Like millions of people worldwide, I found 2020 to be a difficult year. As well as being plunged into a global pandemic and experiencing all the loss that that brought with it, my family also lost our beautiful mother during the year. While many of us won’t be sorry to see the end of 2020, we are apprehensive about what 2021 will bring. Will it be more of the same or is there real light at the end of the tunnel? With ‘pandemic fatigue’ beginning to set in, I believe we need to find ways to keep going, to get a fresh perspective, to look after our mental health while we remain in uncertain times. I hope these suggestions will help you to do just that, as they have helped me, and if you find them useful please share them so you can help another.
Dodder River, Dublin
During the year I explored areas close to my home that I hadn't previously explored
There is no doubt that for most of us on planet earth, 2020 was a very difficult year. At this time last year none of us could have predicted what lay ahead, and if anyone had they would have been labelled as some sort of crank. But what was unthinkable became reality and we lived through a year like no other in the living memory of most people. Although there is light at the end of the tunnel as we enter this new year, we are not out of the tunnel yet and we still face months of restrictions on our lives, the struggle to cope with this new reality, and, for many, pain and loss. The truth is, none of us knows what lies ahead at any time, so what we need to do is to find ways to cope with our current reality as best we can.
At this stage many of us are experiencing ‘pandemic fatigue’. I only recently realised that this is a recognised condition as its range of ‘symptoms’ are being experienced by so many people. The signs of pandemic fatigue range from feelings of depression, despair and a sense of hopelessness, through to feelings of being ‘fed up’ and lacking in motivation, to becoming careless about advice, bending or flouting the rules or even justifying behaviours to suit our own ends. Many people experience these feelings more often than others, but there are some things we can do to beat pandemic fatigue and get our new year off to a good start. If we go into the new year with the feeling that it will just be more of the same then we are doomed to remain in our negative mindset and our mental health will suffer, so here are some things which I have found useful during the last few months and which I hope will help you cope over the months to come.
1. Accept what is
This is a lot easier said than done and it’s not easy to accept reality when it involves real fear, real restrictions on our freedom and real loss. But the truth is we are powerless over so many things and acceptance of that powerlessness is the only way to begin to see what we can change. Without acceptance we are constantly in fight mode, railing against what is happening, feeling how unfair the situation is. And we need to accept that too. It is unfair that we can’t get to hug, or even see, loved ones. It is unfair that many people are spending so much time cut off from others, it is unfair that we have lost out on so many things we could have done. But unfortunately, much of this really is beyond our control. When I eventually accepted that I wouldn’t see my daughter or 2-year-old granddaughter for a long period of time it spurred me on to do something positive, so we arranged a regular weekly video call. That has given me much needed contact and has also kept me in my granddaughter’s mind as toddlers so quickly forget those who are not nearby.
2. Stay in touch with family and friends
Following from number 1, one of the highlights of the year for me has been the amount of phone, text and video call contact I have had from my family and friends. Indeed, there has been much more contact in some cases than there might have been in normal times. I think this contact is vital and I intend to keep it up in the coming year.
3. Share your feelings
While I recognise that for some people feelings of despair are very real and may need professional intervention, for most of us a good old rant can make a difference to how we feel. If you are feeling angry, express that anger. If you are feeling that life is unfair, express that feeling. On many occasions I have found that sharing my feelings with a friend who is feeling the same way, or who at least identifies with how I am feeling, has helped both of us to pick ourselves up and realise that we have a lot to be grateful for.
4. Practise gratitude
It is often claimed that when we are grateful it is hard to harbour negative feelings. The problem is getting ourselves out of negativity long enough to even recognise what we do have. That’s why I think we need to practise gratitude, why we need to make gratitude a habit. If we take a moment in the morning to focus on what we have in our lives that is positive, or a moment at night to recognise what was positive in our day, we will begin to establish the practice of gratitude into our lives. There are many ideas online which make this practice easier. For some people, writing down what they are grateful for helps to embed the thoughts, and gratitude lists are common in many self-help programmes, but whatever way you choose to do this the important thing is to try to find at least one thing each day for which you are grateful. At the end of the year it’s a good idea to focus on some of the positive events of the year, and never more so than at the end of this year. While my mother's death in June was the most painful event in my life in recent years, I also have a lot of gratitude for the fact that she died peacefully, that all of my family were able to travel to her funeral and that we got to say a proper goodbye, something denied to so many this year.
