The Busyness of Sheltering at Home

Well, here we are, smack dab in the middle of the pandemic and many of us haven’t left our homes for weeks. As social distancing and sheltering at home continues to be the norm, virtual gatherings appear to be increasing. Articles discussing how to combat “Zoom fatigue” and overcoming video call exhaustion are slowly but surely beginning to appear in my newsfeed. In our rush to attempt to feel “normal” and to connect, have we created a different problem?

In the beginning, when people first began to practice social distancing, it seemed like we were beginning to figure out how to manage our over-scheduled lives. No one had anywhere to be. We all spent time catching up on tasks we had been putting off, organizing our homes, spending time with our families, catching up with old friends, and logging onto Zoom for a birthday party or a Sunday School class. For a little while, it felt like we were resetting our priorities and taking control of our time and focus.

The pendulum has already begun to swing back. Fearing to much time alone, lacking the resources to be mindful and still, we’ve signed up for too many online meditation classes, yoga sessions, community time, watch parties, and said yes to too many virtual happy hours. It’s almost as if we are hiding from ourselves and families, avoiding our families and our self-reflection.

For years, almost everyone I spoke with at one time or another, voiced the desire and the need for some quiet time – some time not allocated to work, sports, transporting, activities, etc. They all voiced a need for time in which to breathe. And now, here we are, overscheduling our virtual lives as much, if not more, than our lives were before the pandemic.

Millions of people have lost their job because of the economic fallout from coronavirus. But for those who still have a job, it feels like it’s become even more difficult to draw a line between work and non-work hours than it was before. Why not check that Slack message from your boss at 10 pm if you have nothing else to do? Why not work over the weekend—and do weekends even matter anymore anyways?

Even independently of our jobs, it seemed like we were all busy all the time before this pandemic. And I’m not talking about having to drop multiple kids off at their after-school activities or scheduling doctors’ appointments while sitting in traffic. I’m talking about the elective busyness some of us had bought into—that every night of the week had to be filled with social plans, workout classes, or lectures. Here’s how Tim Kreider described it in a 2012 opinion piece for The New York Times: “Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Now that we’re stuck at home, it’s hard to resist packing our non-productive hours with virtual social commitments too, because it can feel like the only silver lining during otherwise pretty dreary days spent at home worrying about getting sick. Striving for social contact is normal and healthy, and social isolation and its close companion, loneliness, are bad for our mental health. But our packed schedules leave us with little time for other things that are good for us too—like mindfulness, self-reflection, exercise, journaling, reading books, and taking up a hobby.

This long period of enforced time at home has the potential to be restorative and transformative for many. Life can sometimes feel like you’re on a rapidly-speeding treadmill set on an incline—you have to keep going to stay on. But now, we have a chance to press pause and get off. Learn to cook. Pick up a new language. Clean out those closets. Spend time in nature every day (while respecting the rules of social distancing, please).

Whatever you decide to do with your time, when you look back on this moment in your life, the last thing you’ll want to think is I wish I hadn’t spent so much time on my phone.

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