The coronavirus pandemic is very real and very scary. It has impacted practically everyone on the planet in previously unimaginable ways. We are having to find new ways of connecting, working, shopping and living our daily lives.

Some of us who now are juggling working at home plus home schooling kids, taking care of an ill family member or performing their roles as health care providers or employees in other essential businesses may be stretched beyond belief. But for others of us, we all of a sudden have a huge space of time on our hands as we must “stay at home,” with nowhere to go, events, social gatherings and appointments canceled, and most restaurants and retail establishments closed. Our formerly stuffed calendars now have a big void.

Now the immediate question, that pops up is, what do we do with this newfound time?

We live in a society that rewards productivity. We feel judged by ours results as a measure of our success and worth. Some of us are “on the clock” 24/7. Skipping vacations can be seen as a badge of honor by some, so much so that some businesses are making it a requirement to use your vacation time.

So, our default is to feel we have to use this unexpected gift of time to be productive. What can I get done? What projects can I create? Like the old elementary school back to school ritual of sharing, “What I did on my summer vacation”, you may be feeling you need to have something to show for what you accomplished during this time period.

If getting things done, like cleaning out the junk drawer, writing that novel or doing projects around the house that you have been procrastinating on, is providing you some positive distraction and means of focusing, then more power to you. But this is not the case for all of us. Many people I’ve spoken with are feeling guilty that they don’t feel motivated or focused enough to get anything done. Doing nothing is perfectly fine. There is no right way to be now in a situation we have never confronted. Take care of yourself and your loved ones and maybe that’s enough.

I’m a professional artist and I have to confess, for the past 3 weeks I have felt disconnected from my usual painting flow. I rarely have any painting “blocks”, so this felt kind of usual for me. At first, I blamed distraction. With the current world events and changes to our everyday lives, it’s understandable to have a lack of focus. To overcome that, I started out on Monday being very intentional and got to painting first thing in the morning before any distractions crossed my path. I was doing the act of painting, but the creative energy required to make a work of art was just not there. I wasn’t happy with anything I was doing. At one point, I got so frustrated, I thought I’d forgotten everything I learned over the past 25 years of artmaking!

Then it hit me. I realized how much pressure I’d been putting on myself to use this newfound time productively. Now that we can’t say we don’t have enough time, there are no excuses for not accomplishing things. I heard that judgmental voice in my head saying, “What are you going to have to show for this month of free time”? There was an immediate, self-imposed expectation to do something productive with the extra time. But it was showing up like “I should,” or “I have to”, not a choice or inspired action.

I spoke to several friends who noticed the same thing. Once everything got cancelled, they immediately pressured themselves to get projects done now that free time had shown up. That mindset was just adding to their stress.

Who says we have to accomplish anything during this time? Maybe the lesson in all of this is that this is just a time to be still, take care of ourselves and stay connected with the ones we love. That’s enough.

Here are some suggestions for finding some peace of mind during this unprecedented time:

Be kind to yourself.
Give yourself permission to be just how you are and how you aren’t in this moment. Be quiet and listen to your instincts for what you need. What would be nurturing for you right now. If the answer is to sit on the couch and just be still, then do that. It’s perfectly okay.

Silence your internal judge.
You know that critical voice in your head that always has an opinion on you what you should be doing. That voice is not helpful right now (or at most times). So, try to be still, thanks that judge for its suggestion and see if you can get in touch with your what your higher self would suggest to you. Listen to the voice that’s looking out for your best interest. Sometimes we are so harsh on ourselves. Beating ourselves up doesn’t provide anything except feeling bad. Talk to yourself in the compassionate voice you’d use when comforting your best friend though a difficult time.

Be deliberate in saying yes.
While things have slowed down, my in box has not. Many well-intentioned people are sending invitations to webinars, podcasts, on-line learning opportunities and zoom calls to connect. While I’m sure there is value in these programs, it can become overwhelming. If I had said yes to all the invitations, I got on one day last week, I would have been chained to the computer sitting for 12 hours. Don’t let your FOMO (fear of missing out) have you say yes to it all. I have decided to limit myself to one session of that type of activity a day. Be deliberate in what you say yes to. Are you really excited about it? If it’s not a hell yeah, then it’s a no.

Take a beauty break.
I’m a big advocate on the power of beauty to elevate our everyday lives. Getting in touch with nature can have us feel more grounded and at the same time lifted up during these stressful times. Giving yourself the gift of a walk outdoors or time spent in your garden can be very healing and reassuring that all will be well. There is a higher power. We’ll get through this. Yesterday I moved my laptop outside to the backyard table as an outdoor office. The change of scenery surrounded by greenery, birds chirping, the scent of jasmine was a welcome relief to being inside all day long.

Don’t compare.
I love Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I have to remind myself of this often and I think it has particular relevance right now.
Don’t compare yourself or what you are doing or not doing to anyone else. That path will not lead to feeling any better. You’ll probably find a way to make yourself feel worse. You are choosing what’s right for you right now. End of story. How anyone else is choosing to spend this time is irrelevant.

Embrace the space.
Consider this “gift” of time is an opportunity. An opportunity to just BE instead of constantly be doing, doing, doing. When else have you had that opportunity? Maybe this is a wake-up call to reassess what’s important. Examine what you really miss during this shut down and what maybe you have been doing for years out of habit that really is something you can live without. Instead of going out, maybe this is a time to go in- inward to connect with yourself.