The holiday season means spending more time with loved ones and practicing family traditions for many people. Since the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak, end-of-year gatherings and celebrations alongside school and work have been conducted virtually due to lockdowns and social restrictions. This year, family holidays and celebrations may return and show resemblances of normalcy as the world is slowly entering a post-pandemic era.
This is evident in the case of family trips. A recent survey by the Family Travel Association and NYU School of Professional Studies saw that family trips are making a comeback, with 72% of participants saying that they would take a flight for a domestic trip while 40% would fly for an international trip with family. As more people are likely to opt for in-person gatherings with family, doing it during this era can still be challenging. Not only do families need to remain cautious and follow the health protocols, but they also might bring along some habits of overly depending on digital technologies.
It is undeniable that some find it difficult to balance between their digital and real-life; oftentimes, the former spills over the latter, taking up family time. This means one might end up reducing interaction and socialization with family. Moreover, even though digital technology has been around for many decades, the pandemic has forced its integration into people’s lives, potentially disrupting family relationships.
Reconnecting with family
To maximize quality time with family and rebuild closeness during this holiday season, families can try to disconnect virtually and connect more in reality. Here are some ways to do just that.
- Decide on a no-screen time together
Phone etiquette such as not using phones at the dinner table has been around for some time now. This is a fundamental rule that allows you to disconnect as a family. By keeping devices out of sight, everyone can be fully present with other people around them and avoid distractions like endless pop-up notifications. Make necessary adjustments and hold everyone’s end of the bargain up in lessening their use of devices, especially during a trip to fully enjoy time together.
- Do activities together as a family
As everyone is disconnected virtually, the next step is to engage them in an activitythat can serve as quality family time. Initiate a discussion with each family member to suggest an activity that everyone can do together. This can include making holiday cookies, going Christmas shopping, praying together, spending one-on-one time with each child, and playing games with fun rewards and penalties. This can also be a good opportunity to pass down family traditions you grew up with and create new ones with your family.
- Disconnect from work
Before going on holiday, it is important to finish work before leaving and make sure there are no unfinished tasks. This allows you to have peace of mind, rest properly, and return to work with better performance and productivity. However, some professions might be difficult to disengage from fully, even when on a holiday. In this case, try to dedicate a certain time to checking your email instead of keeping up with emails every time they arrive. It would be best if you also communicate this with people at work and your family to avoid unnecessary conflicts.
With the prevailing engagement in the virtual world for both parents and children, the family needs to intentionally put effort into balancing time spent online and the time spent to connect face-to-face. The holiday season can be the best moment to make up for lost time, have real conversations, and bring relationships closer by properly enjoying and respecting offline time together.
Before the widespread use of technology, people were actively engaged in physical activities at work. For example, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a lamplighter would need to use long poles to manually light each of the town’s lamps at night and extinguish them when morning comes. As technology developed over time, the need for this type of manual labor disappeared and more desk-based jobs appeared which introduced sedentary behaviors such as sitting for a prolonged time, and thus people started to move less. The integration of these behaviors continued to increase during the past several decades and has become a lifestyle.
Much research reported a strong association between a sedentary lifestyle and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, and cancer which are actually the leading cause of death worldwide. As one of the sedentary behaviors, prolonged sitting is also found to be a risk factor for the mortality rate attributable to these diseases as well as other diseases that have an indirect association with prolonged sitting. Despite these detrimental effects on health, a 2020 study found that people are still sitting too much, with variations in sitting time across countries, ranging up to 9.5 hours per day.
Rezende, L., et al. found that the life expectancy of an individual could be increased by up to 3 months on average by reducing sitting time. This benefit seems smaller compared to those gained by eliminating physical inactivity, obesity, and tobacco smoking. However, reducing sitting time might play an important role in promoting an active lifestyle, bridging sedentarism to higher physical activity levels.
