With all the news updates, and social, family, and economic chaos the world has been thrown into due to COVID-19, do you feel that you can’t seem to think straight or get anything done? Good news is you aren’t alone. Most of us have been at home about a month or longer and many people are figuring out how to live with the new reality. But there are loads of people who are still finding the chaos going on outside and inside their own homes to be overwhelming.
I’ve been experiencing similar sentiments. It’s hard to focus. It’s hard not to worry. And all of this takes bandwidth away from working on my manuscript and doing things that make me happy. That being said, I want to share a concept my dad taught me that I have found more and more relevant as self-isolation and quarantining continues.
A couple years ago, during a breakdown from being overwhelmed, my dad told me, “You don’t need to be doing stuff all the time” and that I needed to make time to just sit and do nothing. In the moment, I didn’t know what that meant, and I certainly didn’t know how to apply it. I had thought he meant I needed to relax and take me time. But the more I have considered it, the less I think he was talking about self care.
“Thought space” is the term I use to describe the time that one gives oneself without external input or ‘busy-ness.’ As citizens of a modern society, we are really bad at this. We have earphones, we have TVs, we have easy access news, social media, video apps, and streaming services. Inputs are so accessible that, as a whole, we always have something going on in the background. We never give ourselves time to think our thoughts and we are always “multitasking.” With this being a cultural norm, it is really hard and possibly unnerving for us to unplug and “do nothing,” and it’s amplified by being quarantined at home with all these things as our only connection to the outside world. Inputs have become a sort of societal coping mechanism.
The longer this pandemic goes on, the more I feel like we need to let this cultural norm go for the sake of our sanity, and where applicable, our creative projects.
The first time I really experienced “thought space” was when I began buckling down to work on my current WIP (work in progress) in August of last year. I had two lofty writing goals and I was getting up at 4:45 am to work on them, but finding myself wasting time staring at my screen searching for ideas rather than making any progress.
After work one day, I went to the gym for a run and discovered my iPod was dead. I usually like to run with music to distract me from the difficulty of training, but I decided a dead music player was a stupid reason to miss my session. As my body settled into a steady pace, I found my brain chewing on the problems I was trying to force myself to work through in the mornings, and it distracted me just as well, if not more, from the hard work of running than music did.
I stepped off that treadmill that day with significant breakthroughs with my manuscript and feeling planned enough to fuel the next morning’s writing session. I realized that by feeding my brain a constant stream of “busywork” in my day-to-day life (thinking about music I’m listening to, thinking about work, looking to be busy, etc) my brain wasn’t able to play with other things that were important to me, like plot holes. It was incredible to see what my brain could do with silence when I chose not to fill it, and the next morning’s writing session benefited.
Thought Space During COVID-19
It is so easy to look for quick coping mechanisms in times of crisis. Sometimes it is simpler to numb the pain and wait it out. It’s really scary to let yourself think your thoughts when falling into a spiral of panic, fear, depression, anxiety, or whatever else, is so real.
However, I would say we need thought space now more than ever, creatives and non-creatives alike. Maybe by allowing ourselves to think our thoughts, we will be able to find healthy solutions to things we have control over.
I know a lot of people are in close-quartered, chaotic quarantine situations. Thought space in a room alone could help restore sanity or give a solution to a behavior problem.
Creatives feeling blocked, unable to focus, and bad about themselves for not being productive can take thought space to reflect on why they started their projects in the first place and begin breaking down the barriers preventing them from creating.
Maybe it could even help people process and accept what is going on and find better coping mechanisms that leave them feeling happier and more hopeful.
It is important to remember that your brain is going to chew on what you put into it. I have found it easier for me to cope with and wait out our situation if I limit how frequently I engage in social media and check the news for pandemic updates. Doing so has allowed me to pull from emotional tides and helped my brain steer itself back to avenues I have a passion for and that distract me from this pandemic better than scrolling, updating, or binging.
Here is my challenge to you: find a way to take thought space for yourself. Do the leg work. Unplug from the news, social media, or whatever for a day or two. Work with family members to arrange time for you to be alone, undisturbed for 5-10 minutes or longer. When the time comes, leave your phone in another room. Allow yourself to think your thoughts. Let your brain wander across your individual problems and challenges and see if it can come up with a solution. Do you have creative work to do? Let your brain explore it.
I know I’ve said it before. This is going to end. Things are going to be okay. This time is for us to learn and grow, and unfortunately, learning and growth are uncomfortable and hard. But we can do it. We are resilient. I am convinced that as we each work to adapt to our current reality, giving ourselves thought space will help us adapt and find coping mechanisms that fill us with hope, rather than leaving us to despair.
I want to hear from you! Try taking thought space for yourself and tell me the results below! Does it help? What did you learn?