I’m not sure what I was expecting would happen on January 1st, 2021. Though it’s silly, maybe I had somehow hoped that life would throw us all a curveball and flip a switch this year with some good news. Maybe I had hoped overnight I’d suddenly become fifty pounds lighter, or lose my Pepsi addiction. None of that will ever happen unless you start proactively working on it, though. No pandemic fairy is going to come kick you in the butt and suddenly give you the drive to pick up that second language you’ve been wanting to study for years when you’re too exhausted in the evening to read another line of text.
Work remotely, stress remotely.
We’re now almost a full year into quarantine, and to be honest, I’ve never felt worse about myself and how I spent the year. I feel like I just blinked and lost a whole year. I started working from home very early on in 2020, because my company was fairly proactive at the beginning of the pandemic, and quickly realized that...I have absolutely no room in my small one bedroom apartment to accommodate a workspace, let alone a professional one for video calls. My gaming setup moved from my living room to my bedroom, and after a few days I managed to shove two large monitors onto my small desk. Not a glamorous setup, but it worked.
What I wasn’t really prepared for, was the mental strain that came from spending the majority of my day in my bedroom. With a dedicated office, I was at least able to separate my work, play, and sleep, but with this it has all been crammed into one place. Even after my work day ended, I wasn’t able to turn off that part of my brain that was worried about deadlines or documents that needed additional attention. I couldn’t even enjoy many of my indie games or MMOs because I felt guilty about spending that time in a virtual space when I had so much left to do in the real world. After spending a lengthy amount of time delving into meditation videos, I stumbled upon a word that gave me a goal and a target for what had been causing my stress: rumination.
What is Rumination?
Rumination is basically an obsessive thought, similar to getting stuck in a loop where you can’t stop thinking a thought or idea. This can manifest in unhealthy ways not just with work, but for gaming as well. Have you ever gotten really into a new game, and laid down at night unable to fall asleep because you couldn’t stop thinking about an enjoyable mechanic? Not being able to separate the game and life can lead to an unhealthy crossover that deteriorates your mental health due to lack of sleep and strain. Now, throw in your full time job into the mix. You can’t even enjoy the games that you used to, because out of the corner of your eye you see your work laptop and are constantly reminded of your project blockers or issues completely out of your control. You can’t fall asleep at night because you’re worried about a work deadline or an event that you need to prepare for in a game, but are stressing about the lack of time you have to complete everything.
Coping Mechanisms and Healthy Habits
It’s not healthy to mix the three (work, play, and sleep), but like many others in similarly small living spaces, I don’t have much in the way of choice with how to address it for now. I’m extremely fortunate to even still have a job, so I have kept my mouth shut and dealt with it for months now, but it is really starting to wear me down. As this is a global issue, I’m sure there are plenty others out there that are suffering from rumination and unable to separate their work from play, so I thought I’d share some of the things that I’m currently doing to cope.
First, hot showers. Showers make everything better. Even on days where you don’t want to get up and do anything, when you don’t have the energy, make yourself take a hot shower.
Go see your doctor. Rumination can frequently tie in with depression and anxiety, and your issues may run deeper than you think. Never be embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help when you really need it.
Look for a good multivitamin or a B12 supplement. When you start to spiral, you start to feel guilty and frequently don’t feel like you have enough energy to take care of yourself. A B12 supplement can give you that extra boost of energy to get through the work day.
Take a long walk around your home or apartment. Being cooped up inside all day means no sunshine, and no Vitamin D. Taking a slow, meaningful walk and soaking up the sun can do wonders for your mental health while allowing you to decompress and put things into perspective.
Take a break from gaming. Over the holidays, I went home to see my parents and spent an entire week unplugged from my computer. At first, I felt guilty because I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I was missing out on, but the disconnect really helped me separate those things that were most important to me.
Dive into a new hobby on the weekends. If you can’t stop your mind from working through the week, maybe look into picking up a new skill or hobby on the weekends. It gives you something to channel your restless energy towards, and keeps your mind from wandering to things that you can’t control.
Practice mindfulness. It may seem a little cliche, but take a few minutes out of the day to just sit in silence and examine your thoughts. As the thoughts start to drift in, imagine letting them go. Don’t completely block them out, but acknowledge, and release them. Recently, I’ve been utilizing the Headspace app on my phone to practice daily meditations and it has been phenomenal. I especially enjoy the sleep casts for dissuading nighttime rumination.
Self Care: More than tacos and loot boxes.
Many of these suggestions may seem like common sense, but when you’re stuck in an endless loop, sometimes you can forget to do any one of these. That’s one of the worst parts about rumination: you’re so focused on that one thought that it’s incredibly difficult to focus on anything other than that one thing you can’t control. For those that have also been struggling with rumination, anxiety, or depression the past few months, I hope some of my coping mechanisms may give you a jumping off point for taking better care of both your mental and physical health. You deserve it! Don’t stress-eat your way through a dozen tacos or spend a lot of money on loot boxes in Overwatch because you “deserve it”; actually give yourself the benefit of the doubt and pay attention to your body. One of the worst things you can do is to ignore your mental health and pretend that you’re fine. We’re not all lizard people-we have warm blood and feelings too. Act like it, humey. Take care of yourself.