Sit less, move more
The shift to working from home in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in working longer for many employees. According to a survey of 2,800 workers by Los Angeles-based staffing firm Robert Half, 45% of remote employees regularly worked more hours during the week than they did before and nearly 70% worked on the weekends. Feeling burdened by prolonged work, people found it difficult to allocate time for physical activity.
WHO released a physical activity guideline that delivered a salient message: “sit less and move more”. Based on this guideline, adults aged 18-64 years should accumulate at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity such as brisk walking or biking. They could also shorten the time by half if they practice vigorous-intensity physical activity such as jogging or swimming.
While it is important to follow these guidelines to achieve health benefits, physical activity doesn’t mean constant movement. Even a little bit of effort can come with health benefits. For example, grabbing a glass of water every hour during work can break up your sitting time.
Standing as an alternative
Unlike sitting, mortality rates decline at higher levels of standing. People who stood more than 8 hours per day had a significantly lower all-cause mortality risk than people standing for only 2 hours per day or less. Therefore, the standing may be a healthier alternative to prolonged sitting time.
In terms of energy expenditure, sitting burns only 80 calories per hour while standing could burn 88 calories per hour. The difference seems to be insignificant but standing helps blood sugar levels return to normal faster after a meal compared to sitting. This process is facilitated by the contraction of certain muscles in a standing position which triggers the production of substances that help use and store fats and sugars.
People can also stand while working by using a standing desk to incorporate more movement. However, it is also important to note that standing for a long time also has its side effects such as lower back and leg pain as well as fatigue. It is recommended to not stand for more than 2 hours continuously and to shift to sitting periodically.
As prolonged sitting time is associated with higher risk mortality, moving around during work helps employees reduce the risk and live longer. People with desk-based jobs could also use standing desks as an alternative to sitting. However, it is still recommended to do regular physical activity for a healthier life.
Searching for happiness and how to live a meaningful life is a question that philosophers, theorists, and psychologists, are trying to answer for decades. One of them is Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who saw how World War II affected people’s lives. He realized that many adults around him found it hard to live contentedly after they lost their material wealth, homes, jobs, and security due to the war. This led him to begin his research on what makes a life worth living.
He found that, although money can help, it can’t make people indefinitely happy; he then tried to find the answer by researching human motivations, contentment, and fulfillment. His research arrived at the conclusion that people are at their optimal happy and productive selves when they experience a state of flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is when a person is so immersed in their activity that they ignore outside stimuli like time and their basic needs; the only thing that matters at the moment is what they are doing.
Though Csikszentmihalyi started his research with artists, painters, and musicians to understand their creative process and motivation to do something that will unlikely bring fame or fortune, he stated that everyone can experience the flow state. He further described that experience as the state of doing things just for the sake of doing it. People don’t need external motivation to do something; they are doing it because of the positive feeling that the activity can give.
So, how exactly does flow affect someone’s happiness? Csikszentmihalyi stated that activities that involve some play and work are the best opportunity to reach a flow state, and through that, reach happiness as well. He explains that happiness is a state of mind, one that is affected by consciousness regardless of what happens outside of themselves. One of the ways to change one’s consciousness is through getting into the flow state.
Csikszentmihalyi continued his research on finding the link between flow and happiness by doing research on teenagers. He found that teenagers with high flow spent more time doing activities like hobbies and sport. Participants of the research also reported greater success in school, social relationships, and long-term happiness. The result of the research showed that the strongest predictors of long-term happiness are as follows: one’s presence in the flow state, ability to be sociable, how active one is, and the positive feeling one has towards themselves.
Flow is something that cannot be forced or does not happen whenever one feels like it. However, some people with a high level of conscientiousness and openness to experience are more likely to experience the flow state. Here are some ways you can optimize your chance to enter the state of flow.
- Minimize distractions
Flow is a state of mind with internal motivation, so it’s very important to minimize and reduce external distractions. Research has shown that to enter the flow state, it’s necessary to have an undivided focus for around 10-15 minutes and eliminate all the external distractions. So, make sure that you put away your phone or disable all your notifications as this might be one of the biggest external distractions. This also includes clearing unnecessary items from your surroundings and having a quiet environment to help you be hyper-focused and immersed in your activity.
