It’s safe to say that globally, these are anxiety-inducing times. Reading the news or scrolling through social media during this pandemic is certainly stress-inducing, and it’s been difficult to cope. So how can we stay (reasonably) productive when the media and current events are causing us excessive anxiety?
Let’s first talk about the root of the problem before diving into some productivity tips: reducing our news and social media consumption.
As hard as it can be to look away from bad news when it’s right on our phone at all times, this is key. A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling fatigue, anxiety, or sleep loss as a result. The survey goes on to say that one in ten adults checks the news every hour, and 20% of Americans report constantly monitoring their social media feeds, which is a constant reminder of the chaos we’re feeling right now.
A recent survey from the American Psychological Association found that more than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling fatigue, anxiety, or sleep loss as a result. Click To Tweet
Mental health is just as important as physical health right now, and even the World Health Organization is urging people not to check news and updates that often:
”Minimize watching, reading or listening to news that causes you to feel anxious or distressed; seek information only from trusted sources and mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones.”
“Seek information updates at specific times during the day, once or twice. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried.”
“Get the facts; not the rumors and misinformation. Gather information at regular intervals, from the WHO website and local health authorities platforms, to help you distinguish facts from rumors. Facts can help to minimize fears.”
So, according to these experts, decreasing how much we open our news apps or turn on our local channel is essential to preserving our mental states.
If you’re fortunate enough to be working from home right now, you know you still have lots to get done despite your anxiety. So, let’s dive into some tips to be productive and take care of yourself during this strange and stressful time.
Tips to be productive during a stressful time
- Bring awareness to your own body. Being mindful about your breathing assists in switching off the neural circuitry that ramps up anxiety, leading to an encompassing feeling of calm. Whenever you start to feel anxious, try counting your breaths – slowly inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. Then, repeat the process until you feel your heart rate slow.
- Consider blocking social media and news websites on your computer and phone while you’re working. You can implement software such as Freedom to achieve this.
- While you’re working, hide your phone in a drawer in another room so you’re not tempted to start scrolling. How many times do you pick up your phone per day? Creating this hindrance for checking your phone will help decrease mindless phone usage.
- Get moving. Exercise will give you a much-needed dose of endorphins. Try doing an activity you enjoy, such as a run in the neighborhood or a pilates video on YouTube.
- When you do have access to your phone, turn off push notifications from social media and news apps. Limit yourself to checking the news to once or twice per day at specific times.
- Integrate a mindful practice into your life, such as meditation or yoga. Even spending a few minutes here and there practicing gratitude will help bring your focus back to the present moment, so you can approach your day with a new sense of mental and emotional relief. Try using an app such as Headspace or Calm.
- Establish a routine you can stick to. If you’re not used to working from home, implement these methods to discourage distractions:
- Time block your calendar. Schedule specific tasks to be completed in set time windows so you’re more motivated to focus on one thing at a time.
- Batch process your email. Instead of checking email consistently throughout the day, only read, process, and respond to emails two or three times a day. Find out more about how batching can increase your efficiency here.
- Come up with a to-do list every day that clearly states which tasks you’d like to complete. If you don’t get to everything on your list, don’t be too hard on yourself – simply move those tasks to another day.
- Focus on the “one thing” and schedule one important goal or task you’d love to knock out by day or week’s end. When you have a concrete plan in mind, you’re more apt to focus on achieving it. Try using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, a visual productivity method that is perfect for people who don’t quite see things in black-and-white, like graphs, and would prefer to prioritise on a continuum rather than putting tasks into a few categories. It allows for prioritising more complicated projects, yet it’s easy and quick to put into practice.
- Implement a time-management method such as the Pomodoro Technique. This technique allows you to cultivate a deeper focus on work for short periods of time with several breaks throughout. There are Pomodoro-centered apps that can help you stay on track, such as FocusList.
- Use tools to create mental space. A simple way to minimise worry and maximise productivity is to offload your mind into helpful apps:
- Be nice to yourself and take breaks when you need them. Even taking five minutes to play with your pet, go for a walk, or make a cup of tea will bring a little bit of brightness to your day.
- Encourage your productivity by saving a treat for yourself at the end of the day. This can be anything that brings you a bit of joy, such as ordering takeout from your favourite restaurant or binging a TV show you’ve been wanting to see.
While anxiety is an inevitable part of life, there are a few things you can do to settle your mind, if only temporarily. Anxiety isn’t something to be conquered, rather something to recognise and manage mindfully.
It’s essential to be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack on the days when you feel unmotivated and feel like you can’t get anything done. We will all have bad days during this challenging time – we’re living through a global health crisis, after all. Overwhelming feelings are sure to be a mainstay, so it’s important to be realistic about what you can get done.
Originally published Aug 17, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023