Time Management for the Pandemic Flux Syndrome

Oct 22, 2021

“If you can’t fly, then run,

If you can’t run, then walk,

If you can’t walk, then crawl,

But whatever you do,

You have to keep moving forward.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

On New Year's of 2021, we were all hoping that this would be the year of lasting recovery and relief. We'd lived through the worst year in decades, but now had turned a page. Let the healing begin!

Within the first week of 2021, however, there was a popular meme that captured a different sensibility: "I've seen the first seven days of 2021 and I'd like to cancel my subscription."  Political turmoil, the Delta variant, and controversy over the best path forward are only a few sources of the crisis-recovery cycle that continues.

Getting through a difficult time is hard enough -- but being repeatedly thrown from optimistic highs to discouraging lows takes its toll. We have a threshold of tolerance when it comes to prolonged uncertainty.

In fact, there’s a term for this now: pandemic flux syndrome.

 "Pandemic flux syndrome" is the Groundhog Day of Covid. Just when we think we're through the worst of it and can settle into a predictable pattern, we fall into a new plunge downward. Who doesn't want to get off this maddening ride?

The crisis-recovery cycle is particularly difficult because humans are built for short-term emergencies, rather than long-term tribulations. Chronic unpredictability takes a psychological and physical toll.

In fact, most would rather experience worse conditions for a finite amount of time, as opposed to mediocre conditions for an indefinite amount of time. This excerpt from a Washington Post article breaks it down quite well,

“[…]Our brains and bodies are simply fatigued, and recalibrating to the new circumstances is too much to bear. In part, that’s because many of us have been relying on what psychologists call ‘surge capacity.’ As psychologist Ann Masten explained in an interview with science journalist Tara Haelle, ‘Surge capacity is a collection of adaptive systems — mental and physical — that humans draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations.’ But such a response can keep us going for only so long. Eventually, we deplete our surge capacity and need a break so that it can recharge. It looked like many of us were about to get that break, then the moment vanished.

Why this stage of the pandemic makes us so anxious by Amy Cuddy and JillEllyn Riley

As we continue experiencing destabilizing ups and downs, let me offer a different type of "time management" for making sense of what we're going through. 

First, the difference between chronos and kairos:

Chronos: Greek for “time”

Kairos:  Greek for “right time,” “season,” “opportunity,” or “timeliness”

While chronos is simply measurable time and the passing of it (the events we didn’t get to be in-person for), kairos is the meaning connected to a time that transcends a day on our modern calendars. Even though we may not have experienced the event on a particular date, the significance of the birth, graduation, etc. remains.

We can embrace the meaning, accomplishment, and opportunity of those moments, even if the date on which you publicly celebrate them was altered by an unpredictable disruption that was out of your control.

Second, remember to steer away from “all or nothing” or “either/or” thinking.

Managing and moving through our surviving and thriving journey means bridging the gap between what we wanted and expected, and the altered timeline of what actually happened and what is possible.

To that end, I encourage you to shift from “either/or” thinking to “learning/progress” thinking. In whatever you are engaged with during this prolonged hardship, or any difficult period of life (a job, a project, a well-being goal, a school application, parenting), I encourage you to celebrate your progress and learning rather than focus on a particular victory lap.

Your typical success metrics may not be up to snuff (sales quotas, grades, fitness goals, etc.), but you can celebrate the curiosity, courage, and compassion you’ve demonstrated on your journey.

In the spirit of “do less, be more,” this perspective will keep you grounded and compassionate during your most difficult days.

The crises we face in life are never predictable, perfectly manageable, or fair.

But we do, inherently, have the power to move through them. And if we do so together, with some mindfulness and help from others, we can emerge not just changed, but transformed for the better.

And that takes time.

Your (our) growth and healing is not linear. But the next right thing is enough.


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