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Ways to Feel Better in These Times

Here's what you can do wherever you are, and whatever your circumstances.

Wendy Lustbader
Flowers Through the Window
Source: Wendy Lustbader

We have all been deprived of many sources of calm and renewal — ways we normally make ourselves feel better. Day after day, setbacks occur, plans are disrupted, hopes are dashed. Here’s a compendium of what you can do wherever you are, whatever your circumstances.

Name your sorrows. Make a list of all the losses — what the virus has taken away from you. Don’t edit out what seems too petty. It all counts when trying to grasp the full contours of the void in your chest.

This isn’t wallowing; this is a reckoning. Taking stock like this releases you to do your grieving. Has it been months since you hugged your grandchildren? Are you going to miss a wedding on the other side of the country? What about a graduation ceremony that won’t be the same online? Virtual doesn’t count as life, no matter how ardently we try to act as if it does. Speaking the truth of loss brings a visceral relief.

Recognize which bad moods belong to the past. Your current captivity may be reminding you of old loneliness, long since assuaged but called back to life through your present circumstances. Self-doubt that faded out years ago may be rising back up because you have lost daily access to reminders of your worth that were numerous in your pre-virus life. You may be at the mercy of swings of emotion that you had learned to manage but now can’t contain. It can seem like you are going backward. You’re not. What’s being replayed is a temporary resurgence in these circumstances. You will find your way back to yourself.

Watch the negative thoughts in your head. It’s more vital than ever to put aside the terrible things you are saying to yourself and put your mind on something else. This has to be done decisively, as an absolute refusal to engage in bleak possibilities. Most are worst-case scenarios, full of fear and worry.

Tell yourself, “I don’t know what’s ahead and I don’t have control over it.” Then put your focus on the small and immediate aspects of your life that you can do something about, where you can make a difference right now.

Give yourself a change of scene. There might be a corner of your room, apartment or house that can be re-purposed; a window to which you can grant yourself easier access; a place out in the back by the garbage cans where hardly anyone ever goes but where you can set up a chair and look up through the branches of an old tree.

Sameness is discouraging in and of itself; a changed view can stir a refreshed inner perspective. Open that window and take a breath of fresh air.

Summon yourself to the here and now. Notice a square of sunlight on your wall, birds chirping, the in and out of your breath. Stay there as long as you can, as a listening presence using all of your senses. Take a deep breath and drop your shoulders as you do a long exhale.

This experience is available to you whenever you want to claim it. As little as 10 seconds of this is a good thing. “Here I am, just being alive.” Do this several times a day, challenging yourself to do it more often and to dwell in this receptivity a bit longer each time.

Oppose the urge to retreat from other people. You may feel that you have nothing to say to anyone, that there’s no use talking about the latest statistics and predictions, that the days are too repetitive and have started to run into each other. Pick up your phone and call someone who gets you, someone with whom no explanations are necessary. This person will be glad to hear from you, relieved to hear you ask how these Virus Days are going for them. That’s it. Call, ask, listen, and extend yourself. This will brighten your mood, and theirs.

Find a way to laugh. Seek regular contact with someone in your life with whom you can recount the absurdities taking place all around us. Did you actually see someone walking down the street with a mask over his eyes and nose, his mouth wide open? Did you watch someone in the grocery store luxuriously touch every single apple? What about the person who charged ahead of you as you headed toward the scallions and grabbed the last three remaining bunches? Laugh at how toilet paper is treasured, rolls counted and savored. When possible, really go for it — laugh until you cry, laugh so that you can cry.

Improve the space that you are in. Tidy up the closets, clear off the counters, sweep the floor, wipe up the dust, brush away the cobwebs. Once you really get going, wash the windows and clean the refrigerator. The effect on your outlook will surprise you.

This is the sphere where you have agency now. Outside, the world will do what it’s going to do, but inside you can give yourself the peace that arises from a table newly empty of clutter, a desk that invites you to sit down and take care of things, a window that has been cleared of its haze and sparkles with light.

Put on music, move, and feel. The power of music to call us to life is more necessary than ever. Certain bass beats will spur you to sway in your chair or get up and dance. Some songs will bring you to tears. In small spaces, do laps back and forth to the rhythm, lift your feet, and fling your arms around. Let the music take you someplace else.

Copyright: Wendy Lustbader, 2020