We’re encouraged to think of the everyday and ordinary as somehow sub standard, or unremarkable. That perception is very wrong. Context is everything, like so much in life.
2020 has certainly been a strange year, and for obvious reasons. And now, the weather is also about to turn. Don’t be surprised that you feel a little upset. When this all began, the sun shone.
Alongside the pneumonic COVID-19 virus, we have the necessary and urgent issues raised by #MeToo and the #BlackLivesMatter movements, set against a backdrop of a hyper-exploitative model of capitalism crashing into the buffers of BREXIT and politics that’s lost sight of reality. And we’re out of touch, literally, with friends and loved ones. Affection, the casual hug or peck on the cheek, these things are part of a vital social glue which, once gone, start the process of our unravelling.
We’ve not had enough time to reflect on what ‘normal’ was and what it means in changed contexts:
- the burdens of childcare and home-schooling;
- trying to work from home, or work in new ways arising from the disruption caused by the virus, or in a context where jobs and incomes are at risk of evaporating completely;
- managing one’s own existential anxiety and that of others;
- trying to access resources or services which are severely rationed or strained …
As a species we have a capacity to cope with change.
Psychologists call it ‘surge capacity’.
Like any surge – electrical or psychological – there comes a point where the costs of that surge have to be repaid. And that can leave you experiencing multiple emotions and reactions; from listlessness and despair to uncertainty and even fear.
That state of exhausted listlessness, uncertainty, and fear that you’re experiencing has a name – acedia.
Pandemics are marathons.
Yet we seem to be living through a succession of surges, which by definition, are all about the short-term.
Fight or flight is a ‘surge’ response driven by adrenalines which triggers alarm, a kind of hyper awareness. And after the ‘surge’ comes resistance, and then exhaustion. These reactions take time to recover from. They especially impact those driven by a solution centred way of operating.
There are also multiple ‘losses’ arising from the situation we’re all living through – challenges to friendships and relationships, and a sense of something passing, a kind of mourning or an abstract death, intangible yet somehow permanent.
This kind of ambiguous loss extracts its own penalties.
Ways to cope
In the absence of ‘normal’, activities or impulses which are seen as ‘comforting’ are ascendant, because they represent an alternative to the grimness around us.
These aren’t offered as ‘cures’ for depression. Depression is something else altogether, as I know. When people say ‘get over it’, as though ‘it’ was just a bump in the road, they betray their misconception of depression as feeling glum. It isn’t that temporary downer. It’s the road less travelled, where there’s no map, where the senses are bombarded and you can’t see the way forward at all, and where you are crippled by fear, anxiety and doubt. This excellent article lays out some of what it can feel like.
Walk and talk. There’s much to be said for meeting up with friends and walking, in the fresh air, and talking too. It’s the old adage, what you’re feeling or thinking might not be a tenth as awful as what someone else might be experiencing – perspective is important. If, for whatever reason, a friend isn’t available, walk on your own and enjoy the chance to just stop an stare. If your own company is unbearable, listen to a podcast as you amble – there are so many to choose from on Spotify, BBC Sounds, Apple, Soundcloud – pretty much anywhere.
Tidy a drawer, or cupboard. Work out which of the contents you need and which are useful, or which might have sentimental value, and cast out those which don’t. The process of decluttering has an intellectual and emotional dimension, harness that.
Read a book, more than one ideally! I’m loving Elizabeth Day’s books (and podcasts) on ‘failure’ which bring much needed perspective to a misunderstood concept. I’m also exploring philosophy and systems of thought, after all there’s much to teach us in that because it shapes so much of the way we see the world. Light a fire, and curl up under a blanket, make it cosy.
Visit the seaside. Most of us, it is said derive some comfort from a walk in the country or a visit to the seaside, where the sound of waves soothes and centres. So, do it, lockdowns permitting of course.
Be creative. Write, draw, sketch, paint, redecorate your house, indulge in photography. Learn something new. Look at things differently.
Watch TV. I love The Repair Shop – I defy anyone to watch it and not be moved by the way restoring an object can trigger memories, emotions, and create such meaning for the people to whom it belongs. That there seems to be no charge for the repair adds a layer of something older and warmer that we seem to have lost in our society – altruism. It’s also the kind of slow, undemanding TV that we all need to wind down and process what’s going on. The BFI too has lots of really interesting content, free.
Listen to music. Spotify has been an absolute blessing in the absence of live music. Like a lot of us, I cannot wait for live music to make a return.
Ultimately, practice self care. Take an indulgent long bath every now and then. Have a day where you start slow, perhaps with Yoga, then a good breakfast, a hot shower, a long walk, and a return to a favourite supper.
What’s most joyous about all of the above is their oh so very unremarkable quality.
Find what brings you joy, and go there.
I’ve forced myself to make the time, to make time.
I can’t recommend it enough.
I’ve consciously decoupled myself from demanding people and situations, and then used my time to do things for me or those whom I have love or regard for. And it’s proving incredibly liberating.
I’m able, for the first time in almost 5 years, make plans for a future life rather than being trapped in an increasingly demanding and circular present – if that isn’t a mental holiday, I don’t know what is.
That sense of forward progress, rather than running fast to stand still and service the needs of everyone else, is empowering emotionally and psychologically. If it lifts you out of the grind, and gives you hope, it can’t be a bad thing.
All I can do is to share with you what worked for me when I’ve had momentary episodes of feeling glum, or a little overwhelmed by the barrage of incidents and bad news. I sense that right now this is something we all need to do.
Ignore those who set out to make you feel that you are being selfish by maintaining or setting your boundaries. Self care is not selfish. But do remember, that none of what’s been shared here is a ‘cure’ for depression. Depression is a whole other scenario and needs careful and considered diagnosis and treatment. This is just about keeping your spirits up.
Let me know what works for you in terms of keeping you feeling buoyant and sustained at this difficult time – feel free to email me.
There is no return to ‘normal’, bleak but helpful in understading the context we’re in > https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/sep/21/local-lockdowns-begin-no-normal-advice-live-with-covid
Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful > https://elemental.medium.com/your-surge-capacity-is-depleted-it-s-why-you-feel-awful-de285d542f4c
Understanding fight or flight responses > https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response
How the loss of touch affects mood and health > https://time.com/5817453/coronavirus-human-touch/
What is Acedia – that feeling of listlessness, uncertainty and fear? > https://theconversation.com/acedia-the-lost-name-for-the-emotion-were-all-feeling-right-now-144058
What would Seneca say? Six Stoic tips for surviving lockdown > https://theconversation.com/what-would-seneca-say-six-stoic-tips-for-surviving-lockdown-144346
Failure? This podcast from Elizabeth Day with a new interviewee each week, explores what their failures taught them about how to succeed better > https://www.elizabethdayonline.co.uk/podcast
Hygge – the Danish lifestyle trend that’s helping some to cope with the onset of winter > https://www.countryliving.com/life/a41187/what-is-hygge-things-to-know-about-the-danish-lifestyle-trend/
Inroducing ‘Self Care’ from psychologytoday.com > https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/click-here-happiness/201812/self-care-12-ways-take-better-care-yourself
MIND – Simple Self Care Tips > https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/mental-health-problems-introduction/self-care/
45 excellent and extensive self care tips from Good Housekeeping > https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/wellness/g25643343/self-care-ideas/?slide=1