and homeschooling.

Stress and Anxiety Are Time Consuming

The kid(s) is finally asleep, and you are done cooking, cleaning, homeschooling, and marking student essays. You have walked the dog and finished your last Zoom meeting. So, you sit down to relax with a cup of tea (fighting off the urge for something stronger). You turn on the TV, hoping to catch a lightweight Rom Com, but you once again get stuck on a news channel that makes you more mindful than ever of the staggering statistics of people who die alone, the frontline workers who lose their own battle to COVID-19, and the millions of parents who can't feed their kids because they no longer get paid. Tragedy upon tragedy, and a bleak future at the end of the tunnel. You turn in early, but don't fall asleep until 30 minutes before your alarm buzzes you awake for your 6 am Zoom meeting.

More from Berit Brogaard D.M.Sci., Ph.D
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