Pressure to be lockdown-productive isn't helpful

6:39 pm on 8 April 2020

By Amy Nelmes Bissett

Opinion - Not everyone wants to use lockdown time wisely. And that's okay, writes Amy Nelmes Bissett.

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A global pandemic suffered by more than a million people, taking the lives of just over 60,000 and plunging the world's economy into the pits of hell might seem like a justifiable time to feel frightened, or at best a little blue, but that's not what you should be doing with all that extra time on your hands.

Gwyneth Paltrow, of Hollywood acting and lifestyle guru fame, has an idea. In a recent YouTube video titled "How Do You Find Intimacy in Uncertain Times?" she sprouted that this "unique opportunity" should be used to improve your relationship. We should be learning to communicate a little better, Gwynie believes.

She does, however, overlook it's a smidgen easier when you've a pick of five sprawling mansions for isolation. Us mere mortals, spending 24/7 with too many family members in often a too small a space, are likely finding it all a little too intimate right now.

Nonetheless, her off-key advice is hardly novel. Since our lives became undeniably housebound after March's lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus, there's been an echoing sentiment that each second should be filled with ways to better ourselves. Not a moment of this glorious unexpected "free time" should be wasted.

And we do have a lot more time right now. The commute is now a few steps to whatever WFH station you've set up (if you're lucky enough to still have a job). And while many are balancing life as a untrained teacher with their own work, there's no time-stealing school runs or after-school activities to taxi children to and from.

It's what we've always wanted, isn't it? More time to finally do all the things that our daily lives keep us from. And so, our homes should be Marie Kondo-perfection. Our life admin list ticked to completion. And then, why not learn a language? Do an online course? Jesus, you could even write a book or master the pottery wheel.

In fact, investment platform Hatch want you to learn the art of investing via their free 10-day online course. HR consultancy Humankind have 1:1 tutorials on how to be a great leader (once this is all over, of course). And Massey University have a free introductory course to learn te reo Māori.

And it's all so wonderful and productive and, well, exhausting.

It appears that a global pandemic can't even derail our obsession with being busy. And it is an obsession. We're gripped by a culture that commands we spin many plates, juggle many balls. Are you really living your life to its maximum potential if you aren't constantly close to burn out?

The current workforce in New Zealand works longer hours than any other generation before. For the best part, we also never truly clock-off thanks to modern technology. And all of us, but mainly women, juggle a multitude of roles: mother, worker and wife, with the expectation that we look good, eat healthily and also balance a social life. Busy.

And you'd think that a pandemic leaching through the human race would be stress enough for most of us, without having to add in a 10-week course learning code or making the perfect sourdough bread. But sitting still, just being and waiting it out goes against the grain, doesn't it? We're not quite sure how to stop. We've never had the opportunity before.

But perhaps this will make it easier: In six months, maybe sooner but likely longer, each of us are going to have to work hard to rebuild everything that the Covid-19 has annihilated. Every country will face high levels of poverty, unemployment and mental health problems. The health care system and economy will be ravaged.

And here's the reality: learning French or Gwyneth Paltrow'ing your relationship isn't going to help. What will is taking the pressure off. It's using this time to hibernate and to breathe. Getting through a pandemic, just surviving, is really enough right now.

And if you can muster it, perhaps enjoy the things that spark joy. Delicious meals, a few extra glasses of wine, a few more hours of Netflix or a podcast. Because before we know it, we'll be out of lockdown, and the busyness of modern life will be fired-up once again. It's just this time we'll be doing it while navigating a very different world.

Amy Nelmes Bissett is a freelance writer based in Warkworth.