The Year of “Nothing to Look Forward To.” Or Is It?
One significant fallout of COVID has been that the sense of positive anticipation and joyous expectation has been largely wiped from people’s lives.
Where prior, people would head to their place of employment for work hours and then would excitedly anticipate their evenings, their weekends, or whenever their days off were, this boundary line has been wiped away. Now, many of us do everything from home, so there is not that distinct line between heading to work and being at home.
For those who do still go to work, no more is there socializing with colleagues, laughing by the water cooler, taking a break together during the day for tea, eating lunch with a group of colleagues. Instead, people keep their distance. They have masks on, so no smiles can be seen. They regard each other wearily. They are too afraid to go for a walk outside or to get a coffee/tea and take a walk. Fear has become the close comrade of many.
Birthdays, weddings, and holiday celebrations, for most people, have been put on hold, significantly diminished, even wiped away entirely.
No one can travel. Vacations are on hold indefinitely. No adventuring is really possible. Which, with this loss, also goes the thrilling sense of anticipation that leads up to any given vacation, as well as, the enriching, joy-inducing memories we build on the actual trip, which we then revel in for months and years afterward.
College. People have to do it all from their computer screens now. Socializing is not nearly as possible. If there is class in-person, everyone sits far apart during lectures. Parties have ceased. The on-campus gym is closed. Clubs and get-togethers are on hold (or, if they happen via Zoom, while this can work, it is not nearly the same).
Social lives among friends are impoverished. People don’t really see their friends and loved ones nearly as much anymore, if at all. Most socializing is now done via phones and Zoom screens, which is ok and which will suffice for now, but it does not fulfill the same parts of our spirits that spending time with someone in the flesh does.
No one can enjoy many (if any) of the leisure activities from their lives pre-COVID, such as attending workout classes, going to church and sitting in the sanctuary with a group of people, eating meals out in restaurants (well, people can do this, but not safely. It’s been deemed one of the highest risk activities for COVID that there is right now). We cannot head out with a group of friends for drinks or attend holiday parties. All of this, for most of us (at least those following guidelines to try and cease the spread of COVID) have been put on hold.
We are not staying in hotels, and getting to enjoy the hot tub with our romantic partner, or going out dancing with a group of friends or our lover.
Dating, for many, has become an activity fraught with peril and fear, as well as, lacking potential, romance, or electric charge, given that the main possibility right now is over a screen.
Towns, cities, workplaces, are ghost towns at the moment.
And none of us knows: when will this end?
People are exhausted. We have COVID fatigue, pandemic burnout. It’s been almost a year, and with no end in sight. All of us are tired. So sick of living lives that are isolated, socially diminished, with nothing to look forward to, and that is boring, with endless stretches of anxiety, loneliness, and lacking.
On the one hand, many of us know that the only way out of this is to buckle down and actually follow the COVID guidelines for several weeks. If everyone does this (along with getting vaccines when able), COVID will almost certainly start to decline. (Other countries have proven it with their responses to COVID).
And yet, this is then coupled with a significant part of our country who refuse to comply with COVID regulations, who make wearing masks (or not) political and claim that somehow, protecting their health and the health of others “harms their rights.” Plus, a lot of people are still going out to bars and restaurants regularly. All of this only makes COVID worse and prolongs it.
Now, to offer some glimpses of light and hope.
There are vaccines on the near horizon. More than one of them actually. So there is a light at the end of this tunnel. Distributing the vaccines will not be easy. It will take time. It will be not without obstacles and stress. Yet, once we have the vaccine and many of us have taken it, there will be a greater ability to then enjoy one's life again, with more freedom and vibrancy than we can now.
COVID will not last forever. If you do some research on pandemics, they last for several months, or even a year or two, and then they eventually dwindle, and life does go back to normal.
So even though this feels never-ending (because we cannot know the “end date” of all this), that is not the reality. This will decrease at some point and eventually no longer be the central aspect dominating all of our lives.
Until then, though, how can we deal with this depressing, seemingly endless stretch of boredom, of nothing to look forward to, of worry, and of isolation?
Here are a few ways:
- Actually socialize, though in a way that has been deemed pretty low-risk by science. And what is that? Outside. I know it’s cold. I know it’s getting miserable in terms of temperature. If you want to have that nourishing, soul-filling, in-person connection with close friends and loved ones though (screens are an ok substitute for this, but screens do not provide the same emotional fulfillment that seeing someone in the flesh does), suck it up, put on several layers, wear mittens, gloves, boots, and a coat, and head outside for an hour or two for a walk with your loved one. It will be worth it to see their face(s), their actual face, and to have that connection in person once in a while.
