We’re all tired of this.
Whether you are an essential worker burnt out on the frontlines, a frazzled parent trying to juggle homeschooling the kids and keeping them quiet long enough for yet another zoom meeting, or lying awake at night wondering how you’ll survive after being laid off, the pandemic has taken a toll on the wellbeing of us all.
We are worn out.
We are stressed, fatigued, and frustrated, still living in uncertainty well over a year after Covid 19 first raised its ugly head and began wreaking havoc on the world.
Yes, there is hope in the form of the vaccines, and our governments and healthcare systems are doing their best to get it to us, but distribution is slow. So for now, we must still remain masked, socially distant, separated from our families and loved ones, and in a state of constant vigilance.
This is a marathon, and we are still a long way from the finish line.
Stuck on pause
Over this past year, there has been a growing sense of disconnection from life. It’s as if normal life has ground to a halt and is stuck on pause. Normal service has been suspended, and we are anxiously waiting for it to return.
Planning for the future seems somewhat futile at the moment. We aren’t sure when we’ll be able to get together with friends or family, or plan that much needed vacation. Important holidays and events are on hold, as are career plans, promotions, and new projects at work.
Everything is stuck on pause while we tread water.
And we are becoming exhausted.
This is a marathon, not a sprint
These past few weeks I’ve found myself more and more in conversations about stress and overwhelm. Friends and colleagues that are trying their best to keep going, either dealing with mounting workloads, tense relationships, stressful health issues, and any number of other challenges. Each stressful situation seems to be compounded by the lack of forward motion in the world – our ‘stuckness’ and lack of progress. It’s as if we’ll be waiting forever for some sense of normalcy to return and we can begin to move past our problems.
More than once, I’ve found myself saying ‘This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint.’ We need to focus on just doing what we can, taking deep breaths, and trying not to burn ourselves out by pushing too hard all at once. You can’t do it all, so don’t push yourself so hard you hit the floor and find yourself unable to do anything.
Boosting your wellbeing
While we may not be able to speed up the departure of Covid and our return to normal life, we can take steps to boost our wellbeing, strengthen our resilience, and increase our mental, emotional, and physical strength to see us through to the end of this marathon pandemic and beyond.
Professor Christian van Nieuwerburgh from the University of East London teaches in the Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology program. Positive psychology focuses on the ‘psychology of flourishing’, – what it means to flourish and how to we achieve it.
Based on one of the core frameworks in positive psychology, the PERMA framework by Dr. Martin Seligman, Professor van Nieuwerburgh suggests six ways to boost your wellbeing during the pandemic:
1. Find time for what you enjoy
Research in positive psychology shows that experiencing positive emotion on a regular basis is crucial to your wellbeing. So, you need to have a little fun! Find time for what you enjoy, whether it’s an afternoon of roller blading, baking cookies with the kids, or finding half an hour for a cuppa and a good book.
It is also important to allow yourself to relax and enjoy yourself, not feel guilty about all of the work you are putting off. The key boost to your wellbeing in not the activity itself, but the positive emotions you experience while doing it. It’s no good taking time to do something you usually enjoy but feel guilty and beat yourself up for not being more productive.
Reframe your enjoyable activities as essential to your wellbeing. Taking a couple of hours to have fun and boost your mood will allow you to be much more productive in the long term than dragging yourself down with non-stop work and negative emotions.
2. Get immersed in something
The second suggestion is to find something you can fully engage with and get immersed in. This could be a work project, a volunteering or charitable effort, a hobby or interest, or something at home with the family. Whatever you choose, find something that captures your interest and draws you into a state of flow.
Flow is that wonderful state when we are fully immersed in what we are doing. Time disappears, and we are completely focused on the task in front of us. Flow is a highly creative and productive state, and exists where your skills and the challenge before you are in perfect balance. The task isn’t so hard that it frustrates you, nor is it so easy that it bores you.
Finding those activities you can fully engage in and experience flow is particularly helpful during the pandemic as it allows you to experience that state of movement and progress again. You are able to work toward something and achieve results, which helps break the ‘stuck’ feeling we are currently experiencing right now in the world as a result of the pandemic.
3. Invest in relationships
We all know that relationships are essential to our wellbeing. Having a supportive network of family, friends, and colleagues helps us navigate the challenges of daily life and remind us that we are not alone.
Yet this year, the year of social distancing, zoom meetings, and quarantining ourselves at home, our relationships have looked remarkably different. We are more physically distant than ever, with some of us having not seen family or friends in person for months on end. Yet, weirdly, we are ‘virtually’ closer than ever, with the rise of zoom meetings, video chat, and virtual gathering spaces ushering in a new way to engage, relate, and communicate with others.
Quarantine and isolation have been hard. Find ways to reconnect with loved ones and invest time in your relationships. Teach your grandma how to video chat, or go old school and write letters or send cards.
As well as simply making the effort to stay connected, it’s important to remember we are all stressed and under pressure right now. Show compassion and give people breathing room to vent and release their frustrations if they need to. It’s been a rough 12 months, with so much tension and conflicting ideas, so try where you can to give the benefit of the doubt, not take things personally, and recognize that we are all a bit frazzled right now and may say things we don’t really mean. Be quick to forgive and forget, and focus on building positive relationships for the long term.
4. Remember what is important
So much has been taken away from us all this year. Remember how crazy people got when they thought we were going to run out of toilet roll? How aggressive and angry people were towards shop workers and other essential staff? How wearing a mask has become a heavily politicized and divisional act?
Yes, we all miss going to the movies, eating out in restaurants, or going to concerts. Yes, it has been tough missing out on all of the wonderful events and celebrations we should have experienced together this year. But I ask you – put it in perspective. What is truly important?
If this year has taught us anything it is what is truly important. Family, food and financial security, our health, protecting the ones we love. We’ve all made sacrifices this year, some more than others will ever know. Focus on what is truly important in life, what gives it meaning for you, and let go of worrying and stressing over the little things that don’t matter as much.
5. Celebrate your achievements
The fifth essential element to wellbeing is the need for achievement. Achievement not only boosts our sense of wellbeing, but our sense of self-confidence and competence. It helps reinforce our belief in ourselves that we have the strength, skills, and abilities we need to survive and be successful in life.
During this difficult time, we need a sense of confidence in ourselves to make it through. We need to feel secure that, if we or a loved one was to get sick, we would be able to cope. If we were to lose our job or source of income, we would be able to find another, and that we have the resilience and strength we need to take care of ourselves and our families.
Celebrate the small wins, goals achieved, and progress made. It will not only boost your positive emotions and morale, but help build that sense of resilience, competence, and confidence in yourself that you’ve got what it takes to see this through.
6. Look after your health
Finally, look after your health. It can be really easy to slip into bad habits – not eating right, not exercising, sleeping all day, and other bad habits that are detrimental to your health. There is a direct link between your physical health and your sense of mental and emotional wellbeing, so take time where you can to get outside, get some exercise, and make good, healthy choices.
If you’d like to learn more about the PERMA framework from positive psychology that Professor van Nieuwerburgh drew these tips from, he recommends to read ‘Flourishing: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing’ by Dr. Martin Seligman.
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