These have been strange and tough times. Each and every one of us has been affected in one way or another by the current, global pandemic and it’s during these times that we are forced to be our strongest, most resilient selves. That’s not always an easy task to accomplish, but to quote one of my favorite Beatles’ songs, “I’m going to try with a little help from my friends.” Because, when we help each other, we are capable of great things.
So, for my Wovenware family, friends, peers, and those who’ve listened and shared their experiences in these trying times, I wanted to share how I’ve debugged my quarantine fatigue and anxiety over the past seven months to help put my best foot forward each day.
CUTTING BACK ON THE COFFEE
Earlier this year, I tried to stop drinking coffee, not for any specific reason, probably just as a challenge to myself. I switched from coffee to all different kinds of flavors of tea. But, ultimately, it didn’t work out for me, so I won’t go much into that. I will just say that peppermint tea is amazing.
By the start of the pandemic, I was back to drinking two, quite generous, cups of coffee a day. Those magnificently balanced cups, of equal parts almond milk mixed with Puerto Rico’s most delicious coffee and a sprinkle of brown sugar, not only warmed my bones, but also gave me a burst of focused energy that I could channel into coding, debugging, designing or maybe (just maybe) even doing some compiling. It quickly became part of my daily ritual again and little did I know what was in-store for me.
The thing is, drinking that amount of coffee wasn’t an issue while working from the Wovenware campus. Since the place is so big, we get plenty of walking done daily, but now that everyone’s staying safe in lockdown, my coffee ritual started working against me. Fast-forward to a couple of months, where being cooped up in the apartment became the new normal and two cups of coffee meant having all this extra energy that I wasn’t expending. It was making me feel uneasy.
So, the first thing I thought to do was to cut back on the coffee. I didn’t eliminate it all together, but it still was quite a challenge. The concept of drinking coffee is a thing of ancestral pride here on the Island, a staple, if you will. Generally, Puerto Ricans tend to own a large moka pot, or what we colloquially call a “greca,” to prepare coffee for the family, guests or, in my case, for having a nice tall mug of “café con leche” just for myself. I always ended up having too much. Then, as if some sort of alignment of the stars occurred in my favor, I was given the perfect solution to my situation. I received a smaller-sized “greca,” compliments of Wovenware and Gustos Coffee Co. It was part of a “Lockdown Care Package” sent to us employees that included the insulated mug, Gustos Coffee grounds, and a tote bag. Now, I can limit myself to a small cup o’ brew a day without sacrificing the delicious taste and boost of energy in the morning.
After my cutting-back-on-coffee experiment I felt some improvement, but still felt tense most days. I was having upper back and wrist aches that eventually brought me back to feeling stressed, anxious, and uneasy. It took some time and conversations with friends and coworkers for me to realize that all this was just the quarantine fatigue and anxiety getting to me. It also is a side effect of sitting down for prolonged periods of time, adopting weird postures in my desk chair throughout the day, and not being able to move about freely. The more sedentary lifestyle also meant that I read too many news-headlines about the pandemic and politics, and worried about friends and family. I was doing less exercise and not sleeping as well as I used to. I knew then that there were a couple more things that I needed to try to get back into the swing of things.
MEDITATION AND BREATHING FOR FOCUS
I realized during this time that working from home is great and super convenient, but it also puts you in a weird position – Are you at home or work? You have distractions left and right, ranging from family matters, the dog, the neighbor mowing his lawn, and, not to mention, your house chores and hobbies calling out to you. You can use a pair of headphones and listen to music to block out the noise, but then you have to fight the urge to sing or dance along to your music, making you lose track of your workflow. I quickly found an effective way to remedy this, in the form of a 24/7 YouTube channel broadcast: Beats to Relax/Study to. Listening to the playlist can help me stay focused and relaxed, but when I get tired of that, I’ve found that the most soothing thing I can listen to, that also helps me absorb information, is a playlist titled, 24/7 Relaxation/Meditation Music.
I like to joke around that meditation music is cool because “it reminds me to breathe,” like anybody needs to be reminded to breathe, right? What I mean to say is that it reminds me to be conscious of my breath. Have you ever tried to pay attention to the rhythm of your breath for more than a minute or two? it’s a bit harder than it seems. You’d be surprised how much we take breathing for granted, such a natural thing, a sort of automatic mechanism that basically runs our entire body. I started using a meditation app called Headspace that offers a free trial. With this, I learned the basics of breathing exercises.
