The pressure to 'do more' can be more harmful than the perceived dip in productivity during this pandemic.
Since the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent quarantine and lockdowns, a plethora of writing has come out regarding productivity, or a lack thereof.
With most of the world online and at home, many are insisting we must use this time to pick up a new hobby, start a creative project, organise our rooms and homes, exercise, rest, seek new work, learn a new language, practise self-care, take long baths, write a book, or two, or three!
While this does, seem like practical advice, for many, this type of help is generally presumptuous, classist, and naïve while being utterly irrelevant to many, many, others. It also perpetuates the unhealthy capitalist mantra of you are what you do, make and sell – a myth of improving oneself to improve one's labour efficiency.
Not to suggest that one should fall into a slump of complete inactivity, however, what the world is collectively experiencing, is frankly, traumatic. The pressure to be productive could end up undoing any productivity, and lead to not only a depressed and anxious population but a guilty one as well.
At this point, identifying the stressors of the situation has become more evident: we are concerned for ourselves and our elderly, we are confined to space alone, or with family or friends. We are working from home and taking care of our children, otherwise obligated to risk our health if we are still physically going to work.
We are laid-off, or we have to work overtime. We are tired and lethargic, or we have too much energy making us anxious – we are lonely, and we are suffocated. It is quite likely that there is a universal experience of social, academic, economic, political, and personal disruptions.
Before the lockdown, the reputed scientific journal, The Lancet, published a study where researchers reported through a search of three electronic databases on information relating to quarantine and its psychological dangers. Of the almost over 3,000 papers found 24 were used for the review – intended as a warning to governments prior to lockdowns.
The key findings and recommendation states:
"Most reviewed studies reported negative psychological effects including post-traumatic stress symptoms, confusion, and anger. Some researchers have suggested long-lasting effects. In situations where quarantine is deemed necessary, officials should quarantine individuals for no longer than required, provide clear rationale for quarantine and information about protocols, and ensure sufficient supplies are provided."
And while the wisdom of internet memes is the best source of information for most, scientists and researchers across the world have thrown themselves into understanding how the impact of stress from this pandemic could affect us in the coming years.
For example, in the UK, the University of Nottingham is commencing an experiment measuring stress hormones, such as cortisol, released by our bodies during the coronavirus crisis. An excess of the hormone in human beings affects several things, but most critically, immunity.
A lead researcher in the project, Dr Kavita Vedhara, Professor of Health Psychology, explains: "We have worked in the area of stress and health for 30 years now, and one of the key things we've learnt is that when we experience stressful situations for protracted periods, such as during this pandemic, it can have real implications for our health and wellbeing."
The WEF even anticipates employee burnout after the first wave of the pandemic is over, "We can already see a sharp increase in absenteeism in countries in lockdown. People are afraid to catch COVID-19 on the work floor and avoid work. We will see a second wave of this in three to six months. Just when we need all able bodies to repair the economy, we can expect a sharp spike in absenteeism and burnout."
China, being thought of as a preview into the remainder of the world's near-future, have reported some initial findings of the issues caused by the isolation orders.
One study found that of those interviewed, 28 percent of respondents with children warranted a formal diagnosis of "trauma-related mental health disorder."
Several indexes have even been developed by The School of Nursing and Health Studies' Center of Excellence for Health Disparities Research (University of Miami). This includes the 'COVID-19 Household Environment Scale' developed by Dr Victoria Behar-Zusman. She explains, "How children and adults emerge from this disaster will be affected by whether they remember it as a time of loss, fear, and strife at home, or whether they remember it as a time when they were able to connect with their loved ones despite the life disruptions and threats to personal safety." In addition, a different team created a Pandemic Stress Index.
Using a different framework, I sought to better understand these stresses, specifically in women. Sampling 83 women across six countries, it was found that only two women experienced regular menstruation during the lockdown. Women reported disturbance in duration, delays or early arrivals, and more severe pain.
Many of the women also responded that they found comfort in knowing that these stress-induced disruptions are widely shared in the sample after sharing the results. Women, children, and marginalised communities internationally are facing higher stress, mainly due to the increase, more likely increase in severity, of domestic violence.
It is also important to note that many essential workers are domains traditionally occupied by women; this includes, care-takers of the young or elderly, teachers, nurses, amongst others.
As such, we must seriously attack the logic that one is of little use if they are unable to 'produce' during this time. We must question our insistence on producing, rather than processing our own emotions and resolving the issues presented to us. Rather than increasing our capital value, let us instead pick apart the capitalist construct we inhabit.
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