As we near the beginning of the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of us have reached a point of saturation with MS Teams calls, online learning and virtual classrooms. Research shows that we are not alone in feeling this way. There is a sense of futility and hopelessness that can permeate through our days and leave us feeling foggy. Naming that feeling and allowing ourselves to acknowledge that we are going through this on both an individual and collective level is imperative to ensure that this feeling does not end up being labelled as ‘laziness’ or ‘demotivation’ on a personal level.
What am I experiencing?
According to Adam Grant, Organisational Psychologist, Languishing is a term that can be used to describe this feeling. It can be defined as ‘a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield.’ It is something that everyone, from a four-year-old starting online school or a Year 13 student having to complete school virtually to a teacher having to impart learning online can experience – essentially,anyone working from their confined and safe spaces. When we are unable to acknowledge our own difficulties or even recognise that they are difficulties, it becomes harder to seek help or create routines and spaces that can help push this feeling aside.
Why am I feeling this way?
Multitudes of articles, videos and morning briefings have addressed the idea of pandemic/screen fatigue and wellbeing. Somewhere in that process, it is important to acknowledge a collective sense of grief that we have all experiencednot only through personal losses but also by missing out on cherished experiences such as graduating school, classroom interactions, friendships and in-person learning opportunities. It feels in some ways that we have all lost out on two years of our lives, both the milestones and the everyday casual encounters and feelings that come with them. Some of you reading this may feel that every day has looked the same since 2020, and you are not alone in this feeling, either. Our brains are still adapting to the loss of normalcy.
What can I do about this?
Traditional ways of individual wellbeing and self-care can prove to be helpful. You might find that pampering yourself in different ways, whether it is through having a candlelight dinner for yourself and your loved ones, baking yourself a decadent dessert or allowing yourself to splurge on something fancy can help lift your mood and allow you to feel good about yourself for a while.
You can have an hour of ‘me time’ every day, schedule a virtual tea party or join a Netflix party with friends and make jokes about a bad movie together.
Creating little pockets of joy for yourself in the day helps make sure days feel different and fulfilling. However, you may find that after two years of trying to take care of yourself in new and interesting ways, these methods become boring or seem to stop working, or perhaps their efficacy seems to decrease. Once again, this is not because you are ‘doing self-care wrong’. Rather, it is significant to acknowledge here that this is a collective problem and individual interventions cannot solve collective problems alone.
This doesn’t mean that the spaces and routines you have created for yourself aren’t important. In fact, it can be argued that they are more important now than ever. However, we also need to move towards a narrative of collective wellbeing and collective acknowledgement of these difficulties. This could look different in the contexts of home and school. At home, creating little pockets in the day that are designated as ‘no-work time’ for everyone can go a long way.
Scheduling both study time and break time with your friends can also help. This could include having virtual study spaces on video calls or having a group chat where you check in with each other after completing your work. The latter option could help reduce screen fatigue to some extent. Here again, scheduling time to take breaks collectively where you either speak on the phone, watch something together or even just text each other what you plan to do can help increase feelings of solidarity and make caring for yourselves and each other easier over time.
Other ways that can be helpful in fostering collective wellbeing at school can include incorporating more breakout rooms or small group activities, touching base with students, greeting them individually at the beginning of the lesson, trying to have more one-on-one time in different capacities and incorporating all the different learning strategies you are presented with in class to make your teaching-learning experience more multimodal.
Encouraging students to dress up or do up their hair for a virtual lesson, taking small movement and fresh air breaks throughout the day and trying to keep their cameras on whenever possible helps foster more of a classroom learning environment for both teachers and students.
You can alsocreate boundaries to help build work/life balance. There are many ways of doing this such as having a class or staff agreement to not answer emails or work beyond a certain time in the day, creating a dedicated space (such as a desk) that is only meant for work, taking at least one day off work every week, and respecting your biorhythms. Of course, prioritising sleep, nutrition and movement isimportant but it is also important to acknowledge that we all operate on different biorhythms and schedules and so, build practices of self and collective care around those.Eg, if you work better at night, make sure you have some time during the day when you are not working, or vice versa.
Ultimately, our individual self-care practices will stay with us and will continue to be incredibly important to create joy and wellbeing for ourselves. Ensuring that we also collectivise our experiences and share them others can help challenge the feelings of isolation and loneliness. As Adam Grant shares in his piece on languishing – ‘Not depressed’ doesn’t mean you’re not struggling. ‘Not burned out’ doesn’t mean you’re fired up. By acknowledging that so many of us are languishing, we can start giving voice to quiet despair and lighting a path out of the void.