OPINION: Think small, nice things and that’ll get you through the autumn blues
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Columnist Christine Webber says think small, simple and positive
OK, we knew that a second wave of Covid-19 was likely and yet many of us didn’t want to believe it. Whatever we chose to think though, it’s well and truly here. On top of that, summer disappeared overnight, and we’ve been having the sort of unsettled, dark and dismal weather which causes our mood to plummet at the best of times, which these certainly are not.
Small wonder that many people fear they’re going to become seriously miserable and won’t be able to cope.
So, let me offer a few suggestions which I hope will help.
I’d like to start with a very useful statistic. Did you know that on average only 8% of what we worry about turns out to be a real problem? In other words, over 90% of stuff that troubles us, either goes away or turns out not be disastrous after all. I know these are unprecedented and alarming days, but even if that percentage rises a bit, we’re still going to find that the majority of our anxieties are unfounded.
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Next, I want to draw your attention to thoughts that begin with the words: “What if…”
These are invariably unhelpful to good mental health.
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Here are a few I’ve heard over the past few days:
What if I have to spend Christmas Day alone?
What if I never get another job?
What if the pandemic prevents me having a new relationship? I’m desperate to have a baby before I’m too old
What if I never, ever see Italy again…?
You might find you’re even dreaming your “what ifs”, and that they then spill over into your waking day and poison it. They’re like weeds, multiplying while you’re not looking, and gradually filling every available space in your mind.
However, the fact is that none of us has a crystal ball. So, it is pretty pointless to disturb ourselves about the negative possibilities fate may have in store. But how can we stop it?
The trick is to direct your thoughts onto the very next nice thing that’s going to happen – a phone call to a friend, the first cup of coffee of the day, some blueberries scattered over your cereal, a walk in the park… Small treats will get us through this; treats that we can anticipate with pleasure and focus on with enjoyment. If we can train our brains in this very specific, grounding, mindful way, we’ll decrease our agitation and feel calmer and more able to deal with the circumstances we’re in.
Let’s look at another current difficulty. Do you worry that because of the coronavirus life is passing you by? That you’re in limbo? That you’re wasting your best years? Well, join the club. Vast numbers of people are feeling exactly the same. We may know that we’re being irrational and that our parents and grandparents had much worse to cope with, or that refugees the world over have no control over their lives for far longer than a few months. But knowing these facts doesn’t stop the sense of catastrophe.
And this isn’t just happening to those of us who are less busy than usual. Plenty of individuals who are busier than ever are also swamped with a feeling of hopelessness because the events which normally bring balance into their days and make life truly worth living – such as supper with friends, going to the theatre, watching sport, trips away with their family – have disappeared.
I believe the best way to alleviate this sense of despair is to decide how, despite everything, we can make this bit of our life count. In other words, we need to prioritise some activity that will bring real purpose and satisfaction into our situation.
Peter Skellern and Richard Stilgoe used to sing a song called “We done a project on it!” I can’t remember how it went but projects are definitely needed now.
A friend who has a hectic life but who would normally relax by enjoying live music and lots of socialising, has bought a piano and is playing it daily. He loves it. I can think of few more joyous projects than that!
And an electrician I know who has a bad back after years of crawling around and working in confined spaces, has signed up for one to one yoga on Zoom. If he can develop a good habit that will lesson or eradicate his pain, he will feel he’s transformed the awfulness of this autumn into a positive, lasting legacy.
As for me, I’ve bought my Christmas cards early, which is a first. And I’m going to take my time doing them, instead of dashing them off at the last minute. Most importantly, I plan to enclose proper letters to show my friends and family how much they mean to me.
One of the few positives of Covid-19 has been that it’s taught us which individuals in our lives are truly special. Indeed, people who matter to us have never mattered more.
We’re on a journey, as they love to say on reality TV. So, think of the next few months as being like Strictly – without the sparkle. And go for it!