Think back on the last week: have you felt incredibly sluggish and tired? Are you usually someone who jumps at the opportunity to take on a new project at work, but lately, the smallest task feels impossible? Do your colleagues typically turn to you for your innovative genius, and now, you can’t seem to come up with one stellar idea?
Take a deep breath: You aren’t failing as a leader, and you aren’t slacking. You are, however, suffering from pandemic brain fog.
As psychologist Dr Yvonne Thomas Ph.D. explains, this is caused by living through a period of intense, ongoing stress and unknown variables that impact every single moment of our lives.
We don’t know when offices will return as they once were. We don’t know when mask-wearing will be a distant memory. We don’t know when traveling will be safe.
This can cause even the most well-intended and passionate professionals to feel unlike themselves.
In addition to giving yourself a much-deserved pat on the back for making it this far, consider these strategies to help you break through the pandemic exhaustion and find your creativity again:
1. Schedule a quick exercise break
When was the last time you left your home ‘office’ (or ahem, corner of your dining room table) and walked more than a few steps?
Movement is essential not only to our physical health but our mental and emotional wellbeing, too. That’s why Dr Thomas said it’s vital to work in some exercise in the middle of the day to keep your brain happy.
“By pumping up your adrenaline and getting your breathing deeper and more regulated, you can increase your energy, focus, and creativity while reducing physical lethargy, mental sluggishness, and emotional distress,” she said.
“Especially during times like this, it is imperative for people to stay physically active to keep their minds, bodies, and emotions functioning as close to their norm as usual.”
If you have the willpower to do a bit more, Dr Thomas said to participate in cardio for 30 minutes a day. At bare minimum, you should do a walk around the block (or circling your living room) just to keep your creative juices activated and flowing.
2. Give your mind time to disconnect
All too often, professionals punish themselves for not performing up to the standards they set for themselves. So, rather than listening to their bodies, they push forward, staring at their screen, feeling less and less productive.
Rather than torturing yourself, Dr Thomas suggests prioritising mindfulness by blocking time to meditate, practise deep breathing, and other soothing tactics.
When we do this, we force ourselves to live in the present moment, helping to eliminate other thoughts and worries.
“Practising mindfulness can have an overall calming effect and help a person be more centred physically, emotionally, and cognitively,” she said.
3. Time-block your work
Part of the struggle of a brain fog is feeling as if you can’t make progress.
You start one deliverable, you feel stuck, so you move to something else. Then, you repeat this process until you feel defeated. This doesn’t give you the type of confidence you need to tap into your creativity zone.
Instead of setting yourself up for failure, Dr Thomas suggests creating time blocks in your day-to-day calendar where you are hyper-focused on work for short stints, followed by a short exercise or mindfulness break. Because you know you have a limited amount of minutes to give attention to a project, you are more likely to remain productive.
Almost like a reward system, this Pomodoro method tactic is recommended by some of the most successful folks in the world.
“With mindfulness, a person can generally get into the habit of keeping oneself focused and stopping distracting thoughts and feelings which limit or impair one’s functioning at work. As a result, his or her ability to be creative and productive at work can be increased,” Dr Thomas said.
4. Consider therapy
There’s never been a better time to look into digital therapy.
In fact, it’s been soaring throughout the pandemic. This is partially because it’s more accessible with digital platforms and communities that allow you to speak freely and openly from the comfort of your home.
“With the pandemic causing or exacerbating emotional issues which already existed for a person, it is important for him or her to properly deal with one’s feelings and become knowledgeable of healthier ways to better cope,” she said.
“Therapy can help a person learn how to appropriately express and understand one’s emotions which are contributing to the pandemic brain fog, as well as equip the person with tools to help him or her better access one’s creativity on the job.”
This article was originally published on The Ladders.