I heard a radio presenter ask listeners to name their highlight of 2020 and it got me thinking, sure there were highlights, so what were mine? Again, looking for the good things that happened is a way to accentuate the positive in what could easily be dismissed as a totally negative year. A highlight that comes to mind for me was during the brief respite from restrictions in the summer when I got to spend a beach day with my granddaughter, splashing in the sea, building sandcastles, and enjoying a 2-year-old having fun.
5. Get exercise each day
I am a great believer in getting outside every day to walk, take photographs, meet friends, and whenever I can I take my exercise outdoors. But there are occasional days when the weather is just so bad that I am forced to stay indoors so I try to do some form of indoor exercise. I know that I always feel better at the end of the day if I do something physical, whether it’s following an online workout, skipping on the spot or simply going up and down the stairs a few times. It all helps to get rid of that sluggish feeling that comes with sitting around and which is no good for my mental health.
I love to get out and about with my camera and explore what is around me, day and night
6. Keep a routine
Many people have bemoaned the lack of routine that characterised the year just ending. For some, being in the new position of working from home meant that routines like having a few private moments while driving or walking to work, exercising before work, or simply getting out of the house and meeting people were all gone. Many of us had to establish new routines but for many those routines got caught up in uncertainty and constant change. I think it is important that we establish at least one thing that we can keep constant no matter how outside forces intervene in our lives. That will be different for different people. For me, it’s taking a quiet time in the mornings, before I get into the hustle and bustle of the day, to ground myself, do some deep breathing and focus on what I can do to give meaning to the day. I find that if I waken with some anxiety about the day ahead, taking a few moments to focus on and consciously deepen my breathing returns my mind to a state of calm and brings me back to the present moment.
I recently came across this meditation designed to beat pandemic fatigue. You might find it useful, but if not there are lots of meditations online and you’re sure to find one that suits you.
7. Think of someone else
One of the proven ways to help us forget about our own woes is to think of someone else. Reaching out of ourselves to help another gives meaning to our lives, gives us a sense of usefulness. We saw countless examples of this type of selfless behaviour at the beginning of the pandemic. Pandemic fatigue might have lessened our desire to reach out, but it is still important. We can do this in simple ways like calling a friend unexpectedly to say hi, listening to another instead of always complaining, posting a positive image on social media, or simply saying hello to people we meet while out walking. That person might need a little kindness today. Thinking of others doesn’t mean we have to neglect ourselves, it just means spreading the positive. If you think someone in your life would benefit from the suggestions in this post, please share them. Who knows, one small idea could make a world of difference to someone.
“The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” Paulo Coelho
8. Have some leisure time doing something you enjoy
Whatever our circumstances, whether we have children and family commitments, a busy work schedule or whether we spend a lot of time alone, it is important to have something that we enjoy doing and that we find time to do that. It might be walking, going for a run in the morning or evening, sea swimming, reading, listening to music, dancing, painting. Whatever you enjoy doing it’s important to do it, especially during difficult times. I love taking photographs, so I try to find time every day to go out and find something that draws my attention. It might be something very local to my home, and I find that there are lots of photo opportunities all around and no excuses for not going out and doing what I enjoy doing.
Photo opportunities are all around us and doing photography gives us a great chance to get out into nature. No expensive equipment is necessary - a phone camera will get you started!
Some mornings I even manage to capture the sunrise
9. Take it one day at a time
I think we have all realised just how uncertain life can be and how we can’t predict what will happen from one day to the next. It might seem simplistic to suggest that we live one day at a time but one day is all we can live. Yesterday, with all its joys and sorrows, has gone and the future is not guaranteed so if we can concentrate on living fully in this day, we will experience all that life has to offer us.
I hope that you find some of these suggestions useful as we move into a new year. I hope they will give you some practical ideas as to how you can make small changes that can make a big difference to your mindset. No-one will be able to practise all these suggestions all of the time, but if you try just one or two of them, they might make a difference to how you approach each day while we are in the grip of this pandemic. And who knows, they may be the start of some new life-long positive habits.
"For last year's words belong to last year's language. And next year's words await another voice."