We’re in a period of collective trauma and global uncertainty, and it’s natural that we are less productive and not our best selves right now. It’s important to acknowledge that suffering – AND look for the meaningful moments that can carry us through.
We know we’re not alone in feeling stressed, exhausted, and anxious as the coronavirus pandemic wears on. The worry, change, and uncertainty are taking a toll on us, and it’s understandable that we’re all struggling in different ways.
The expression, “We’re all weathering the same storm in different boats,” rings true. That can mean our external circumstances – whether we’ve lost loved ones to COVID, are facing financial hardships, or are “just” dealing with our entire world being unexpectedly turned upside down for half a year now.
“Different boats” can also mean different internal circumstances, from our mental and physical health to our coping skills. It’s not helpful to tell ourselves or each other that we don’t have a right to feel upset because someone has it worse. There is enough empathy for all of our difficulties, in all forms. For more on this topic, listen to Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us episode on comparative suffering.
Meh Days & Mini Meltdowns
A recent Forge article called Do You Have ‘Zoom Fatigue’ or Is It Existentially Crushing to Pretend Life Is Normal as the World Burns? by social psychologist Devon Price really struck a nerve for us. It features a series of questions that capture so many of the reasons we’re struggling right now. A few examples:
Do you have “Zoom fatigue,” or is it emotionally and existentially crushing to have to pretend to be chipper during your company’s strategic planning meeting while hundreds of thousands of people are dying and the sky burns? …
Is “time so weird right now,” or have you lost all sense of progression in your life because you no longer have any routine-breaking events or holidays or changes of scenery to look forward to, only the repetitive cycle of the same bland emails to write and the same virus case count graphs to watch and the same harrowing scenes of police brutality to revisit day after day?
Gill felt a resounding YES reading each question, “even though” she knows she’s in a more privileged position than many people. She always feels like she needs to qualify anything she is having a hard time with right now with, “I’m so grateful to have work, etc.” to be allowed to struggle.
What resonated with Melia most was missing something to look forward to. She has been feeling what she thinks of as “existential ennui” or just “meh.” A lot of days feel the same. Gretchen Rubin talks about how reveling in anticipation is part of what amplifies the happiness you feel from an enjoyable event, like a vacation – you look forward to it, you have fun during it, you share the highlights with loved ones, and you reflect back on it. Each of those four parts gives you a happiness boost.
We’ve both been having more mini meltdowns, and a Wall Street Journal article on “pandemic meltdowns” confirms that they are not unusual and can sometimes be helpful:
What most meltdowns have in common is a loss of emotional control—often manifested physically—and a sense of helplessness. They occur when we no longer have the emotional resources to deal with our stress. And they’re typically triggered by something small and unanticipated—a stubbed toe, a spill on our shirt, or (for me recently) a broken backspace key on the laptop.
Yet meltdowns have an upside. They allow us to release tension. And once we do that, we can think more clearly, because we’re no longer spending all our energy trying to hold it together. “A meltdown is the body’s natural mechanism to let go, to cleanse itself of painful emotions,” says Tal Ben-Shahar, a psychologist who specializes in the science of happiness. “It lets us reset.”
Some of the many things we miss:
- Dinner parties and cookouts
- Extended family trips
- Community gatherings
- Milestone celebrations
- Hosting “the more the merrier” parties
- Travel, especially trips back to the U.S.
- Festivals and holidays
- Going to cozy bars and restaurants (indoors!)
6 Ways to Find Connection & Joy in COVID Times
Here are a few ways we’ve managed to find connection and joy in the midst of it all – what’s worked for us, and what we’d like to try.
