Pandemic paralysis (and how to cope)

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Pandemic paralysis (and how to cope)

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on the Happy Academic blog and has been republished here with permission. The author, Kylie Ball, is Alfred Deakin Professor in the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, Australia, and the founder of Indago Academy.

It’s hard to be a happy academic at times like these. How can one focus on much other than the chaos around the world? I post-crastinated over this piece because everything I thought about writing sounded trite. If you’ve been poring over news and social media like I have, you’ll no doubt have seen many suggestions and reassurances that risk sounding platitudinal. Sure, Isaac Newton may have made some of his greatest discoveries, and Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest works while in quarantine from the plague (maybe ‘cos neither of them had Twitter or Netflix?) – but what if it’s a struggle to stay focused on even a mindless task like checking page proofs for more than two minutes? (asking for a friend). Maybe we could be excused from expectations (often our own!) of producing quality academic outputs in the midst of a global pandemic? I spent 40 minutes on the couch yesterday staring aimlessly out of the window – eventually drifting outside with the vague notion of checking the local supermarket’s toilet paper stocks… before looking down and realising I was wearing my Ugg boots (and not as a fashion statement). I was heartened to read in this amusing post that many other writers also met with disdain the suggestion that now is the time to bunker down and produce works of genius. If you’ve similarly struggled with difficulties concentrating, news overwhelm and anxiety, and aren’t particularly productive right now, IT’S NOT YOU – it’s an understandable reaction to a horrible situation.

So what can we do?

We can acknowledge this situation, like all, will pass, and there are good reasons not to panic.

We can look after ourselves with all the tried and true techniques we know are effective – exercise (try walks/runs in quiet parks, workout apps, or free yoga on Youtube), sleep, eating well, managing stress and stopping endless news/media stress-scrolling. And of course washing our hands.

We can continue to be kind and foster a culture of kindness – our relationships, including with our colleagues, are now more important than ever. More tips here.

Self-isolation can be hard, and loneliness is a real danger.We can practise physical distancing rather than social distancing – celebrating the technology that allows us to keep in touch with family, friends and colleagues virtually, through e-coffees (or e-wines).

We can celebrate and support our colleagues working in medicine, nursing and science (I must admit I cried with joy and pride reading about the Australian scientists’ breakthrough in quickly replicating the Coronavirus – what am amazing time to work in science!).


This brilliant collection of resources is aimed at anyone teaching, studying or working remotely including in higher education.

There are some good tips here for looking after your mental health.

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam and KU Leuven have set up a portal to collect memes about coronavirus, in a study aimed at examining how people communicate and the role of humour in stressful times.

This daily schedule was made for parents/families in self-isolation, but can easily be adapted for anyone spending extended periods at home.

** And finally..

I have become a part-time happy academic this year, as I spread my time across my academic job, coaching, and working with a fabulous non-profit organisation doing great things in mental health outreach. While blog posts will therefore be less frequent I’ll still pop up throughout the year. So please keep sharing (e.g. what are your tips and resources for dealing with life right now?), commenting and stay in touch. Take care!

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Published on: Apr 22, 2020

Professor, researcher, mentor, trainer – passionate about helping early- and mid-career researchers
See more from Dr. Kylie Ball


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