- Find and plan things you can do and look forward to right now. Sign up for an online class that interests you. Put together some silly, creative, novel date nights with your partner every week. Book a stay in a remote Airbnb or hotel and get out of the house. Trust me, it feels good to have a change of scenery, even if it isn’t the trip you might have wanted. Sign up for a subscription box that comes in the mail. This can light up your day and offer some mild anticipation, looking forward to this coming. And, get excited about spring and summer. They are roughly five or six months from now. That isn’t a short amount of time, but it’s not the longest either. Put that on your calendar. At that point, you can go out to eat somewhere outdoors again, or will be more easily able to see loved ones outside. There are things to look forward to, even if it doesn’t feel that way. You have to put in some effort into finding them.
- Connect with your loved ones every week, by Zoom, phone, or better yet, a walk outside in person. Have a close friend or two whom you reach out and connect with regularly. Make a point to make that phone call, even if you don’t feel in the mood. You are likely to be glad you did afterward. Social connections (positive, healthy ones) lift our spirits, help us to not feel alone, and keep us emotionally healthier.
- Dream about the next awesome travel adventure you will take. And yes, the keyword there is “will.” Again, COVID will diminish at some point so that we can travel again and resume the lives we used to live. So yes, you will adventure again. Where do you want to go? Dream about it, and dream big. Write some ideas down. Do some research. Make plans.
- Use this time to re-evaluate your life. Need to par down and clean your apartment? Do so. You will feel productive and lighter for having done it. Not happy with certain aspects of your career or work? Use this time to reflect deeply on those, and then make changes accordingly. Want to invest more in your health? Do a workout video every day from YouTube and, with all this time at home, put in the effort to learn how to make healthier meals. Take action bravely and intentionally towards creating the life you want right now, even if only a few steps are possible at the moment, within the current restrictions of COVID. Doing this may help to buoy your spirit and it will create positive change in your life.
- It sounds silly, but exercise. Doing 20–30 minutes every day or cardio or weights will make a difference. It will lift your spirit. It will keep your body healthy and your immune system stronger, which is crucial so that if you do come into contact with COVID, you will be more likely/better able to ward it off. Don’t let this slide. You likely will not feel like doing it, but force yourself to do so. It’s an important one.
- Read a lot. Reading offers a great escape. It’s a solid distraction. And can gift you with entertainment and wonder. The key, though, is choosing the right book. Not hooked? Skip it and pick another one. The point of reading is both, to educate, and to delight. If you are not into it? Put the book aside and move on. Life is too short to waste hours reading books you hate. Plus, if you don’t like it, you aren’t as likely to retain the information, since you are not interested or delighting in it. There are so many millions of incredible books out there. Only read the ones that give you something.
- Get away, within the limited confines you can. Book an Airbnb for a night (or, better yet, a few nights). Do it somewhere you can drive to. Again, the change of scenery really will be nice. You might be surprised to find it feels good. That it lifts your spirits and gives you something worthwhile.
And lastly, again, know that this will end. This is not going to be your life, our lives, forever. There will be a point, and not too far away when you will be able to travel again. You will be able to resume many of the activities from life prior, like seeing friends more easily, going out to eat, feeling safer in your workspace, attending church, or heading to a bookstore just to browse. People will go back to school again in the classroom. These things will happen once more.
Right now, it feels so incredibly disheartening and hard because we don’t have a definitive answer as to when.
Know, though, that this too shall pass.
It’s horrible right now. It won’t always be, though.
I too have COVID fatigue and major disheartenment. I buoy myself, though, with finding the aspects of joy that are present in my life. Focusing on the things I have to be grateful for. Engaging in activities that offer me fulfillment or happiness.
Exercising almost every day, partially to stay fit, but even more so, for the boost that it offers my mood. Reading a lot. Connecting with friends as much as I can. Finding projects to work on that feel meaningful and interesting to me. Taking a psychology class and a writing class. To name a few things.
Sometimes I feel depressed, anxious, and incredibly down about the current state of our country and situation. And other times, I am able to remember that this is right now, and right now is not forever.
Right now, there is a lot of fear in the world. Anxiety. Sickness. Loss. A sense of things falling apart. There is also beauty in the world and in our lives. Blessings. And the sense that great change can come from this uncertain and terrible time. There are love and connection to be found at this moment if you choose to cultivate it. There can be growth experienced if you choose to seek and lean into it. There can be happiness felt if you make it for yourself.
At the moment, it feels as if there is nothing to look forward to. That isn’t true, though. It only feels that way, because we are stuck in the midst of it and are not able to know the endpoint.
There is an endpoint, though.
And that is something magnificent to look forward to.