Contributed by Dr. Bradley Okdie
I am a social psychologist and researcher who has spent the last two decades studying the mind and examining how people form, maintain, and end relationships online. During this time, I have learned (and the research supports) that the mind’s capacity is finite and digital interactions are meaningful and have significant psychological consequences. The following article details how to use these principles to ensure that you come out of the pandemic equal to or better than how you entered it.
Focussing on wellness during a normal workweek is difficult; focussing on wellness during a global pandemic is near impossible. The number of inputs pulling at your attention during a pandemic has increased while your ability to deal with them appropriately has decreased. Thus, if you are like many people, your mental and physical wellness has decreased as a result. If the effects of the pandemic were short-lived, this would not be a problem as you could quickly return to your normal self-care routines once it was over. But, it is clear that the effects of the pandemic will be lengthy making finding ways to focus on wellness increasingly important. Things are different and you must create different solutions to issues that used to be naturally occurring. Getting the structure of wellness setup now will carry you through the pandemic and any future unexpected stressful life events.
Many people have produced content related to wellness and the pandemic but few have mentioned how technology may be a part of that process and even fewer discuss how keyboards can be part of this process. This article will focus on how technology (and your Das Keyboard) can help increase general wellness.
Don’t rely on your brain to enact your wellness plan
Because there are so many new constraints on our time and such reduced capacity to deal with those constraints, focusing on wellness can seem unimportant or impossible. However, during times of adversity, maintaining mental and physical wellness is critical to staving off mental and physical breakdowns as these wellness activities can act as a barrier to the stress of the world. (1)
So, how then, with all that is happening around us, can we focus on wellness? One of the best ways to enact and continue a focus on wellness is to not rely on your brain. I realize how ludicrous this sounds but, our brains have a finite capacity and are not good at remembering to attend to things that are not immediately accessible or are considered an immediate current need. So, do not rely on your brain to enact your plan of wellness. It turns out that these sorts of tasks are exactly what computers are good at; so let them help you.
Small mental and physical activities can have large effects on your overall wellness. Most of these activities are easy to do, if you can remember to do them. Before discussing how technology and your Q enabled Das Keyboard can help you achieve wellness, let’s discuss some of the small activities that can have big impacts on your mental and physical well being.
Simple activities for mental wellness
One of the simplest ways to improve your mental well-being is to take breaks throughout your day. At the office, breaks naturally occur when your coworkers stop by for brief chats about the weekend happenings or simple work things. But, when working from home (or when working in an office where social distancing regulations prohibit most face-to-face contact), taking breaks must be actively managed. Be proactive about making breaks part of your workday. This can be done by scheduling them in your calendar (just as you would a meeting) or by having something in place to alert you that you have been working for a while and should take a break (e.g., an exterior alert of some kind).
Mindfulness sounds like something that would be practiced at Woodstock and touted by hippies but science supports that being mindful (focussing on the present) has measurable benefits such as empathy, perspective-taking, and better romantic relationships. Just like most wellness behaviors, being mindful is not likely to happen unless it is at the forefront of your mind. Thus, having technology remind you to focus on what is currently happening can be helpful.
Remember, the rules of the game have changed. Working and living during a pandemic can take its toll on you before you even realize that it is happening. Many of us are great at showing compassion to others but fail to show ourselves that same level of forgiveness. Therefore, it is important to remember that during times of stress, you should not hold yourself accountable to the old rules that existed prior to the stress experience. For example, if prior to the pandemic you used to get up at 5 in the morning work on your novel and then run 5 miles on the track before heading into the office, this may not be possible or good for you now. Because of the pandemic, people are getting less quality sleep, anxiety levels are constantly higher than baseline, and doing what you used to do under the old expectations is likely not healthy anymore. Instead, you should be operating within the new constraints of the game. The new you needs to be compassionate and know that it is okay to only accomplish a portion of your old daily goals. Instead, establish new norms for what the day looks like under times of stress. These goals will vary widely depending on what your baseline activities used to be, but these goals should include the ability for you to engage in self-compassion when you fail to meet them.
