Feelings and Focus

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Checkbox next to the words written on a chalkboard: happy, unhappy, not sure

Not Everyone is Feeling Fine 

“I’m fine” is often the typical answer to the question “How are you doing?” This response never sat well with me because obviously people aren’t always fine. When the State of Public Health Disaster Emergency sent employees home in March, I found it interesting to see how well my friends and colleagues were making things work at home. Some were now home with kids, a partner, or roommate who was also working at home, many with a lesser sense of what to do every day, and that nagging internal question of “How long will this go on?”  

Fast forward two months, and the adrenaline has worn off, and a new reality has set in. Personally, I felt positive about my remote work life (and certainly not complaining about having yoga pants as my official office wear), but sometime between weeks 6 and 7 I started noticing a shift. I missed my co-workers. I missed the office banter and impromptu conversations that led to the most incredible ideas. I am finding a lot of positives about working at home, but I am also feeling a longing for face-to-face connection. The nagging concern about my son’s education or my parents’ well-being is settling in. My ability to focus is unpredictable. 

You might be thinking, “Wow this lady is a real downer,” but that is not my intent at all with this post. I am actually feeling overwhelmingly positive about a lot of things right now in my life, including work. My takeaway is, accept all your feelings right now as real, and it is OK if you are feeling many different things at the same time. May is Mental Health Month and the added awareness to pay attention to our emotional well-being couldn’t come at a more appropriate time. It is amazingly easy to shut down our emotions and power through all the things on our endless to-do lists, but they won’t go away. If anything, they will hang around and cloud our focus from moving forward if we pretend they are not happening.

Help Me Focus 

  • We all have feelings. Anyone who says or acts otherwise is only kidding themselves. Actually, feeling our feelings, however uncomfortable, is the only way to move forward.
  • Talk it out with someone you trust. The UI Employee Assistance Program offers free, confidential counseling to UI employees and their families.
  • Clear the mental clutter. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and off-load (onto a piece of paper) everything that is taking up space in your brain. You will find that space is being filled by everything from “Buy milk” to “How are my kids’ emotional well-being being affected by the pandemic and social isolation?”
  • Be honest. When asked “How are you doing right now?” don’t say “I’m fine.” How ARE you feeling? “I am struggling more than usual right now as I try to make sense of everything that is happening” might be a closer answer to the truth. Only share what you are comfortable with, but your authenticity may open the door to someone else accepting their own feelings.
  • Be quiet. Set that timer for another 5-10 minutes and just be. Pay attention to your breathing. Feel where your body contacts the floor or chair. Notice where in your body you are holding tension and release those areas, one at a time. This practice, when done regularly, can provide amazing benefits to our emotional well-being and ability to focus (amongst many other things!).

Diana Kremzar, Director of Family Services and full-time mother of two
UHR coaching tips to share 

If you’re looking for other ways to ask, “How are you doing?” then check out this article for alternatives. As always, any thoughts or suggestions you have are welcome at hr-oe-blog@uiowa.edu.