A trauma psychologist weighs in on the risks of 'motivational' pressure during quarantine
Photo by niklas_hamann on Unsplash

A "motivational" message has been circulating during the coronavirus lockdown, which is allegedly supposed to kick our butts into gear since most of us now have more time on our hands.

Here's one version:


On its face, it may sound logical. We often don't do things because we lack time—or think we do—so now that we supposedly have more time, we should be doing those things now, right?

Just one thing though—there's a deadly global pandemic and massive economic crisis happening, which might be just the tiniest bit distracting right now, Jeremy.

A trauma psychologist from Beirut weighed in on this idea that we should be extra productive right now, and she didn't mince words. Alaa Hijazi's Facebook post has been shared 19,000 times, so people are clearly appreciating her wisdom. She wrote:

I thought I was spared the horrid 'motivational' phrase going around now—'If you don't come out of this with a new skill, you never lacked time, you lacked discipline'—until I saw it on my local yoga studio page.

As a trauma psychologist, I am utterly utterly horrified, enraged, and bewildered about how people can believe and spread this phrase in good conscience.

We are going through a collective trauma, that is bringing up profound grief, loss, panic over livelihoods, panic over loss of lives of loved ones. People's nervous systems are barely coping with the sense of threat and vigilance for safety, or alternating with feeling numb and frozen and shutting down in response to it all.

People are trying to survive poverty, fear, retriggering of trauma, retriggering of other mental health difficulties. Yet, someone has the nerve to accuse someone of lack of discipline for not learning a new skill, and by a yoga teacher!

This cultural obsession with [capitalistic] 'productivity' and always spending time in a 'productive,' 'fruitful' way is absolutely maddening.

What we need is more self-compassion, more gentle acceptance of all the difficult emotions coming up for us now, more focus on gentle ways to soothe ourselves and our pain and the pain of loved ones around us, not a whipping by some random fucker making us feel worse about ourselves in the name of 'motivation.'"

Indeed. Even those of us who are still employed full-time are finding it difficult to focus some days like we used to. The enormity of this pandemic and the global shutdown over it weighs heavy on all of us. Our sense of normality has been turned upside down and the uncertainty over what even the near future holds makes sustained attention a challenge.

Add in the fact that many people now have children at home who used to be at school or childcare, many are struggling to figure out how they're going to pay rent or buy groceries, many are watching businesses or careers they've spent years building crumble before their eyes, many have health conditions that make them anxious about catching the virus, and it's not hard to see how neither "time" nor "discipline" are our big problems right now.

If you want to go read books on hustling and build up some skill set, Jeremy, go for it. But let's not lay a guilt trip on people who are going through a traumatic experience that none of us have experienced before and none of us were prepared for.

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Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

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