Health and Wellness

How to deal with productivity-related anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to experts

A woman works at her computer.

While scrolling on social media amid the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have noticed the push for productivity, citing that while in quarantine due to the plague, Sir Isaac Newton discovered calculus and William Shakespeare wrote "King Lear."

Although these "reminders" may be intended to motivate, there's a growing backlash against the need to be super productive with all the newfound "free" time. In fact that pressure to be productive is causing anxiety for many.

"You don't have to 'make the most' of a global pandemic," one Twitter user wrote.

Tweet: "You don't have to 'make the most' of a global pandemic

Another poked fun at all the coronavirus to-do lists, posting a sort of anti-to-do list that included "feel guilt for not working out" and "unwind with wine and panic attacks."

Tweet: quarantine routine to-do list parody 

If you're feeling anxious rather than productive, you're not alone.

Here are some ways to block out the "productivity shaming" online and cope with the anxiety that comes along with it, according to experts.

Take social media with a grain of salt

"We know that most people tend to curate themselves and put their best self on social media," Lynn Bufka, clinical psychologist and senior director at the American Psychological Association, tells CNBC Make It.

And it's helpful to remember that as you see all the to-do lists and goals people post.

"You're not seeing the mistakes and the flubs and the errors. You're seeing what people want the world to see about them," Bufka says. "So, if you're looking at that thinking, 'Well, that's not my life,' bear in mind that's not most people's life most of the time.

"Just be really clear that what you're seeing on social media doesn't reflect the reality for most people," she says. 

Or better yet, look at it less

"Limit your amount of social media every day," Jameca Falconer, clinical psychologist, tells CNBC Make It. "That's going to help some of this social comparison."

It's always important to pay attention to how we use social media, but now more than ever.

"I think for many people right now, folks are feeling like they don't have a lot of control of what's happening. They don't really know what to do. But you do have control over what you do online," Bufka says.

"Decide what is OK and what is not OK. Selectively track certain things on social media and ignore others. And set some limits on how much you're tracking the news surrounding COVID-19 as well," she says. 

"Figure out your news schedule that works for you that keeps you informed enough and let the rest go."

Know there's no 'right' way to cope

During this time, some people may increase their productivity while others may not be as motivated – and both reactions are normal. 

"Some individuals are going to feel very overwhelmed by all of it, very anxious about what the future holds. Other people may compartmentalize it completely and turn it off and focus on tasks in front of them," Bufka says. "But it will take each person time to figure out what works best for them and how they're going to do that."

"It really is important right now for people to realize that this is new for everyone. There's no road map on how you manage a pandemic," Bufka says.

Each of us require different types of self-care and ways to cope. 

"Part of the job, for all of us, is how we cope with all of these emotions that we are experiencing in a way that doesn't leave us so drained and unable. It's going to be a personal process for everyone in that regard," she says.

"It will take a little bit of time for everyone to get used to.... And until then, it's to be expected that things are going to be weird for people."

Don't compare yourself to others

"This would be the time to not to compare yourself to other people," says Falconer. It can be detrimental.

"And the more we can be gentle with ourselves in not getting it right immediately is going to be helpful," says Bufka.

Create a routine

For most people, "having a routine is helpful," Bufka said. "But our routines are going to be different." Yours doesn't have to be about being productive, but maybe taking time for a walk, an at-home workout or reading will do. 

"What are the kinds of things that help us feel OK in our lives? And how do we orient ourselves to have them? Because those things are important, and keeping those things going is as important now, if not more important now, than it is in our previously 'normal lives,'" Bufka said.  

Remember your old habits, like going to the gym three days a week, took a while to form. "New normal" habits will take some time too. 

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