Take a Mental Break Before It Becomes a Mental Breakdown

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At the start of the week, I had not one, but two deadlines due the following day. One was a Photoshop rendering perspective for a project I never worked on and another was to make minor updates to a re-submittal construction document package for a project I loosely worked on. I also did not have a full two days (16 hours) to work on them since both were given on short notice. I was notified about the rendering at 11:00 am with a noon deadline the next day and the other with a similar notification time that was due later in the afternoon the following day. So, in reality, I only had about 11 hours to complete both – 1 hour lunch not included. Mondays are a buzzkill, amiright?

On the same Monday, I also had planned on doing a quick run to the office during lunchtime to grab a couple of drafting supplies I have been running low on, as we were on the 9th week of quarantine. For me, I personally see driving – not commuting – as a therapeutic way of relieving stress and anxiety. There’s something about driving at my own speed and pace that is mentally soothing and relaxing. I also enjoy driving on my own from time to time and, plus, the freeing ability to unashamedly blast selected K-pop songs on repeat in my old SUV.

Others may view this little errand run an as an interruption to workflow and productivity, but I believe this was a good “mental break” for my mind. Not working on those deadlines and doing something mentally calming was more productive than me sitting anxiously in front of the computer and most likely wasting half an hour mulling on the fact that I had two deadlines with no game plan in sight. While driving, I unconsciously came up with a bunch of ideas on how to plan the rendering quickly from scratch during the 40-minute drive to and from the office. If anything, the scheduled office run worked in my favor and quite possibly prevented me from having a mental breakdown by hour four of the deadlines.

Deadlines happen all the time and never at the moments you ever expect. But lately, I have been seeing the glass half full than empty when it comes to such realities. Nothing I do will change this reality, so I find it helpful to accept it, move on, and focus. Like really concentrate on the task at hand for a couple of hours with a few breaks in between. I also choose not to worry about those two deadlines outside of working on them. Instead, I find something completely opposite to occupy my mind with for the latter part of the day. Even knowing fully well I had two deadlines the next day, I slept well and not a single thought about either projects entered my mind that night. It was tomorrow’s problem, not tonight’s nightmare.

The remaining four to six hours left of the deadlines consisted of intense focus. And yes, I did finish the rendering in the nick of time (ok it was really only 10 minutes over). I also did monitor the clock a few times that morning, but I did not panic or dwell into worry. I was already in my work groove, so I just worked a bit faster and kept going. I also made my second deadline by 2 pm.

The familiar saying “Whether you can or can’t, you are right” rings true here. If we were really being honest, I actually did not think I would make the deadlines. Turning a blank page into a manager approved, client-worthy product in a small time frame felt very nerve-wrecking. Though, in actuality, it was the fear of not getting it done in time that caused me more anxiety than actually doing it. When I was in full concentration mode, my willpower to finish and rendering skills somehow combined to work magically and produced magical results. It is astonishing what your mind can do in just little time.

It always helps to take a mental break, even when the odds are stacked against you. Luckily for me, driving was the mental break I needed, even though it was probably the last thing I would have done in such a time-sensitive period. This fortunate incident reminded me that it is okay to take a step away from the screen and to calm the mind before diving in too deep into the work. A refreshed mind can really turn seemingly impossible tasks into very real, tangible possibilities.

Rethinking Parks as a Landscape Designer For Post COVID-19

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Public parks are closed, but my ideas about public parks are not.

I was wondering how my work as a professional landscape designer can make a difference during times of a full blown global crisis. In actuality, COVID-19 has made me rethink about what public parks can actually mean for people. The mental aspect of public parks has never mattered more until the pandemic happened. Sure, healing and “zen” gardens have been designed in many spaces, but typically in healthcare campuses and hospital environments. But why does it stop there? Can’t these types of spaces be weaved into public parks with other programs such as children playgrounds and open courts?

These are the questions I have been asking myself when developing public park concepts and being cooped up at home for the past six weeks. The ability to work from home and continue working on projects as a landscape designer with a financially healthy company has been a grateful blessing and I am now more diligent than ever before to use my experience and understanding to create concepts for public parks that is not only functional and aesthetic in form, but also mentally calming when being inside the park. Adults need sanctuary and healing spaces too and have the chance to go to parks not only for recreational purposes or watch their children play in the playground.

The pandemic has actually sparked a fire-breathing dragon of creativity inside me to create spaces that are relaxing and tranquil within public parks. There is never a better opportunity to start now. I have been given the opportunity to design multiple parks for a neighborhood development project and certainly did not let this go to waste even while being isolated and working remotely. It did take some adjustment to sketch ideas on an 8 ½ x 11″ paper with a 100’ scaled base, but this did not stop me from developing really cool and interesting ideas about how to incorporate such spaces in 5-acre public parks.