Internal distractions can also be a hindrance. If you have too much on your mind or you are anxious about something, it will be harder for you to enter the flow state even without external distractions. To avoid this, clear your mind by writing down your thoughts and feelings every day in a journal or doing some meditation. It will help you to understand your thoughts and feel better so you can control possible internal distractions.
- Have a specific goal
To reach a state of flow, you need to have a clear and specific goal on what you want to achieve. Without a goal in mind, you will most likely do things simultaneously or switch between tasks that shift your focus and get you distracted easily. This will prevent you from reaching the state of flow. Having a goal will keep your mind from wandering and minimize your internal distraction to reach the state of flow.
Though having a clear goal is one of the important aspects to reach the flow state, you also need to remember to enjoy the process and moment while doing the activity. It is important to remember that the activity you want to get into should be something that you like and enjoy doing. Being in a flow state can give you a positive experience by enjoying the present moment when you are completely immersed in your work.
- Balance skills and challenges
Csikszentmihalyi explains the state of flow as the right balance between a person’s perceived skills and the challenges that they face. If a person faces a challenge that is higher than their skills, they will become anxious and stressed. If a person’s skill level is higher than the challenge, they may get bored and become distracted. A flow state can only be achieved when the challenge is enough to make you interested while providing a challenge to your current skills without being too hard.
Aside from that, Csikszentmihalyi also described the opposite of the flow state called apathy. It is a state when you do an activity that presents no challenge and requires no skills to do it like watching TV, browsing through social media, and other mindless entertainment. When someone is continuously involved in this activity, it can become harder for them to reach the flow state.
To experience flow in everyday life will not only give you positive emotions but can also be intrinsically rewarding and helpful for an individual’s journey towards self-actualization. The more you experience flow, the more you want to replicate these feelings. This can help you to not only have positive experiences through it but also make you happier.
Flow is an innately positive experience. If you are having trouble reaching the state of flow, try to minimize distractions, and have a specific goal in mind, and keep challenging yourself. Being in a state of flow will help you have a more meaningful life.
The pandemic has brought many challenges and accelerated different innovations across all industries. While certain digital transformations have made things easier, by no means did the work decrease. In fact, employees are continuously expected to keep up with the increasing demand and workload from their stakeholders while maintaining efficiency.
Aside from that, the ability to work from home has brought in new challenges for employees as there is little to no separation between work and personal life. On top of social isolation, employees have tried to adjust to the challenges of working remotely. Difficulties in dealing with tech issues as well as external distractions like household chores and other personal engagements are just some of the things that contribute to the growing stress that workers deal with today. The combination of work and personal difficulties would lead to the inevitable employee burnout despite working from the supposed comforts of one’s home.
Organizations around the world have acknowledged the issue of deteriorating mental health amidst working in solitude during the pandemic and have taken initiatives to mitigate their employees’ wellbeing. At the same time, employees are also practicing ways to maintain their mental health, such as reaching out to their peers more to reduce social isolation. One of the most important ways that can help with this is through relaxation.
Benefits to relaxing
People relax for obvious reasons, such as taking a breather after work or getting a well-earned vacation to spend time with their loved ones. However, due to the current demands at work on top of the restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people seldom feel guilty and are unable to relax even on the weekends. As such, it’s even more important to understand that relaxing after work is just as important as performing well while at work.
- Manage stress levels
One of the biggest problems that employees are facing today is the high-stress levels from the multiple responsibilities they need to juggle. While stress can be good as a motivator to do well, bad stress can be detrimental to one’s health as it also has a bidirectional relationship with depression. Relaxing can help one decompress from a hard day at work and disrupt the otherwise continuous flow of stress.
- Reduce the possibility of illness
People are more conscious of their health and are taking preventive measures so as not to get sick. However, the stress from different responsibilities that need to be attended to has made people more susceptible to illnesses as it can affect the immune system. Stress can cause inflammation, which may lead to serious conditions, such as asthma and heart-related sickness. To avoid this, relaxing can help alleviate stress and keep illnesses at bay.
