Keep Calm and Carry On: How to focus on your goals when it feels like the world is ending

It can be hard to stay calm in times of such uncertainty, but it’s not impossible

Photo by Brian Luong

By: Christina Cahill

“Normal” is a word that no longer holds much meaning to those of us around the world who functioned on a schedule. Here at Chico State, as with everywhere else, we have a lot to come to terms with. Graduating seniors may never set foot on campus again. Our commencement has been indefinitely postponed. Plans for summer travel, studies or internships have been all but abandoned. Some of us that have received job offers have seen those offers revoked and some of us who have yet to start our job hunts find ourselves looking at a bleak market. Covid-19 hit hard and fast and, apparently, the worst is yet to come. It’s difficult to swallow the consensus of specialists that the fall out from this virus will last months at a minimum, not weeks, but the notion that our lives are to remain abnormal for the foreseeable future is finally settling into our accepted realities.

“It’s ok to be nervous, but you can self-sabotage if you let yourself focus on the worst-case scenario.”

How are we supposed to function in this new, socially-distant, economically-threatened, primarily-digital space? Certainly not through worry. An article on worry in the time of Covid-19 from Psychology Today defines “worry” as “a sequence of repetitive thoughts and images focused on threatening issues, with uncertain (but possibly negative) outcomes.” It can be hard to ensure we don’t fixate on what can go wrong with so much fear and change surrounding us. Worrying can detract from our ability to solve problems effectively and engage in optimal critical thinking. For those of us stuck completing our education and/or working from home, this means worry can be a productivity killer. While it would be absurd to expect people to be able to forfeit their worries about the current state of the world altogether, psychologists do have some helpful tips on how to work through the anxiety in order to focus on the task at hand.

First, avoid catastrophic thinking. It is ok to be nervous, but you can self-sabotage if you let yourself focus on the worst-case scenario. Second, don’t spend a significant amount of your time down the conjecture rabbit-holes of social media, Youtube and various news sites. Check the CDC or your most trusted news source once daily to stay on top of what’s going on, and let that be your exposure for the day. Third, focus your emotional energy on fixable problems — whether they’re school, work, optimizing your house for 24-hour occupancy or learning how to better coexist with your parents or roommates — and break that problem down into smaller, easier to manage steps. 

To recapture a semblance of normalcy, create a new schedule that incorporates things like work, meals, exercise and safe socializing — via Skype or another video platform. Don’t let yourself sleep too late and be sure to shower and get changed as you would if you were about to leave the house. Have a dedicated area of the house where you do work if possible and — this is important — cut yourself off of work at a certain time as well. Without a physical separation between school, work and home, it can be tough to determine how much work is “enough” work for the day. On average, people who work (or school) from home tend to work longer hours than those who commute to an office. Choose a time every day to cut yourself off of work to ensure you don’t feel burned out. 

While our new reality feels daunting and it’s difficult to adjust to our shelter-in-place limitations, we can stay sane if we focus on work, problem-solving, balance and creating a new normal we can tolerate. 

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