And guess what? The project manager loved my ideas and told me so with five exclamation marks. He’s also the type that barely shows much emotion through a Zoom message or let alone, leave any punctuation marks at the end of a sentence. While I can contribute financially to the pandemic – and I do have the sufficient means to do so – I wanted to help in a different way and something that has a lasting impact to locals and even visitors from afar. I have the power to make spaces good, but I also have the power to create something truly unique and better for everyone. These times of uncertainty is not a time to be lazy or uncreative; it is a time to start thinking, be creative, and do things fearlessly (not recklessly).

It is ok to be afraid, but not to live in fear. This period of instability is making many people anxious, including myself. But I choose not to dwell in the rabbit hole of worry and have opted to instead figure out ways to contribute professionally (through concept ideas) and personally (virtual hangouts with friends and constant updates with immediate family members). Just remember you do not have to be the best or the brightest to think of big ideas, you just need to start and keep going.

Self-Care Activities I Now Have Time For

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It is quite the luxury to feel un-rushed now. Before the shelter-in-place order, I was incredibly busy with my new job during the weekdays and attending social activities on the weekends like baby and bridal showers, brunch dates, and obligated family gatherings, which pretty much occupies most weekends for a woman in her early 30s. Now, with all the time in the world due to the shelter-in-place order and working remotely from home, I can finally do things I wouldn’t normally do if we all weren’t on house arrest (or at least it feels like one).

This new temporary norm was definitely an abrupt lifestyle adjustment at first, but after four weeks in, some of these activities could permanently fit into both my current and post-quarantine schedule. Best of all, they take thirty minutes or less and can also positively contribute to your overall health and well-being. Nothing is sweeter than a double dose of goodness.

1. Take an outdoor walk with a household member.

Instead of normally commuting back home after work, I now replace the time with a 30-minute evening walk with my sister, who I currently live with. After 5pm, we take a walk around our hilly neighborhood and pretty much talk about anything and everything. The latest updates on COVID-19 and the virus’s impact on our work and overall economy have certainly been our main discussion topic, but it is nice to be able to talk to each other about our feelings and thoughts about current issues, un-judged and unfiltered. At the end of our walk, both of us feel relieved getting stuff off our chest with each other and we get an easy, short workout while doing so. Plus, we get to see cute, neighborhood dogs from a distance during our walk.

We have never done this before the quarantine. But with this shelter-in-place order, we have adjusted our lifestyle around it and managed to find a way to have a deep conversation, in between binge-watching Netflix shows and baking. Actually, this is more like triple dose of goodness because this lets me spend more time with a tolerable family member, unload my unrestricted opinions on this person, and meet my 5,000 steps goal on my Google Fit app every day, all at once.

2. Perform a cooking challenge during lunch hour on weekdays.

For the past five years, I have been mostly eating microwavable food and leftovers for lunch at work. Don’t get me wrong, I like convenience and I still do, but the ability to cook a fresh meal at home beats a mildly warm leftover fried rice at the office any day. Lunch is now a plethora of hearty choices using whatever is available in the fridge and pantry, along with a handy kitchen gadget and clean cookware.

There are lots of healthy recipes that take thirty minutes or less to prepare, and I use the remaining time left to watch an episode of Kim’s Convenience. Lately, I have been doing a personal challenge of figuring out recipes and methods to cook a rainbow plate of delicious food, which consists of vegetables, healthy carbs, and lean meats, using the least amount of time and cookware possible. So far, I have really enjoyed making tasty, colorful lunches for the past several weeks and found myself being more productive and less sleepy on the latter half of the work day. Win-win.

3. Treat myself to a spa and relaxation session.

Before the state-wide lockdown, whenever I did a face mask, I would also be doing something else simultaneously, in order to save time. Now that there is no rush to go somewhere or meet someone, I have some extra time to do a face mask while relaxing my mind and body. It is still multi-tasking in a way, but in a good way. I can lay on my bed with either a cool face mask or mud mask and listen to soothing music without much interruption – outside or mentally. My thoughts are not consumed by the next task, but just being in the moment and actually meditate a little bit.

This has probably been the best treat I have given myself while staying at home. It is free, takes only half an hour, and, at the end of it, my face is brighter and my mind is clearer. For somebody who rarely goes to a spa or let alone even pay for one, this is the next best thing to the real thing. I also never would have thought of doing this in relaxation mode, without doing something productive at the same time. Having time for yourself and performing a self-care routine was considered a luxury to me and I now do both simultaneously on a regular basis. I can even do this on a weekday and not need to wait until the weekend to do this.

Self-care has usually been something that I needed to squeeze somewhere in my busy life and kind of doing it half-heartedly when I did find time to do it. Recently, it has gradually cemented into my not-so-busy schedule and paved itself as a necessary activity for benefiting my overall mental health, improving my mood, body, and mind. Self-care is not selfish, because if I strive to live with a healthier mind and body, it benefits everyone else around me and the work I do. I can have better relationships with people, improve work productivity, and be more creative with a calmer mind. The important thing is to start now, when you now have the time to do it.