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Put on Pants (and More) to Cope With Physical Distancing

Consider some new ways to cope with weeks at home and modify how you think.

Source: Pikrepo
Source: Pikrepo

Americans everywhere are grappling with new challenges. In higher education, teachers are scrambling to teach classes remotely, scientists are strategizing how to conduct research. Many of them also have children to take care of, older parents to care for, and in some cases, family members undergoing serious medical treatments and in need of special assistance. Unlike the Amazonian princess Wonder Woman or the alien from Krypton, Superman, we do not have superpowers. And we should not push ourselves as if we do.

That said, we can take a lesson from heroes of the same ilk. Ironman and Batman are mere mortals who develop ways to protect themselves and make them stronger. This is a time when we all have to suit up. We need to arm ourselves to be stronger for others. We have families and friends who can benefit from our support. As a faculty member, I know students are looking to us to be models of perseverance. For many, their classes and how we run them will be their tethers in the storm. We have our own personal storms and villains to combat. While there have been lists out there before, here are some additional simple ways to cope with the days ahead.

Put on your pants: Research on enclothed cognition shows the links between what we wear and productivity. For example, participants in a study wearing white lab coats did better on math tasks. Those in artist smocks were more creative. Whereas athleisure wear is comfortable, it may make you less likely to feel motivated to work. Often, comfortable clothing is associated with low-key activities. This conditioning may contribute to less productivity.

Step out of the data flow: Faculty often bemoan the fact that students seem to check their phones (or Apple Watches). The need to check into social media to see if you have a message, or if your post or tweet has been liked or shared is a strong drive. Fight it. It can certainly be a coping mechanism and recognizing it as such may be exactly why more of us are more likely to allow ourselves to do it during these times. The song remains the same. The more often you do it, the more rewarding it becomes, and the harder a habit it is to break. Go the other direction. Catch your tendency to switch from work and set times you will not check social media. Those likes and shares will be there for you later. Plus, some time away from coronavirus news can help too.

Look beyond the obvious: Stress, even when not explicit and recognized, can wear a person down. We can be irritable and react in ways we normally would not. So can those around us. Coworkers, friends, and family may all snap or be irritable. It is easy to not think well of them (attribute behavior to a mean streak or personality) but consider the situation. Perhaps their emotional outburst is due to their stress, the situation they are in, and not because of what you did or an inherent flaw in their fabric. Look beyond what your automatic response is and consider alternatives to their behavior.

Firmly place a full stop: While one of the most common suggestions to coping with remote work and the closures is to create a schedule, many individuals do not because they feel they do not need one to get work done. Creating a schedule is a great idea but it should be applied to multiple domains of life. Schedule work, schedule play, schedule time to do nothing. When it comes to work, set a specific time to stop. This can be a time period or it can be a project goal. It is difficult to stop when one is in the flow of work and so working until a project milestone is great but having a firm full stop is better for mental health.

Don’t sweat the small stuff: Relative to what many are dealing with—closures in the hospitality industry, loss of jobs, family members with compromised immune systems—some of our frustrations may pale in comparison. Not being able to get a malted beverage with friends at your favorite establishment or continuing your game night tradition is aggravating. But it is not the end of the world. Practicing a little social comparison, thinking of those who are in worse situations, can help us cope better with our own situations.

Just like Ironman and Batman who are constantly adding new ways to fight evil, we can add new ways to our repertoire of coping skills. No, we may not get to be Wonder Woman, but we can surely get through the next period of uncertainty in better shape together with those around us.