It is normal if you don’t feel right. It is normal if you feel angry, frustrated, out of control, teary and anxious. We are in the midst of a global pandemic which has turned our world upside down. We, the generation who haven’t lived through war, are in the middle of a mass trauma event of our own. And while “blitz spirit” and the band playing on as the Titanic sank are romantic notions, it is also normal to go fucking bonkers from time to time.
Let’s break this down a little. Politically, we have never seen such turbulent times. A populist nationalism that claims black is white, to be isolated is patriotic, and that anyone who doesn’t agree is the enemy. We are addicted to social media, sucking up our time with mindless scrolling and a clickbait culture that fuels envy of curated lives, and promotes extremist opinions. And then Covid hit. Daily death tolls, images of anonymous lifeless bodies on their stomachs, our freedoms curtailed and our livelihoods thrown into doubt.
Do not underestimate how traumatic this is for all of us. To face the possibility of your loved ones dying because of an invisible enemy is terrifying. Mass unemployment is terrifying. And quite frankly homeschooling an unwilling child is more than most of us could reasonably take.
So what is the effect of this on us all? I don’t think we’ll know for years to come, but if you look around you can see the beginnings of it bubbling up. Fear has turned into anger – against the system, against facts and science, and against that neighbour at number 32 who definitely had more than 6 people at her garden party.
In an attempt to meet this growing mental health crisis, more money has been pumped into mental health services, and there is a growing online wellbeing industry on social media offering content to help soothe your mind and soul. I’ve certainly benefitted from the latter. I’ve been following a growing army of wellbeing experts and have dipped my toe into their suggested toolkits, including daily journaling, meditation and physical trauma release.
But I worry that sometimes the amount of wellbeing information coming our way can also be overwhelming, and before we’ve fully mastered one solution, we’re bombarded with another.
So I have found, as I always have, that going back to the Happiness Project Rules is really helpful. They are simple, easy to remember, and almost every wellbeing tool that I’ve come across recently fits into its remit. But I would say that it’s a good idea to only introduce one new rule at a time. Work on it, master it, take it slowly, before moving on to the next. And sometimes you will wobble and go back to the start again, and that’s OK. Slow and steady is what it’s all about.
Here they are then – the HPL rules for happiness, adapted for a post-Covid world:
- BE ACTIVE
Everyone agrees on the importance of this. Listen to your body and follow what it wants to do – sometimes it needs a slow walk or a restorative yoga class, sometimes your cortisol wants a run or some ashtanga yoga. Your phone needs to be OFF although the NHS Couch to 5K app is miraculous, and I found it helped to listen to a podcast or book while running. I’m also enjoying the back-to-nature wellbeing movement on social media and their references to animals shaking off trauma, literally. Dancing round the kitchen seems to help.
Thank god the days of the Zoom quiz now appear to be over, and while video calls did allow connection to some extent, it’s not the same as a proper human connection. During the first lockdown I missed most of all the simple banter of a shop transaction or the school gate. Now, I try to have a long phone call with a good friend or with family every couple of weeks, and talk incessantly to the postman.
All this self-help stuff can make you self-centred sometimes and that’s why this rule is here. To make you look outward – to see what other people are going through and try to help. It puts your own worries in perspective and empathy is good for the soul. Lockdown seems to have promoted this in communities – foodbank donations and dropping round groceries to your neighbour for example. There are myriad local Facebook groups offering volunteering and donation options, or just ask your neighbours if you need anything. Even if you’re at your lowest it will make you feel better.
The obvious way to do this – and one that has been much trumpeted during lockdown –is gardening. And I can whole-heartedly confirm having built a veggie patch during lockdown that getting your fingers in the soil and growing something you can eat from seed is wonderfully calming and satisfying. Or another great thing to do is buy a few bird feeders and some bird seed and watch as birds crowd round them for their winter feeds. However, given we’re in a global pandemic and we should take as much pressure off ourselves and achievements right now, how about we nurture ourselves, oxygen mask on first style. Meditation, baths, negronis. Whatever you need right now, nurture yourself.
Are you one of the ones who made your own sourdough bread? If so, hats off to you. I learned how to make a great G&T. Learning doesn’t have to have an achievement at the end or an instagrammable conclusion. On our theme of being kind to ourselves, how about this – learn to listen to your body, learn about your cycle, learn what your body, your energy, your soul really needs. Sometimes it’s as simple as a good cry or a hug.
6. BE CURIOUS
There is a similarity to learning here, but this is different. Being curious is something I think we’ve got better at during lockdown, if only by the number of sunsets posted on my IG feed. With only one allocated walk a day we do seem to appreciate nature more. And that’s it for this rule, its simple. Look up, look around, and be grateful. Sunset pics optional.
UPDATE: I feel slightly phoney writing for The Happiness Project London because in August 2019 we left London for the East Devon/West Dorset border where we are setting up a cookery school, feast venue and glamping site. In January 2021, I am beginning a two year course in psychotherapy and counselling to qualify as a BACP registered counsellor. My plan is to host wellbeing talks and retreats, as well as having my own patients and therapy business in due course. I will update you with the website and social media details when I’m ready. In the meantime I’m so incredibly grateful to the HPL, and everyone who has commented and followed it since 2007 for starting me on this incredible journey which has brought me to this point 13 years later.