Are you enjoying lockdown?

Man at computer in dark room

Yesterday I had a meeting at lunchtime, so I had to take a late lunch. As I sat in the kitchen munching on my sardines, I switched on the TV. The “hard news” of the lunchtime bulletin gets replaced with softer stories early in the afternoon. So, while I was eating my snack, I was treated to a report from Lisbon about the world’s richest “Esports” player, Johan Sundstein or “N0tail” as he likes to be known.

He has been a professional “Esports” player for the last decade, and he is only 27 years old now. If you are not familiar with “Esports” where have you been? It all started in 1972 over in Stanford University with the first competitions for video games. Now, these gaming contests are so vast they are played in stadiums with tens of thousands in the audience watching the players together with hundreds of thousands of online viewers. N0tail has, so far, earned $7.4m just doing what he enjoys, playing the strategy game “Dota 2”.

Meanwhile, as he relaxes in his 17-bedroom mansion in Portugal, with each room equipped for games, there are nurses, doctors and other health workers exhausted by the growing surge in COVID-19 patients who need care. Here in the UK, the hospitals are at breaking point. At the moment, about 4,200 people are being admitted each day with COVID. That’s the equivalent of about seven extra hospitals every day. No wonder the medical staff are on their knees.

However, strange as it may seem these exhausted individuals who are paid a pittance in comparison with an Esports star share one common factor with the likes of N0tail. They so motivated by what they are doing they enjoy it. True, the work for the nurses, doctors, paramedics, porters, cleaners and so on is physically exhausting and mentally draining, but they go back each day because they love helping people. You don’t become a nurse for the money. And you could probably earn more money as an Amazon delivery driver than as a hospital porter. So why do they do it? Because they have a calling for it. Yes, it’s stressful. Yes, it’s tiring. Yes, it is frustrated by bureaucracy. But these people go back day after day because they enjoy helping other people. It doesn’t seem like “work” when you are so focused on caring for another human.

There is another connection between healthcare workers and gamers. They have entirely “full-on” days. There isn’t time for a break. The work is non-stop. You can cope with that when you enjoy what you do, when you have a vocation, and your work doesn’t seem like work because you love it so much.

But think about people who work because “it’s a job” or because they cannot do anything else. There are millions of people in jobs “just for the money”. They can’t wait for the day to finish. They keep their eyes peeled for new opportunities.

Many self-employed people are like that too. They are supposedly doing what they enjoy, such as graphic design or bookkeeping. But their problem is they have to take on many clients “just for the money”. It’s not only employees who are working and wishing they were doing something else. Vast numbers of self-employed people are hoping they’ll be able to get rid of their draining clients and only work for the perfect ones they have yet to find.

The lockdowns for the past year have made the situation worse for many people like this. They are stuck working at home in jobs they don’t really enjoy or dealing with clients they would rather not have on their books. When there was no lockdown, these negative issues did not seem so big. You could leave them in the office and forget them when you went home via the pub and spent the evening playing computer games or watching YouTube.

In lockdown, though, there is no “getting away”, and if you have spent the day on your computer, the last thing you want to do is spend the evening on it as well.

If you are not enjoying your lockdown work as much as an Esports gamer loves their job or an exhausted healthcare assistant is motivated by theirs, then you have a problem. Recent research suggests that people with “lockdown lows” are filling their time with being busy. This seems to give them an illusion of working, and they think it takes their mind off the fact they are not really enjoying the work they are not motivated to do.

However, it turns out that “busy-ness” is making your lockdown low worse. Psychologists from Melbourne have discovered that our emotions in lockdown are heightened when we try to be busy. Instead, their study demonstrates that what you need to do to reduce the lockdown impact is to focus on doing what you enjoy. What is your motivation or calling? Do that.

If you are just being busy to fill the lockdown gap, then you are more likely to have emotional problems it would seem. Instead, doing what you value – even if that means finding new ways of accomplishing it in lockdown – makes you emotionally calmer.

We will be in this lockdown for another few months, and there is always the possibility of other lockdowns later in the year. Enjoying yourself is more important than filling the time. Being busy is not the solution to avoiding feeling low in the lockdown. But being busy doing what you find valuable, well that’s a different story. Just ask a gaming superstar or an exhausted hospital porter.

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