One of the most surprising things I noticed about breathing exercises and meditation is how hard it is to concentrate on your breathing rhythm. Try it; I dare you. Just try to count 1 on the inhale and 2 on the exhale, and so on up to 10 and then restart. See how far you can get until you realize you’ve actually been thinking about that email you have to write and have completely forgotten to pay attention to your breathing. Well, the point is that whenever I get overwhelmed by messages, deadlines or requests, I can always use my breath as my token, like in the movie Inception, to ground me back and help me regain my focus. Practicing meditation has really helped me improve quarantine fatigue and anxiety.
MORE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY
Once the pandemic hit, it surprised me how quickly I could get used to not going out. I’ve never really been big on going to the gym and preferred playing basketball or running as ways of keeping active. And, a couple of years back, I got into swimming and fell in love with it and it’s been my go-to sport ever since, but now that pools are closed and going out is risky, I got myself a kettlebell weight and I’ve been training with it whenever I need to let off some steam. It’s quite convenient that I can get a full body and cardio workout right in my living room with two videos I found from Keith Weber: Beginner to Advanced and No time? No Problem. Note that kettlebell workouts can be dangerous and it’s very important to start-off slow.
Yoga is my favorite habit of all, simply because it’s a mix of both meditation and exercise. Learning to implement it into my routine has benefited me in so many ways. It takes a little effort to put in the time and practice, but it’s well worth the investment to fight quarantine fatigue and anxiety.
I’ve become a loyal follower of the YouTube channel Yoga With Adrienne. I can’t remember how I found Adrienne, but I know I’m grateful for her cheerfulness, positive vibes and her willingness to share her passion. She provides a good alternative to those Tony Horton 10 Minute Trainer videos I used to do back in college. She also offers an enormous list of free yoga videos specifically made for different ailments, symptoms, practices and even professions. I’ll just share a couple of routines that have helped me throughout the lockdown.
Neck and Shoulder Relief
Many times I find myself with my shoulders shrugged up almost next to my ears when I’m too focused on the task at hand. This takes a toll on me later in the day, so this little session helps alleviate that upper back tension and neck pain from the inevitable bad posture I always fall into after a couple of hours of coding.
Upper Back Love
I tend to gather a lot of stress in my upper back and this helps. I know this thanks to Wovenware’s Wellness program and the wonderful Pipe, our wellness therapist, who brought attention to this tendency of mine.
Whenever I’m feeling sore, stiff or restless, this is the routine I turn to. It’s a little on the longer side, clocking in at around 45 minutes, and includes some intermediate yoga moves, but I always feel great after taking the time to stretch out the entire body.
For Gut Health and Hips and Lower Back
I can’t confirm that this was the cause, but at the beginning of the quarantine I was using a certain cushion on my desk chair that I think may have been messing up my lower back and causing some stomach pain. It led me to try this video that involves using the abdomen, core muscles, and focuses on breathing. It’s so easy to get caught up in the maelstrom of news and social media about the pandemic, and at the same time, there are so many other issues we are facing on a daily basis. We are bombarded with so much information that it’s easy to get overly stressed out. This video also addresses all of that.
Having people to hear me out, share experiences with and attack problems together, has helped me the most during these trying times. Hanging out virtually with my friends, sharing funny memes, short greetings, or having healthy competitions on who can plate the best Ribeye steak (now that we’re all YouTube-trained home-chefs). We even put together a little music project at the beginning of the pandemic by combining the efforts and excitement of a lot of busy people. Word on the street is, there may be another one of those little projects currently in-the-works, but no one really knows for sure.
I’ve been extremely lucky to have found some good activities to channel all of the emotions caused by everything going on today. Another good strategy has been to limit the amount and quality of information that I was absorbing. I uninstalled news apps and just stayed tuned to local weather, news and lock down announcements. This helped me focus on the things that directly impact me, at least for the time being. All of these activities have helped me lighten the mental load and ease quarantine fatigue and anxiety. Hopefully, some of what I’ve shared today can help you do the same.