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Who would have thought we’d reach a point where we’re all collectively forced to basically halt and redirect the course of our lives? We’ve been thrown into an alternate reality almost resembling something out of a Suzanne Collins novel (hello, dystopian world!).

Alright, that might sound a little dramatic depending on who you ask but it’s safe to say that with this pandemic, the world is experiencing changes, which have, in turn, forced us to align ourselves with our new reality. It has forced many, if not most of us, to reconcile with aspects and areas of our lives that we have otherwise not felt a need to address. One of them being the often ridiculous burdens we place on ourselves to constantly perform at maximum effort, at the cost of our mental and physical health. 

As humans, we tend to find ourselves placing a huge, sometimes unreasonable weight on our level of productivity, which could directly affect our perceived self worth. There’s no doubt that we’ve been socially conditioned to believe that we have to constantly work hard, make moves or take actions that improve our skill sets or careers in one way or another. This is even to the point where we feel a sense of guilt for taking a break or relaxing because our brains – and society – are telling us that every waking moment should be accounted for, and if we’re not doing so, then we’re not “growing” or “developing” ourselves or our future. 

The presence of social media has further created a space for the discourse around productivity and self-care in the past few months. Declarations and statements about how we need to use this time to improve by picking up new skills, starting businesses, learning a new language, taking new courses, have sparked conversations about the dangers of this incessant need to be busy or productive. 

Are we overworking ourselves and making this the sole determinant of our self worth? Aren’t we whole, well-rounded beings even if we choose to spend moments or days resting, regrouping and letting ourselves just be? Isn’t it perfectly okay to take breaks just to breathe and let ourselves come to terms with life right now? These aren’t normal times. Isn’t okay to take time to acknowledge that and figure out how best to respond to it?

I daresay all these questions should be answered in the affirmative. It is more than okay to just take a break and breathe sometimes, while learning to let go of the guilt that might come with indulging in relaxation and work breaks.

For one, self-care is vital to improving your levels of productivity. “It’s well established that people who look after themselves have better cognitive abilities, so [they] are able to concentrate and focus better, meaning they produce more and are more effective” says Dr. Russell Thackeray, a clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist.

Essentially, a more relaxed and energised self enables you to achieve better results at work and other self-improvement related tasks.

A study has even found that taking breaks to observe natural scenery boosts productivity. A group of researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia, gave 150 subjects a menial task to do after which they were given a 40-second break. Half the subjects were made to look at an image of a plain concrete roof while the other half were shown a roof “covered with a green, flowering meadow”. It was found that performance diminished for those who saw the plain roof with concentration levels falling by 8% while they rose by 6% for the subjects that saw the green roof.

Whatever self-care looks like to you, whether it be going for long nature walks, treating yourself to a facial with a glass of wine in one hand and a feel-good romcom streaming on netflix, meditating and speaking positive affirmations or making certain decisions that contribute to your happiness, it gives you a chance to re-align and centre yourself so you can put your best foot forward when engaging in tasks. 

It can be easy or tempting to overwork and overextend yourself if working hard gives you a sense of fulfilment, like it does for a lot of people, but finding a healthy balance between productivity and self-care makes you feel your best on all fronts. This will differ for everyone depending on so many factors from your age to your lifestyle to your career and so on, but it’s so important that we all learn to find a good space where we’re able to take optimum care of our mental, physical and emotional health while also putting in the work we need to to achieve maximum results.

Around the world, people are trying to adjust to this new reality, but at the same time, we’re all wondering and thinking and worrying about what life is going to look like after the world returns to “normal” or whatever normal evolves into after this. 

We’re most likely going to have to adapt all over again to a new way of living, different from what life was like before this pandemic and even from what it’s like right now. Self-care will likely include changing up our routines and learning how to adapt to them to support our new lifestyles; making important decisions on what to leave behind and what to carry along on our new or altered journeys; being innovative with our businesses and careers to make sure we’re growing and not left trying to catch up with new methods of doing things, and much more.

Taking each day as it comes has never been more relevant than it is now. Taking the time to find our own tailored spaces that will help us cultivate our paths, while taking adequate care of ourselves, is surely the key to unlocking the fulfilment we hope to find in our brand new world. So, stop for a moment, breathe and regroup.

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