A reader sent me this message via Instagram recently:
Could you possibly do a blog about surviving the pandemic mentally? Between winter, being tired of being online, etc. I’m super crabby…despite my blessings…which are many.
Part of it is I think I spend wayyyy too much time on my phone, doom scrolling.
Since I am not remotely qualified to give mental health advice, I told her I felt like I might be overstepping if I tried to address this.
But as we chatted, I realized that I could write about what helps me during tough times like these.
I am not giving you expert advice; I’m just sharing what works (and doesn’t work!) for me.
I don’t think any of this is rocket science, but sometimes, I know it helps to have a friend remind of basic things; things I might already know but may have forgotten about.
So, I’m going to try to be that friend for my Instagram follower.
Things that help me:
1. Acknowledge that this is hard
2020 was a rough year for the world in general (thank you, pandemic!)
Then when you add in the fact that it is winter for those of us in the northern hemisphere and you sprinkle in the personal challenges each of us face…it’s a lot to handle.
To pretend otherwise would be kind of a lie, and I think there’s some mental relief in being able to acknowledge that this is a tough time.
2. Remember that this is hard for everyone
An article I read recently pointed out that it’s safe to assume that most of the people you see are hanging on by a thread right now.
Some people are struggling more than others, but pandemic life is hard for everyone in some way or another.
There are financial struggles, loneliness, stress, family difficulties (from everyone being home), schooling difficulties (from everyone doing school at home!), and that’s not even taking into account the health difficulties from people being sick.
I don’t want other people to be struggling, of course!
But sometimes it does help to remember that I’m not struggling because there’s something wrong with me; I’m struggling because this is hard, and it’s hard for everyone.
3. Help someone else
Ruminating on my own unhappiness almost never helps me to feel better.
What DOES help me is to stop gazing at my own problems and instead look at someone else’s problems with an eye to helping.
How can I bring cheer to the people in my house?
How can I reach out to someone who might be lonely?
How could I encourage someone?
How could I take a load off of someone else?
4. Spend less time on my phone
I am just as tempted as the next person to doom-scroll, consume too much news, get sucked into social media, and so on.
And I know some people might be the exception, but I have read over and over that this type of behavior is statistically likely to make one’s mental state worse.
I also know that my level of self-control is pretty weak compared to the brilliant way that these apps and sites are engineered, so I do not leave this up to chance.
- block most news sites from my phone’s browser
- keep most social media off of my phone
- install Instagram when I want to post, and then uninstall it*
- try to mainly use social media on a computer, where it is less addictive
- try to leave my phone in an inconvenient spot
- keep almost all notifications turned off
*trust me, this is necessary. Every time I leave Instagram on my phone, I end up getting sucked in and spending way too much time on that app. The time it takes to install and uninstall it is a tiny investment that saves me oodles of time overall. I have tried lots of other ways of curbing my Instagram time, and this is the only thing that has worked well. Basically: I CANNOT BE TRUSTED.
5. Remember that hard things do not usually last forever
Winter eventually ends.
Pandemics eventually end.
Some hardships in life are a very long sort of temporary, but even a long temporary IS still temporary.
So. I remind myself that spring is coming, that a vaccine is coming, and that the end of restrictions is coming.
A lot of the current hard things are quite likely to improve in just a few months.
Remembering that these struggles are temporary is what allows me to hope!
6. Celebrate small bits of progress
- The shortest day of the year is in my rearview mirror, so every day is getting a teeny bit longer now.
- People are starting to get vaccinated! And that’s really the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
7. Get as much light as possible
I know that getting outdoor light into my eyeballs helps me feel more cheerful. So, I open all of my curtains/blinds every day, and I try to get outside for a walk every day.
Yes, it’s cold out there, but cold light is still light, and it helps me.
8. Take good care of my body
I feel better when I:
- get to bed in time to get 8 hours of sleep
- move my body in some way, even if it’s just going for a walk
- put nutritious food into my body*
Those three things are serious self-care; I do them because they make me way better equipped to handle what life throws my way.
*this is 100% about making sure I add good nutrition. It is not about outlawing or avoiding foods. I wrote more about this eating philosophy here.
9. Remember what I believe
I’m a Christian, and my beliefs help me when times are tough.
For instance, I can remember that God promises to never leave or forsake me (Hebrews 13:5).
I can remember that God takes care of even the sparrows, so I know he’s taking care of me (Matthew 10:29-31).
I can trust that God will use hard times to shape and grow me.
I can remember that God has good works planned out for me to do (Ephesians 2:10), and that the Bible doesn’t seem to say that that ceases to be true in a pandemic. Pandemic or no, I have work to do!
10. Take it one day at a time
Whenever I have been through hard things in my life, it has been tempting to look into the future, see a long period of suffering waiting for me, and then get really discouraged.
I do so much better if I just focus on today.
For instance, when I was pregnant and I saw months of sickness in front of me, I felt so defeated. It was much better for me to focus on getting through just one day at a time. At night, I used to collapse into bed and think, “Ok. I am one day closer to the end of this!”
I would personally rather live through a pandemic than live through hyperemesis again (pandemic life is less miserable for me!), but still, the same kind of idea can apply.
Each day, I can ask myself, “How can I best live today? How could I bless someone else today? What good could I be grateful for today?”
And each night, I can indeed remind myself that we are now one day closer to the end of the pandemic!
11. Focus on what I can control/influence
I have no true control over anyone except for me.
And the more time/energy I put into fretting about things and people outside of my control, the more miserable I feel.
I can control what I do.
I can control my own attitudes.
I can control how I react to things/situations/people outside of me.
But beyond that, it is a waste of energy to fixate on what other people are doing or on situations outside my control (such as…a pandemic. Or a vaccination schedule. Or a political situation, assuming I already voted.)
All the things in this list are within my locus of control, and when I focus on those things, I feel better!
I feel like this list could be twice as long as it already is, but I’m nearing 1500 words as it is.
So, I’m going to stop here and open up the comments for reader input. Most of us are about 9 months into this pandemic, and we’ve all lived through plenty of winters before, so I know you all will have some good ideas to share.