Wash Your Hands, but Also Take a Nap

Yes, we are responding to a public health crisis, but we can also remind each other to take breaks and that it's okay to log out of email once in a while, Rebecca Vidra writes.

March 13, 2020
 
 
Istockphoto.com/girlfrommars

As our campuses prepare to close and plans are developed to move our courses online, faculty, staff and administrators are moving into crisis-management mode. At my institution, Duke University, our team has quickly come together, by circumstance and by choice. Emails are flying, spring breaks have been forgone, phone calls are being taken in the carpool lane and so forth. We are on it!

Except how long can we sustain this?

We already know that work-life balance is a myth in the academy, and it certainly gets skewed in times of crisis. But COVID-19 threatens to be a long-term crisis. We’re not just closing campuses now but also canceling important events in the future (even graduation, maybe?), impacting enrollments in the fall and beyond, for example. We can expect many continuing reverberations.

How are we going to sustain ourselves now and for the long term?

Probably not by staying up late answering emails. Probably not by waking up in the middle of the night worried about the capacity of Zoom, WebEx and the like to handle the volume of our online meetings. Probably not by feeling that we alone have to make, implement and adapt all the contingency plans.

For me, collaborating with my colleagues at a time like this is inspiring. We are working together to identify and assign tasks, asking, “Have we thought of X?” and “What do you all think we should do about Y?” in a way that feels as if we are all on the same SWAT team. This kind of teamwork can help to buoy our spirits.

We can also remind each other to take breaks, to reassure each other that it is okay to log out of email once in a while. In my case, I reminded my colleagues to pay attention to nearby Duke Forest, where there are more trout lilies than I’ve ever seen! We need to get outside and breathe deeply of our spring air before pollen descends.

Given that we are responding to a public health crisis, it only makes sense to prioritize our personal health. Yet for many of us, that is the first thing to go.

We are surrounded by panic, bombarded by headlines about dwindling supplies of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and legitimately worried about our students. We are making plans for our own children, in case their schools close (fingers crossed!) and checking in on lonely, worried elderly parents. And so on.

But let’s add something to our growing list of concerns: taking care of our colleagues and, by extension, ourselves. Let’s remind each other to rest, to eat well, to enjoy time away. Let’s celebrate small steps in our planning process instead of waiting until it’s all over to breathe a sigh of relief (because we may be waiting awhile).

Let’s continue to wash our hands but also feel completely justified curling up for a nap.

Bio

Rebecca Vidra is director of the environmental leadership program at Duke University.

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