Life in lock down: some truths and mistruths about our new ‘normal’

By Paulina Andrade Schnettler

Who would have thought we’d have to spend the sunniest spring we’ve had in years mostly inside our homes? 

True, we are allowed to go out and exercise, yet most of us are far from living what we would call our “normal” life. For me, normality meant preparing every day to go to the office, strategically located just steps away from Rheinaue Park. Brewing a thermos of tea for my colleagues, having lunch and a fruitful working day at their company, or taking a walking meeting in the park. And, in this weather, organizing picnics and wine tastings with my friends (you may have already noticed: I am not a member of the Unity Effect hiking team). Going to dance classes in the evening (the only sport of this soul). You think about it now and it seems like a dream. 

Any given stroll at The Rheinaue Park, sometime in 2019

Have I been prey to anxiety and found it hard to cope with this change? Of course I have. I belong to the 7.954 billion humans who are going through the same thing. 

That’s why I would like to reflect upon different strategies and attitudes that one can find when it comes to approaching the current circumstances. Also, on how the way we have dealt with it at Unity Effect has supported me and the team to get along with the loop of sitting at the desk – walking 10 feet to the kitchen for tea – back to the desk in a better manner. And also with not knowing how everything will look next week. 

You’ve probably come across hundreds of guides and suggestions on how to navigate this storm. Here is a selection of what the Internet of Things has to offer.

1. Do it all now because you’ll never have this much “free” time

“If during this quarantine you didn’t read a book, if you didn’t see an interesting documentary, if you didn’t learn new things, it’s because there was no shortage of time; you lack motivation and above all discipline”. That’s the message from a television celebrity in my country (Chile) that went viral (and not in a positive way). Personally, I think it would be very healthy to stop romanticizing the time at home and automatically associate it with more free time. Most of us don’t live in a Jane Austen book. There are still house chores. Some have children who are at home too now. ALL THE TIME. Some live in a 5-person sharehouse. Quarantine can be messy and loud, and just exhausting. 

Not to mention we’re going through an unprecedented pandemic. So, this mandate that we have to be “productive” at home after working hours, meaning that we should be baking, learning Italian, crochet and a long etcetera is impractical for many. I’ve found myself struggling to not give in to the pressure of all those mandalas and perfect cakes you see on Instagram. Our priority now is to stay healthy, hydrated and safe, and yes, have a rest whenever we can! (And of course you can knit and cook yourself something nice if that gives you energy, we’ve already talked about our personal “toolboxes” in this blog). 

An imperfect birthday cake.

2. Don’t do anything because it’s not worth thinking about the future

Now we go to the other end of the spectrum. The one where we think nothing is worth doing. The world is going to end anyway. The lack of certainty becomes food for our lack of motivation and for spending too much time scrolling through social networks (ouch, I’ve been there already). Sometimes it is combined with an informative bombarding that leads nowhere. It also flirts with consumption and the spread of conspiracy theories (“Who let the bat out?”). 

The other day, my wellbeing app (sorry not sorry, I’m helping myself as much as I can) sent me a message that cut to the core: “Before you pick up your phone, think about what for”. How many times a day do we do this for no purpose?

At best this is a short phase. Anyway, if you get caught up in it, it’s good to at least start questioning it. A few weeks ago, I attended an online talk with Anna Stillwell from Acumen,  who said something like: “It might be pretty uncomfortable to sit with yourself (…) Entertainment is great, I just think that being with yourself and trying to understand what’s going on inside you is probably a better long term strategy”. 

3. Meditate on everything and try to find a deep meaning in your protective face mask

Some things just suck right now and it’s ok to not go zen about everything. As Rachel Brathen —“Yoga girl”— would say, you cannot always meditate on what is happening right now. It is just too big

You won’t be the first or the last person who has felt afraid, overwhelmed, confused or even sad in these circumstances. It is very easy to give these feelings a negative connotation, and to think that you “went out of your way” or you are not “centered” anymore if you have them. I have another line from Stillwell that applies to this state of being: “There is nothing wrong with you, you are just having a feeling”. What if you allow yourself just to have them, no explanations or meaning needed? You don’t have to “dig” into everything. 

4. Try to make peace with your new normal and make the best you can out of it

I think I’m sticking to this to navigate the current scenario, which is gradually becoming less surprising and more monotonous. It’s indeed a funny state of being. 

At the beginning of the quarantine, one of the first things we prioritised at Unity Effect was to make our remote work as comforting as possible. Taking meetings and check-ins online is an area in which most of the team has expertise (digital facilitation), but that doesn’t make it any more challenging when it becomes the new normal. We have focused therefore on making our time “together” an efficient, yet above all, a healthy experience. This includes: not forgetting to breathe, asking ourselves how we are and also recognizing that the circumstances are extraordinary, and that perhaps we cannot all give our “normal” 100% at this time. We have also developed some tools to share these experiences and help others make their time online more fruitful.  

Check-in time at Unity Effect

We have adapted, as far as possible, our “team architecture” to the digital world. We came up with a structure to efficiently share the topics we are working on, guided by some key questions (“Is joint action or support required?”, “Is a decision required?”, “Is there something to inform the others about and/or celebrate?”). 

For me, making peace with this scenario has also meant recognising that not everything can or should have a digital replacement. One of the reasons I enjoy dancing so much is its social component (we refer to it, in fact, as “social dancing”). There is nothing for me that can replace it at the moment, which has instinctively made me reject the flood of online offers that invite you to dance in your kitchen (this is a very personal attitude. Kitchen dancers: you are doing great and I admire you!). For the same reason, I think it’s also ok to tell that friend that you might want to postpone your video call, if it’s going to be your fifth of the day.

In the end, there is no universal recipe, and what works for some might not work for someone else.* I think the key question here is: What serves and supports you the most? 

While you’re thinking about it, here’s an old tip, no less effective: Breath, eat, sleep, repeat. 

*If you feel that these circumstances are too complex or challenging to go through by yourself, we recommend you to ask for professional support and advice. There’s no app to replace that.

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