Are You Hitting the Pandemic Wall Too? -->

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Are You Hitting the Pandemic Wall Too?


When Kacy shared with me her vision for the blog in 2021, I was excited to hear about the focus on motivation. As I mentioned last September, productivity usually isn’t a problem for me. I wrote that September post earlier in the pandemic, and when I look back now, I realized I’m in an entirely different headspace now.

As we head into the one-year anniversary of COVID lockdowns, I’ve hit what I’ve heard others refer to as the pandemic wall. The term “the pandemic wall” comes out of a Twitter thread from NPR host Tanzina Vega (she talks about “pandemic burnout”), and it refers to “the particular and sudden feeling of spiritual and emotional exhaustion with life during covid times” (Judkis, para. 7 ).

brick wall

I find myself thinking about the pandemic wall a lot lately, as my friends, family, and I are finding everyday tasks--both at work and at home--harder and harder to complete. My motivation seems to have vanished.

In reflecting on my waning motivation, I realized that the tools that I had relied on in the past to help fuel my motivation just weren’t available to me anymore. Last fall, I talked about how finding the right environment can help my motivation. In the past, when I was feeling restless and unproductive, I would often find a cozy coffee shop where I could get some writing or work done. Finding a different space to center myself was what got me through my master’s degree, and it’s been something I’ve relied on during my 10+ years as a remote worker.

book, notebook, coffee, pen

Of course, in this time of COVID, going to a coffee shop just isn’t an option; it’s not realistic or safe, and so opportunities for finding a new environment to help with my motivation are limited. I suppose I could try moving from my home office to my kitchen, but of course I also don’t leave my house during my down time, so I’m pretty sick of my kitchen right now too. That strategy that had worked well isn't available to me right now, but I also realized I’ve unknowingly found a few workarounds.

Recently, I’ve started using an app called Tomato Timer. The app uses the Pomodoro technique of alternating between focused work sessions and frequent breaks (“pomodoro” is Italian for tomato). I find it incredibly helpful and satisfying to watch the app count down the time until my next break, and I often find myself trying to work a bit faster to get a project done before the timer ends. The Pomodoro approach helps me push distractions to the side, since I’ll have a break soon in which I can easily get more coffee, check Twitter, get more coffee, walk around a bit, and get more coffee.

three tomatoes

The other strategy I’ve started using is a daily meditation habit using the app Headspace. I’ve always wanted to be more mindful, and with my inability to focus recently, I thought now might be the time to start building my meditation practice. I’ve incorporated Headspace into my nightly routine before I go to bed, and I’ve started using short 5-minute meditations during my Pomodoro breaks. It’s been a helpful way to reset my focus, and while I’m still a novice, I’m going to continue to build my meditation practice.

person sitting watching sunset

I in no way want to imply that the Tomato Timer and Headspace apps are solutions for the impact of the global pandemic we are still experiencing: we can’t time manage or meditate our way out of a global pandemic. And, honestly, we should all be clear with ourselves that our productivity probably won’t be the same as our pre-pandemic levels. It’s okay to feel unfocused and to struggle with motivation—that struggle is not a personal failing on your part; it’s a result of the world we live in right now and is not your fault.

It has been helpful for me, however, to reflect on the ways I’ve replaced my old strategies for finding motivation with new ones. Maybe that same reflection can be helpful for you too. If you’ve felt unfocused and unmotivated recently, consider where you’ve found motivation in the past. Is there a new way you can replicate that strategy? What resources or tools do you have at your disposal, however small they might seem? What support system can you lean into? How might technology be a tool?

Share your thoughts in comments to this post, and good luck out there, everyone. We will eventually be able to visit our local coffee shop without worry.

Beth Nastachowski has been with the Writing Center since 2010, and she currently manages the center’s webinars, modules, and videos. She spends her time running after her son, husband, two cats, and dog in St. Paul, MN. 

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  1. This is great and helpful to me as I have been feeling EXACTLY this was for a few months. And as someone that is normally very well adjusted, it's just nice to see "it's not your fault" in writing!

  2. Yes I'm definitely hitting my pandemic wall! 20 months into this thing and just trying to find ways to motivated and focused. I'm glad that I found this article today. It was just what I needed to keep going. Thanks for sharing this article :)

  3. Thank you both so much for your kind comments! Please know that you are definitely not alone in these feelings. Thanks for reading!