1. Something to look forward to or somewhere to get away
- Trips to nearby spots – staying in hotels, B&Bs, or rentals with precautions
- Restaurant meals – dining outside during off-peak hours or takeout
- Regular favorite meals to anchor days of the week – like Nacho & Margarita Mondays or Pizza Fridays
- Post one little thing and one big thing in a visible spot (like your wall calendar or kitchen chalkboard) – Melia’s examples: a short guitar break and the Bachelorette premiere
- City walks
2. Ways to care for yourself & find joy and flow
- Morning jogs, walks, or movement of some kind
- Playing music
- Listening to podcasts and audiobooks while doing chores or walking the dog
- Having a go-to comedy series to watch together
- Reading in bed
- Making comfort food
3. Ways to connect with loved ones
- Socially distanced outdoor hangouts with limited numbers
- Happy hour with neighbors
- Walking with a friend
- Variety of indoor activities with the kids – like family LEGO builds and puzzles, laser tag, spa!! (best game ever with kids)
- Museum walks for rainy day/ cold weather hangouts (Gill is getting the Articket BCN, which gives you entrance to six art museums in 12 months)
- Text friends when thinking of them
- Zoom calls with friends and family
- Jackbox Games
- Messenger Kids
- Mindful social media (birthdays, words of support, etc.)
- Letter writing – from Dan, one of our listeners: “long-form letter writing has become a new old thing” to keep in touch with loved ones
4. Ways to celebrate milestones
- Virtual parties – like the ‘90s-themed costume party with trivia via Zoom Melia’s siblings-in-law threw for her 40th birthday or our friend Margaret’s karaoke birthday party
- Trips for birthdays
- Send super cool gifts – like the personalized Cameo from Cheryl Strayed for Melia’s birthday
- Texts and social posts
- Mini milestones and celebrations – like getting a special food or opening a bottle of wine after turning in annoying paperwork or finishing a work project
- Sending “thinking of you” gifts
5. Out-of-the-ordinary ways to connect with your partner, kids, or other people you live with
- Date nights at home – dress up a little (get out of stretchy pants), get a new bottle of wine and take a virtual museum tour or subscription boxes with escape-room style challenges
- Picnics and nature walks
- Melia would like to try camping (maybe in the backyard first!)
- Special at-home dinners, trying new recipes
- Themed movie marathons – like heist movies, Halloween or Christmas favorites, or the Harry Potter series
6. Projects to work on
(Caveat: this is not a “should,” only a “could,” if it helps you find joy or meaning!)
- Clearing the clutter indoors and beautifying spaces because we’re spending so much time there
- Creating outdoor spaces we can hang out in
- Creative projects –Three Good Things, The Evolving 40, Semi-Together – finding gratitude and meaning especially on the roughest days
- Food and drink projects
- Acknowledge that this time is hard for all of us — it’s not helpful to compare how much you’re suffering compared to other people. Let yourself feel it all and melt down when needed.
- Intentionally find connection and joy in ways that make each day different. It’s helped us to plan:
- Something to look forward to or somewhere to get away
- Ways to care for yourself & find joy and flow
- Ways to connect with loved ones
- Ways to celebrate milestones
- Out-of-the-ordinary ways to connect with your partner, kids, or other people you live with
- Projects to work on
Get It Together / Got It Together
We each share something that we’d like to work on and something that’s going well for us right now.
Melia Get It Together: Slipping pretty easily into a despairing state
Melia’s Got It Together: Recycled a bunch of magazines
Gill’s Get It Together: Mini meltdowns last week
Gill’s Got It Together: Relaxing hard over the weekend
Get In Touch
What are you missing most during COVID? How have you been able to create connection and meaning, and what other ideas do you want to try? Email us at podcast[at]semitogether.com or send us a voice memo.
- Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us episode on comparative suffering
- Forge: Do You Have ‘Zoom Fatigue’ or Is It Existentially Crushing to Pretend Life Is Normal as the World Burns? by Devon Price
- Gretchen Rubin: Get More Bang for Your Happiness Buck: Revel in Anticipation
- Wall Street Journal: The Art of the Pandemic Meltdown by Elizabeth Bernstein (possible paywall)
- Jackbox Games
- Hunt a Killer mystery box game
- The Evolving 40
- The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science by J. Kenji López-Alt
- Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat
- Nothing Like I Imagined by Mindy Kaling