The “Ronacoaster” has affected us all. Sure, pre-COVID life had its ups and downs too, but you’d have to be a robot to escape the lows of lockdown. You know, those days where it feels like there’s no new fun to be had, you’re sick of the sight of your house, zoom calls aren’t cutting it and all you can think about is when you will ever get to visit the friends and family who you haven’t seen in months or go on a proper holiday.
Studies on the psychological impacts of quarantines and lockdowns have shown that people are very likely to develop a wide range of symptoms of psychological stress and disorder, including low mood, insomnia, stress, anxiety, anger, irritability, emotional exhaustion, depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms. ln particular, low mood and irritability have stood out as being very common.
It’s easy to feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, and whatever you’re feeling, you’re not alone. Let’s not dwell on the negative news any longer though, because there are ways we can improve our mood and strategies we can use to avoid getting stuck when we feel like we’re in a slump.
In this two-part series, we’ll help you name that “blah” feeling and give you the best quick and easy tips for shaking a bad mood, avoiding languishing, and fighting negative feelings.
Languishing in lockdown
In case you missed it, thought leader and author Adam Grant wrote a must-read piece in the New York Times called There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.
This article is a game-changer, because it may just help you name what you’ve been feeling for months, and once we can put a name to something, we can begin to understand it and process it.
He writes “At first, I didn’t recognize the symptoms that we all had in common. Friends mentioned that they were having trouble concentrating. Colleagues reported that even with vaccines on the horizon, they weren’t excited about 2021.
It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.”
Now that you can label the way you’ve been feeling, let’s look at how to begin feeling better.
How to lift your mood during lockdown
Don’t fixate on what you can’t control
You may have heard what’s known as “The Serenity Prayer” before. It reads “…grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” These words have been leaned on to help alcoholics, cancer survivors, people who experienced a tragic loss- and they can help you too.
It’s difficult to accept that our lives may be worse than the ones we were living pre-pandemic and that we don’t know when this current state of things will end, but it’s also key to beating bad moods and worse outcomes like depression. Pain is an inevitable part of life, worrying about what you cannot change doesn’t need to be.
Being present and simply observing the state of things rather than trying to problem-solve is one way to find acceptance. Letting go of the past and setting new goals can also help. For more on learning to accept the things you cannot change we suggest the following further reading:
Help someone else
It’s been proven time and time again that one of the best ways to boost your mood is actually to help someone else. By helping someone else, we actually help ourselves in many ways.
In the article Five Reasons Why Being Kind Makes You Feel Good According to Science, Jo Cutler explains that “deciding to be generous or cooperating with others activates an area of the brain called the striatum.” This is the area of the brain that “responds to things we find rewarding, such as nice food and even addictive drugs. The feel-good emotion from helping has been termed “warm glow” and the activity we see in the striatum is the likely biological basis of that feeling.”
In a nutshell, these are the five key ways we benefit from being kind to others:
- When we make people smile, we can’t help but smile in return and this acts as an instant mood lifter.
- If we improve the mood of someone who has been feeling down, we experience relief that we have had a hand in making them feel better. This relief lightens our own mood too.
- Any act of kindness we show strengthens the self-belief that we are a kind person, in turn creating positive feelings about our own identity,
- Good deeds help us forge stronger friendships and make new connections within our community.
- Your kind deed encourages more kind deeds. Likely these will come back around to you and these good karma acts provide yet another mood booster.
Often, helping someone who seems to be in a worse position than us can also provide an important perspective on our own problems, which helps minimise their negative impact and forces our mood to lift too.
So the next time you feel like you’re in a slump, try to look outside yourself and see who around you could use a little lift. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling better too.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out our recent article on how to pay it forward.
Put optimism on hold
It may sound surprising that we would discourage optimism during difficult times, but this idea comes directly from Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the Penn Positive Psychology Centre. Recently, he appeared on the Speaking of Psychology podcast describing the two different types of positive psychology and when they are useful. He explained that there is a “difference between smiling, [being] merry, cheerful, being happy, [which is] called positive affective, and optimistic forward-looking [positivity], which is not a feeling, it’s a cognition about the future. It’s about hope.”
What Dr Seligman’s work has found is that in the midst of a pandemic science supports having as much fun as you possibly can, day-to-day. Optimism will have its place again “after the pandemic and as it ends, [when] it’s hope and optimism that are going to predict recovery, leadership and our future.”
Dr Seligman is not encouraging pessimism either, though, and suggests that if you’re worrying about something you might like to imagine the best-case and worst-case scenario, and then approximate the most realistic outcome, which will likely lie between the two.
Click here to read about the scientific experiments behind Dr Seligman’s findings and to dive even deeper into the psychology listen to How to have a good day during a global pandemic.
We sincerely hope that you’re all coping as best you can during this enduring lockdown and that some of these tips will help make it a little easier on you. Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll offer more practical ways you can instil fun and joy into uninspired days.
Don’t forget you can reach out to the Mums of the Shire Community for a good old ear bend whenever you like but if your mental health is suffering and you need professional support or someone to talk to please call: