How to be Happy When You're Sad
The Pandemic Blues
As we navigate the new normal during the COVID-19 outbreak, feeling isolated, lonely and sad becomes a big part of the equation.
This is a temporary chapter in response to the Coronavirus pandemic for those who are alone or living with others but still feeling lonely and isolated during this trying time. When we go back to our lives — and we will — I’ll adjust the chapter to include a more fulsome understanding of loneliness and strategies for living in a world where we can move about freely.
In some ways, loneliness is like depression. It’s difficult to fully comprehend until you experience it. Though I’ve faced many hardships, I was never lonely until a couple of years ago when I found myself completely on my own. It was devastating — until I came up with a plan.
Here’s where I’m at today. I live alone with no family nearby. Like many of you, I have no one with whom to share a meal or play cards. No one to join me on the couch while binging the latest Netflix show. And no one to hug me when I’m feeling down—what I miss most. I’m extremely grateful that I have a job, so I don’t have to worry about how I’ll pay the rent. But recently, my rent was on the top of my worry list. I know the fear, how thoughts gravitate toward the cash value of sentimental treasures I have left to sell, wondering what other corners I can possibly cut, and making those awkward calls to family and friends for financial help.
You may think I’m feeling terribly lonely, isolated and scared, but I’m not. And that’s not a coincidence. To paraphrase a former presidential candidate “I’ve got strategies for that.”
But first, a concept. As I explained in Chapter 2 - The Big Picture, seeing the glass as half full is a lifestyle. A choice. It’s understanding that your future won’t change based on perception, which is merely fortune telling. You won’t feel any better about a negative outcome if you spent the preceding time worrying away the hours, as opposed to thinking positively. The outcome isn’t impacted by how you spend your time — but you are.
To my mind, there has never been a better time to embrace the glass half full mindset.
On to strategies.
Perhaps the most sage advice I can offer you is to turn off the news. Wait, did I just type that? I am—was—a news junkie, consuming day and night. Not anymore. I have dramatically cut my consumption and I believe I’ll live longer for it. That’s not to say you shouldn’t keep informed. But you can easily get the day’s important highlights by tuning into the nightly PBS Newshour and reading one respected newspaper each day. Then step away from the TV. You may not realize how the news, particularly partisan news, is eating away at you, but I have a sneaking suspicion if you watch less, you will feel better.
Forget Facebook. This one is more subjective. I hardly ever go on Facebook. I stopped about two years ago and I’m glad I did. Back then it made me feel sad to see lots of folks doing fun things with their lovely lives in their beautiful worlds while I was often alone. These days there are people talking about all the Zoom cocktail hours they’re participating in. Not to mention the spaces filled with partisan news I’m trying to avoid.
However, if Facebook helps you feel connected, by all means stick with it and enjoy. Though you might want to try staying away for a few days to see how you fare without it. You may discover it was part of the problem.
Stay connected - Many days, family members or friends call, FaceTime or text. If there is one silver lining to this mess, it’s that my friends and family, who are generally completely consumed with their big worlds, now have more time to speak with me! It’s been wonderful connecting with them on a regular basis.
This is no time for egos and pride. If there’s someone who didn’t reach out to you, please don’t let that keep you from connecting with them because you wish they thought of you first (you know exactly what I’m talking about). I’ve reached out to friends and acquaintances I haven’t heard from and also reached out to people who checked on me once, a week or two after I heard from them. Sure, there are folks who really don’t want to speak with you or don’t want to speak as often as you do. You’ll figure that out fairly quickly, as I have. On the other hand, there are people in your life who, for whatever reason didn’t think to call and will be very happy you made the effort.
Have a daily routine. Each morning I shower, get dressed and make my bed. Then I plan my day - which hours I’ll work, write, exercise, connect with friends and family and work on home projects. (Someone has a freshly organized closet!)
Get outside - alone of course (but you knew that). I take a walk every day. I cannot overemphasize the importance of my walk. Being outdoors boosts the energy and immune system, enhances creativity, provides a daily dose of vitamin D and evokes a sense of community - even if that community is separated by six feet or more.
It’s a scientific fact that exercise releases endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood. Being outside, breathing fresh air and walking is a great way to relieve stress, too. Plus, I don’t feel isolated or trapped, as I sometimes do in my apartment. The government has suggested you wear a mask while outside your home, so you’ll want to consider that.
Release stressful pent-up energy while indoors. I find when I’m feeling anxious or sad while I’m inside, physical movement is one of the best ways to relieve stress. Here are a few ways to get physical without going outside:
Exercise. There are scores of online exercise sites. And it’s not just Jack LaLanne calisthenics. I found an inspiring and fun virtual exercise class that I take a few times a week.
Find a project. Now I’m not chopping wood in my apartment, but this week I’ve been polishing my mother’s old silver salt and pepper shakers, which I’ll shortly display in my kitchen. It takes more effort than you’d think. When I feel a bit of anxiety, I run for the shakers and after 20 minutes or so of polishing I’ve got my equilibrium back.
Cook. It’s a great way to relieve stress, pass the time and enjoy a home-cooked meal. As I type, there’s a meatloaf sizzling in my oven!
Have fun! Virtual games and book clubs are a great source of entertainment and a good way to stay connected and get involved. You can engage with friends or strangers. Obviously participating in anything online should be done with caution. Never give out personal information about you or where you live.
This should give you a good start. If you have any ideas you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear them, shoot me a message on the Contact Page.
I’ll see you in the next chapter. In the meantime, whatever you do, please be safe.