Q: With all the restrictions for COVID-19 prevention right now, I feel as if my life is on hold. I know staying home as much as possible, limiting contacts, staying away from crowds and, of course, wearing masks and social distancing is necessary. But I feel lonely and sometimes depressed, sluggish or bored.
A: Unfortunately, these kinds of feelings became the new normal for many of us (even before the pandemic started). Someday—my life will get better. When I have more time, money or trips, my life will be better. Although clearly we will all be much better off when the pandemic is over, it’s always something, so use this as an opportunity to find new ways to enjoy life.
The restrictions the pandemic places on us makes this more difficult, but not impossible.
We are all in different places psychologically, but most people are not thriving in this environment, and more are depressed and anxious than usual. So, you're not alone.
I’ve noticed these symptoms might fluctuate from day to day. Some days I have to work harder to stay afloat. It’s a good idea to make a list of things you enjoy doing (like taking a walk at the beach, gardening, reading or making a new recipe). Include things you’d like to try but haven’t gotten to yet such as signing up for on-line courses, or yoga, or taking daily walks. Looking at your list may remind you how to shift when you are feeling down.
Some of us were excited about finally doing a big project during the coronavirus lockdown.
Congratulations to those of you who successfully did. But don’t feel bad if you never got started. Consider starting smaller. A small change in behavior or direction can create newness and momentum in your life.
Let’s start with a shift in thinking. We are all stuck with this pandemic and the uncertainty associated with it. But the pandemic also creates unique opportunities for living a more passionate life.
Start with experiencing the preciousness of your family and friends—or simply of life itself. Now we all have a heightened awareness of the finiteness of life, and want to live it fully. Yet we are constrained by the virus and can’t do many of the things we used to take for granted.
But we can invent new rituals and activities. We must continually rekindle the passion in our lives, pandemic or otherwise, during good times or bad, and in spite of injuries, health or financial challenges, or aging. Adjustments must always be made.
Behavioral Activation therapy is a form of CBT that treats depression. When you increase your activity, your mood improves, so don’t wait to feel better to do things. Force yourself to just do it now. You can even force laughter. Laughter yoga can be done alone, on Zoom, or join in on YouTube.
Let’s look at some fun and practical ways to get unstuck and invigorate your life.
Taking small, simple actions creates momentum. Just cleaning out a drawer can break the spell of inertia. Some simple examples: I love to dance, and find that dancing for just one minute every morning to my favorite music elevates my mood. I got a disco ball for shaking it at night. In only two minutes per day, I’m in a better mood.
Make small changes in your daily routine.
Think about what makes you happy and write it down now. How about taking a shower with scented soap? If you have a partner who lives with you, cut or color each other’s hair. How about dressing in brightly colored, cheerful clothes that you love? Don’t just wear the same things every day.
Maybe try brewing different kinds of coffee, or have custom mugs made from your favorite photos. Walk your dog on a different route. Go to a Farmer’s market instead of the supermarket, or shop at a different grocery store. I was so thrilled to find McIntosh apples at a boutique market. The small things I took for granted now give me joy. Even finding black masks to match my outfits. Experience gratitude.
Reach out to others. Stay connected with friends.
If you meet, you must maintain six feet of social distancing, masks, use hand sanitizer and keep gathering small. Consider connecting with people on Facetime, Google Duo or Zoom because seeing the other person’’s face makes you feel more connected and combats loneliness better than phone calls.
Virtual communication is an opportunity for being fully connected and to give each other your full attention on the screen. Dress up for these get togethers. Consider planning to meet on-line over a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or even plan a Zoom dinner and dancing.
Talk about possibilities, not just fear and negativity. Help each other. Offer hope and inspire each other. Nostalgia is good for the mood. Share memories, look at photos, and listen to old music. If you want more friends, you can try meetups to share socially distanced activities like hiking.
It’s important to exercise daily. It Improves your mood energy and immunity.
Do activities that are fun. Look to children as personal trainers for play. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Try to get outdoors. You can meet friends for socially distanced walks or outdoor yoga. Play golf or tennis. Try disc golf. Get your body moving, even if you don’t want to, force yourself (not if you are recovering from COVID-19!). Take a run, ride a bike, lift weights, do exercise videos at home, or try something new like belly dancing. It’s fun, a great workout, and you’ll get some laughs while you’re learning. Play like a child.
Learn something new that you are really interested in. It doesn't have to be useful, just enjoyable. I’d like to learn to play percussion and cook vegan food. Maybe more computer skills. You can do something as simple as flying a kite or as high tech as drone photography. Take up a craft, painting or playing a musical instrument. Find people to create a virtual band with you on-line. You can play or sing with bands from all over the world now.
I have a friend who plays music with her husband. Now they take turns performing in their driveways for a few socially distanced neighbors who are also musicians. She pulled out some paint and touched up artwork in her house by painting some of her favorite things into the scene. Try nurturing a plant, herbs for cooking, or growing tomatoes. Plant a garden if you have room. Or bring your own garden to life. Embrace your limitations and focus on the things you really love. Helping others, even by phone, is an important way to give meaning to your life.
Be mindful and present, especially with your partner. Be curious about them, discover them newly. Celebrate life together.
Enjoy your children and your pets. They are emotional (and physical) personal trainers. Walk your dog (or someone else’s). Try walking and doing mindfulness meditation. Notice animals in nature. Notice bird sounds, waves, sunsets.
Meditate to quiet your mind. There are good meditations on Youtube on different topics. Turn off your cell phone for an hour. Develop a spiritual practice if you are so inclined. It may give you peace.
If your hardships are extreme like losing a job or a loved one, allow yourself to “Take a Joy Break” to take care of yourself.
Do something that makes you less stressed. Don’t feel guilty for watching a TV show or playing a video game if that makes you happier. Eat a favorite food. If your depression is severe, you can get therapy appointments and treatment virtually.