- Refresh mental capacity
Juggling work and other responsibilities requires a lot of mental effort, which lessens over time. Stress can further diminish one’s thinking capacity, resulting in poor decision-making and forgetfulness. This can negatively impact a person’s work in general. Relaxing after a day’s work can restore one’s mind properly to be ready for the next day.
Employees get overwhelmed with what needs to be done at work by constantly trying to catch up with the demands of their stakeholders. However, tiring yourself out due to work stress in exchange for health will not do you any favors in the long run. It is important to learn how to put boundaries and disengage from work at the end of the day for the sake of one’s physical and mental wellbeing. By relaxing after a long and hard day at work, one can handle their stress better, avoid any possible illnesses, and have a clearer mind.
People all over the world have been affected by the pandemic. Governments have enforced restrictions and lockdowns to contain the outbreak, which means that public facilities like schools and childcare have been closed. Employees are also forced to work remotely from home. These measures have brought significant impact into our daily life, especially our routines at home.
Today, the home has become the center of all activities that are supposedly done outside. Multiple people at home at the same time also leads to more chores to do such as cleaning, cooking, and washing dishes. While working from home, one has to juggle household workloads and care-taking demands with one’s full-time job. All of these factors can make managing household chores stressful.
Some chores are time-consuming and required to be done regularly such as laundry, cleaning, and tidying up. A study from the University of Melbourne found that dual-earner parent couples in Australia spend more hours in childcare and housework during the pandemic. In comparison, a man’s daily contribution rose by over three and a half hours while a woman’s daily contribution increased by over four and a half hours a day.
Women are usually the ones who do more chores and childcare. However, a cross-national study of Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States found recent dramatic increases in the proportion of shared childcare and household tasks. The changes can be seen on different tasks, with men doing more grocery shopping while women doing more cleaning. Despite that, some women feel that household chores are a burden due to imbalanced time allocation with their partners.
Some people may experience work-from-home burnout because of the conflict between being an ideal employee and parent or partner. A study analyzed the association between how people spend their time during the pandemic and subjective wellbeing as measured by happiness. It was found that people who spend more time completing chores are more likely to have lower levels of happiness presumably due to the pressure of balancing work and household responsibilities.
As such, there is a need to find a balance between working and doing household chores without adding to the stress. For that to happen, each person must work together to mitigate this problem. Here are some tips to overcome household chores stress:
- Be more flexible
First of all, keep in mind that there’s more time to do tasks by staying at home because there is no commute to the office or school. Some schedules for online meetings or homeschooling activities are also more relaxed. Take advantage of this by doing some chores in between those schedules. Some activities that may not be possible during the day could be done during the night or when things are slow.
- Be there for each other
One of the reasons that cause stress from household chores is when one feels overwhelmed from doing multiple things alone. The study that was done on subjective wellbeing discovered that spending time together with a partner while doing household and childcaring tasks will positively affect one’s happiness. When asking for help or vice-versa, consider what the other person may be experiencing. Apart from that, remember that doing household chores can be learned over time.
- Avoid piling chores
Household chores become overwhelming when things are piled up like leaving dirty dishes on the sink, stacking wrinkly clothes on the corner of the bedroom, and leaving spilled food on the dining table. Doing the chores right away will lessen that burden. Directly washing your cup of coffee after drinking it instead of just leaving the cup on the sink is just one example of getting small things done to lessen the chores later on. The task will only take 1-2 minutes which certainly will not be overwhelming.
While being at home has proven to be advantageous in many ways and keeps people safe from the Covid-19 that’s still going around in many countries, it can also be difficult for some people. The higher demand for household chores and child-caring activities combined with work could be devastating. Being more flexible with daily schedules, asking or helping one another in doing chores, and doing chores immediately before things pile up can help lessen the burden and overall stress. At the end of the day, the home should be conducive for one to be productive as well as function as a space for people to relax.