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Crisis Mode

by Jeremy McCarthy

Is it just me, or has life gotten more difficult since Covid? Of course we know that things became challenging during the pandemic. For a couple of years the whole world was in crisis mode dealing with a global health crisis that turned many industries upside down and disrupted our ways of living in innumerable ways. But three years later, we seem to be entering a “post-pandemic” era. The health crisis is coming under reasonable levels of control, industries are building themselves back up and our lives are more or less returning to normal. So why does it feel like we are still in crisis mode?

I hope you will forgive me if I am only projecting my own personal circumstances on to the rest of the world. But to me, it feels like the pressures of life have increased significantly during the pandemic. And the pressure, both personal and professional, shows no signs of diminishing, even as we appear to be successfully emerging from the pandemic.

There are many factors that may have contributed to this new post-pandemic era of anxiety:

Increasing technology use. During the pandemic, we turned to technology to help us stay connected to work, school, friends and family. But while digital platforms have helped us in many ways, increasing digital communication adds pressure into our lives. You can think of your digital inbox as a “to-do list” that is controlled by people other than yourself. During the pandemic our to-do lists got much longer due to the relentless onslaught of incoming digital communication.

Other people need us more. One of the unique things about the pandemic was that it happened to everyone in the world at the same time. When going through an individual crisis, you can lean on the rest of the world for support. But in a global crisis, not only is support harder to find, but the rest of the world may be leaning on you.

We just got used to being in crisis mode. During the pandemic, we came to accept a certain amount of personal sacrifice. Maybe we had to work harder than ever before. Maybe travel became more arduous. Maybe we had to do more for those around us who needed us. There was no point in complaining; we just had to roll up our sleeves and get things done to help move ourselves (and the world) forward during a difficult time. We have become accustomed to making these sacrifices, and even worse, the world around us has come to expect it.

During the pandemic, we found ourselves in a reactionary pattern of self-sacrifice. And humans, being habitual creatures, have adopted this as the new normal. But it is not sustainable, and it is not healthy. So how do we break this cycle?

Here is what I’m thinking about as I attempt to bring my own life out of crisis mode:

Decelerate digital communication. The faster you respond to your digital inbox, the faster it will fill back up again. Trying to achieve the elusive “inbox zero” is a Sisyphean task. A better goal is to focus on which messages are most important to you. Take control over your to-do list by being decisive and strategic about which items in your inbox truly warrant your time and attention. Everything else should be put aside or ignored until your priorities have been addressed.

Build up your inner circle. It is valuable to prioritize your time and energy on things that will make the people around you stronger. If you help the people closest to you get out of crisis mode, they won’t need to lean on you as much, and they are more likely to be there for you when you need a hand.

Practice self-compassion. Focusing on the people and the things that are most important to you means accepting that there are many things that you will not be able to accomplish and many people who you will not be able to please. You can’t do it all, and that’s OK. Do the best you can on the things you care most about, and give yourself a break on everything else.

Coming out of crisis mode is not so much about taking action as it is about making a decision. The crisis never ends because the world will only move from one crisis to another. It is up to us to choose how much of the weight of the world we want to carry on our shoulders, and how to live in a way that helps us spend more of our time doing the things we deem most important.

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