It’s the first day back at work for many, but instead of feeling refreshed – geared up with New Year’s resolutions in mind – you might feel quite flat. Things still very much feel the same, don’t they?
This New Year, the hangover includes a “hangover” from 2020. We’re in a new year, but still living through a pandemic, stuck in tiered restrictions, unable to see friends. It feels monotonous. Tiresome.
“This isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” says psychotherapist Lucy Fuller. “Routine can be very reassuring and a necessity for those struggling with anxiety, but it’s not the same as having things to look forward to that we enjoy.” Some people struggling with the monotony can end up experiencing a “low level depressive mood” – devoid of positivity, she says.
When we do the same thing every day, a part of us goes to sleep and our level of engagement with the world is reduced, adds psychologist Wendy Shooter.
Shooter says her clients have found their “switching off” to the world has meant they can’t be bothered with very simple and normal acts of change and creativity. This has become especially evident as the year ends, she says – “a lot of people have ‘buckled down’ to survive this period, with a perspective of a ‘better’ future state. It is a bit like clenching your teeth through the year to get thorough a job you hate, with an eye on your wonderful summer holiday.”
But there are things we can do to break out of the cycle of monotony. Much of what happens to us and how we react emotionally depends on expectations, says Sue Roffey, a wellbeing psychologist – if we tell ourselves things are dull and boring because we’re not socialising as we used to, then we’ll be in a state of constant disappointment.
“If, on the other hand, we make a list of books we would like to read, recipes we would like to try, new things we might learn, people who need our support, then we are responding to these difficult challenges as if they were opportunities.”
Try to still make plans during this time, says Fuller, but keep them in the context of the way life is at the moment. Divide your plans and wishes into things you can get going with straight away, and things you can achieve when the pandemic has passed.
“Either way, focus on your wellbeing and how to boost your energy and inner strength, which is a much better way to channel your efforts than on the negativity of life and the things that we can’t change,” she adds.
“Focus on your wellbeing and how to boost your energy and inner strength.”
Roffey suggests doing what she calls the “blessings exercise”: rather than just writing down three things you’re grateful for each day, write down three things that were a bit different to normal. “This will help you notice and pay attention to the small incidences every day,” she says. “I’ve been very aware of the orchids in my bathroom slowly developing new buds and felt it was a gift that they first blossomed on Christmas Day.”
Shooter also advises actively choosing to make a daily, or weekly, change to your routine. “Walk somewhere different, go to a different supermarket, sit in a different spot in your living room, organise your day differently, switch some video calls to old fashioned phone calls, pick up one item in the supermarket you don’t normally buy. If you want to shake it up a bit more, commit to a different exercise regime for January, or a new eating regime.”
She adds: “Go and buy a pot of paint and paint a wall. I am going to paint my bathroom gold and get a gold shower curtain – it will be a very cheap make over and mean my daily experience feels slightly different – for a while. Hopefully this little environmental change will help me stay awake and engaged.”
It’s important to remember the biggest difficulty in this pandemic is not so much monotony, but for those for whom there have been big changes, says Roffey – people in their lives who have died or others who have long Covid or who have lost their livelihood. “We might be thankful we’re not having to deal with that and thinking how we might find ways to help, however small.
“We do have cause for hope in the New Year: there is a vaccine, and the days will get longer and warmer. It will be a slow process but things are getting slowly better.”