As the COVID pandemic stretches from weeks into months and probably longer the “Misery Index” is slowly rising for most of us. Boredom, the lack of direction and fun activities, isolation from friends and family, limited access to support networks (church, PAL groups, etc.), reduced work hours or unemployment are but a few of today’s stressors taking a toll on our mental and relational health. Keeping sane and adjusting to this “new normal” is no easy task and takes incredible resolve (which can be in as short of supply as hand sanitizer. Steering clear of misery traps requires determination and a clear understanding of some basic do’s and don’ts. Below are a few suggestions that you will hopefully find useful:
PURSUE YOUR IDEAL SELF – Abraham Maslow once said, “if you plan on being anything less than who you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” During this time it is very easy to slip into our lazy and comfortable default settings; surfing the web for hours, mindlessly viewing social media, YouTube and TV, drinking too much, eating too much, exercising too little and shopping online until you drop! These actions drag us down and leave us depressed. We feel unhappy with ourselves and our life. So, pick an area in which you want to grow/develop and challenge yourself to be a better you! Pick up a book and read, download a workout video and start exercising, collect some new recipes and expand your cooking skills, sign up for an online class. Paint. Play your guitar. Sort out your hall closet and go through your family photos. Make a commitment to yourself to be more than you are now and use the time to discover a better you. You will be happier.
FOCUS ON THE GOOD, NOT THE BAD – Take the happiest person you know and get them to think about all the people they’ve lost, the things that have changed, the uncertainty of the future, their biggest failures and disappointments, the limit to their current situation, etc. and I guarantee you that in no time they will be completely despondent! What we choose to focus on matters, it matters a lot! The key to living a life of sadness and despair is to settle on a negative interpretation and then ruminate on it as much as possible. Conversely, by settling on the positive, focusing on the good (you may have to dig deep at times to find the buried treasure) and repeatedly expressing gratefulness will result in an entirely different outlook. Again, you will be happier.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL, NOT WHAT YOU CAN’T – Worrying will wear you down under the best of circumstances, but if you really want to be miserable, spend your time worrying about things you can’t control. What if one of us gets sick? What if I lose my job? What if my child starts using again? Currently, there is no shortage of things to worry about, most of them are out of our control. So, look around and decide what you do have direct control of (Hint: the answer does not extend beyond you in most cases) and get busy engaging in productive thoughts and behavior! Make a positive difference in your small parcel of quarantine life.
There are more ways you can steer clear of misery, but I leave these for you to discover at your next PAL group/zoom meeting.
On the journey with you,
Ron Paterik is a practicing psychotherapist in Phoenix, Arizona with over 20 years’ experience. He is a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor and a Whole Life Leadership Mentor at Grand Canyon Counseling.