Finding Rest During Covid-19 Lockdown: Rejecting Capitalistic Productivity
Now I need to catch-up; I need to draw a plan for the lockdown period - the courses I had always wanted to take, new skills to learn and locked up wardrobes to unpack. I read out my to-do list every morning, trying to convince myself how important it was for me to invest time and achieve as much as possible during this period.
The more I read out my list, the more I lacked the enthusiasm to do anything. Guilt and worry was starting to set in, but a phone call to my mum set my thinking straight. After complaining to her about my lack of enthusiasm to meet my targets, she replied, “ I’ll be surprised if you have enthusiasm to do anything in the midst of all that’s happening; I think you should just let yourself be...”.
Her words stopped me right in my tracks, pulling me to a point of sober reflection. I suddenly realised my true state - I am mourning; the world is mourning and I needed to let myself be. I can not agree more with the English poet, John Donne, who said “Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind,”. We are in this together and it is alright to feel the pain and allow our broken hearts to heal. This resonates with the words of Reneau (2020), who said:
We are going through a collective trauma, that is bringing up profound grief, loss, panic over livelihoods, panic over loss of lives of loved ones. People's nervous systems are barely coping with the sense of threat and vigilance for safety, or alternating with feeling numb and frozen and shutting down in response to it all.
I had to stop beating myself up for doing nothing. I endeavoured to stop nursing anxieties and allowing panic attacks over what I should or should not have done - I simply let myself be. I realised that sometimes, like we are forced to do now, we need to take a break from the endless rat race of life. This may be against the modern societal drive to set and attain goals at every given opportunity. Do not get me wrong, I am not condemning such drive, neither do I consider goal setting bad in itself, but to always engage in this level of capitalistic productivity according to (Reneau 2020), is maddening.
The world thrives on androcentric state organised capitalism, a move that echoes “produce or perish” even in our sleep. We are constantly on the move, trying to out-perform ourselves. Is it not paradoxical that the more we have, the more we are in need? The more we invest our time in producing, the more we need time to produce? Akhtar (2010:11) who explained the worth of time measurement as a “subjective experience”, described industrialized nations view of time:
Like water, time was put into a tray and frozen into ice cubes of designated length. Each cube has its price, depending upon the size. Hiring of labor, operation of production lines, and rental of property all became time-dependent and tied to capital generation. Efficiency and punctuality became nearly synonymous. Thus, was born what I call the “time of the mind” or the “time of money.”
Taking my mum’s advice, I have decided to let myself be - spending “time of love” instead of “time of money” (ibid). Investing in self-care and family time. For the first time in years, I noticed that my children are growing and becoming young adults; I had never really had time to stop and “see” them before now!
Covid-19 is no doubt exposing major weaknesses within Western capitalist economic structures, revealing loop holes in many institutional practices and the urgent need to review how we do work (Mazzucato 2020). My distorted view of work was going to affect my ability to work from home until I sat down to reflect. Also, having a good support network from my institution has saved me from the undue pressure to “deliver”, and enhanced my determination to let myself be. For instance a recent message from the Vice Chancellor of the University where I presently work as a lecturer, (Leeds Beckett University) reads:
Working Remotely-COVID-19 Principles
- You are not “Working From Home”, you are “At your home during a crisis, trying to work”.
- Your personal physical, mental and emotional health is far more important than anything else right now.
- You should not try to compensate for lost productivity by working longer hours.
- You will be kind to yourself and not judge how you are coping based on how you see others coping.
- You will be kind to others and not judge how they are coping based on how you are coping.
- Your team success will not be measured the same way it was when things were normal.
I am really grateful for such a show of support and understanding. Now I say to myself, enough of playing catch-ups that is constantly leading to crash-outs. This is not a time to do and un-do, but a time to be. It is a time to listen, not just with my ears but with my heart, not just to others but to myself. This, I believe is a way to stay connected to myself and to others.
- Akhtar, S. 2010, Immigration and acculturation: Mourning, Adaptation, and the Next Generation, Jason Aronson.
- Mazzucato, M. 2020, "Coronavirus and Capitalism: How Will the Virus Change the Way the World Works?", World Economic Forum, [Online]. Available from:
- Reneau, A. 2020, "A Trauma Psychologist Weighs in on the Risks of 'Motivational' Pressure During Quarantine", Psychology Matters, [Online]. Available from:
Joy is a Lecturer in the Leadership, Governance and People Management subject group at Leeds Business School, Leeds Beckett University. She specialises in Human Resource Management, Gender and Migration studies and Diversity Management.