Make Time for Yourself
It is counter-intuitive but, most of us are now working from home and have less time for ourselves. In a utopian world, working from home entails working in your pajamas and taking breaks on the couch when you need them. However, most of our homes are now also populated with the other members of our families. While spending more time with your social connections is generally a good thing, ensuring that you are taking time to do the things that make you happy is equally good. You must be proactive about making time for yourself. In a non-pandemic world, time alone occurs naturally (e.g., your significant other is out with their friends or attending an event or the kids are at school). But, during a pandemic, not only are the other members of your house likely home more, they are also unable to go anywhere making naturally occurring alone time less likely. Therefore, you must be proactive about carving out time for yourself in your new reality. Again, this will not happen on its own. You must set up a system to ensure this occurs. An external system that will remind you to take some time for yourself will help here too. (2)
Make Time for (Virtual) Social Connection
I know what you are thinking, “please, not another Zoom meeting.” I know because I have thought it too, but this is a necessity. The social psychologist in me knows how important social connections are to well-being. Humans are social creatures and having social interaction is crucial to our mental and physical health. A mountain of research suggests that having a strong social support system can ward off many of life’s ills and that being socially excluded can have dire emotional (e.g., lowered self-esteem, meaningful existence) and physical (e.g., physical and social pain) consequences. So, like you, I loathe the thought of more virtual meetings with the disembodied heads of people I know, but I also know that it is necessary. Make a point to set up times to chat with your social group. You may not notice it at the time but it will help your mental well-being. You can increase the likelihood that your meet-up is enjoyable by planning to do something fun during the interaction. I know this sounds cheesy because you would not typically plan out your face-to-face interactions, however, those interactions would likely occur out of your home in places that are naturally interesting. You do not have that luxury with virtual meet-ups (at least without some technical savvy), thus prior to the meet-up do some planning. Activities can include playing games that can take place virtually (e.g., heads up).
I have spent over a decade studying online social connection and its importance. My research, and that of many other psychologists, suggest that interpersonal relationships formed or maintained virtually can be meaningful, consequential, and increase wellness. This research is more relevant now than it has ever been, so it is important that you create or use a system that will help you continue to be social.
Simple activities for physical wellness
Stay Hydrated and Eat Well
Be sure that you are drinking enough water throughout the day. Being at home all day is great because it means that you likely have all your favorite snacks and drinks handy. It is also not great for your physical health because you have access to all of your favorite snacks and drinks. At work you likely have limited supplies of your favorite sugary drinks or they are limited because they must be purchased. At home the ease with which you can obtain unhealthy food is increased making it more likely that you will choose unhealthy compared to healthy snacks throughout the day. Be sure that you are eating healthy and staying hydrated. There are multiple ways that you can accomplish this. You can ensure that only healthy snacks are available in your home, or treat those snacks as off-limits until after your typical workday ends. Using an outside alert system to remind you to drink water and eat well may also prove useful to help you stay healthy during the pandemic.
Much research has shown that physical activity is important for physical and mental health. Because you are likely working remotely, you are also moving less. For example, working from the office means that I have to expend energy walking in and out from the parking lot, climb four flights of stairs to get my coffee, and take short walks with my colleagues. Working from home means that I have a fifteen-foot commute to my office, no stairs are required to get coffee (which I do multiple times a day) and there is zero pressure to walk with colleagues. Thus, it is important to ensure that you are being physically active during the day as these things are not likely to naturally occur as they would when you are not working remotely. Many of these exercise behaviors do not need to be full gym workouts as going to the gym might be difficult or unsafe; instead, consider just moving around. Remember that the rules have changed so you need not walk 10 miles each day, but any physical activity is better than no physical activity. Standing at least once an hour (or actually using your standing desk!), going for a brief walk around the neighborhood, or doing laundry during your break so that you are forced to climb stairs, are small achievable ways that you can increase the extent-to-which you are engaging in physical exercise.
Your Das Keyboard can be your wellness hub
Other than smartphones, keyboards are likely the things that are hands touch the most throughout the workday. Most people assume that keyboards are input devices, but the Q-software from Das Keyboard can turn your keyboard into an output device that allows your keyboard to serve as your wellness hub (yes, really). Your Q enabled Das Keyboard can be the external source needed to ensure the goals discussed in this article remain at the forefront of your mind . Your Q enabled Das keyboard can remind you that it is time to take a break or drink some water or do something social. Sure, you can set up weather alerts, website traffic notifications, and other nerdy things but, at the end of the day, the keyboard’s real potential lies in its ability to make you more productive through taming notifications, and by enabling you to engage in wellness activities. (3)
In short, the global pandemic has brought with it chaos that invades most of our lives in ways that we had not prepared for. This chaos taxes our finite cognitive capacity such that engaging in wellness behaviors is likely to decrease and organically arising wellness behaviors are no longer possible. Thus, creating a system that reminds you to engage in personal wellness activities is crucial. One mechanism for establishing such a system is to use your Das Keyboard as your personal wellness hub. And, it helps that the Q software enhances an already wonderful Das Keyboard experience!
1 For a great video that explains many of the concepts discussed in this article, watch C.G.P. Grey’s video “Spaceship You.”
2 There are a minority of people for whom being in quarantine has increased their ability to take time for themselves. These are likely people who do not have children and/or have not been able to work during quarantine. Even for these people, taking intentional time for themselves is important.
3 The das keyboard has a GitHub site that contains pre-built profiles and examples of Applets that you can use to get started if you do not have experience coding. The software has an open API and there are pre-built applets for things like remembering to stand.