How do you combat pandemic inertia?

Pandemic inertia doesn’t feel like rest of any pleasurable or restorative type

Exercise is on my shortlist of things to do every day to keep my spirits up in this prolonged downtime

Exercise is on my shortlist of things to do every day to keep my spirits up in this prolonged downtime

 

The other day I put on my walking shoes. The sky was blue in spite of gloomy forecasts – time to get out and get cheered up. Instead I sat down for an hour and looked out the window in a state of pandemic inertia. It was not a sterling performance from the point of view of physical fitness. It was also not a sterling performance from the point of view of positivity.

Pandemic inertia doesn’t feel like rest of any pleasurable or restorative type. It’s as though someone has put a very mild sedative in your tea which is enough to stop you from wanting to do things but leaves you the strength to get up and do them if you try – except that you can’t be bothered to try.

The only answer is to get up and get going. In non-pandemic times, like a lot of people, I slip into an energy slump shortly after 2pm for half an hour or so. It’s a normal daily fluctuation. But low energy and low mood often go together. That’s always worth remembering – and it’s especially important to remember in this time of not much happening again and again and again. Because getting yourself going again gets the mood up.

Indeed, a walk can lift the mood for a couple of hours after you finish it, as any amount of research shows – though I should add that if a person is depressed, the “lift” may not last as long.

We often see exercise as a virtuous thing to do in itself (an idea which stems from the “muscular Christianity” of the 19th century) and of course the physical health benefits are remarkable. Perhaps we give it fewer kudos for its role as a very effective mood changer (and what a pity it is that the gyms have to be closed).

Looking out the window with my walking shoes on was getting me nowhere either physically or emotionally.The way to shake off my mood of apathy was to take my own advice – get up and get going.

If you’ve got an unpleasant or anxiety provoking task it’s easier to get it done in the morning and it doesn’t then loom over the rest of the day

Anyway, exercise is on my shortlist of things to do every day to keep my spirits up in this prolonged downtime. It isn’t a profound or inspiring checklist – keep working (when I’m working I’m not wallowing – I like to remind myself), re-watch Schitt’s Creek on Netflix, that sort of thing.

Five minutes’ exercise in the morning (I’m lazy about these things) gives me a lift at the start of the day.

Energy peaks around 11am – that’s a normal pattern too so if you’ve got an unpleasant or anxiety provoking task it’s easier to get it done in the morning and it doesn’t then loom over the rest of the day.

Another positivity trick on the list is to remember that happiness, like all feelings, comes and goes – you have to catch it on the hop and make the most of it until it vanishes again. When it comes, there may not be any logical reason for that to happen but take advantage of it anyway.

When I eventually made myself go for that walk I wandered along by the Liffey towards Heuston Station. I passed a tapas bar I had never seen before and suddenly felt a burst of happiness. That’s how irrational it can be – the thing is, don’t question it, just enjoy it.

My walk in March sunshine ended with trudge across a stormy field at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. I had sat down to write this article on my phone when the sky darkened ominously and the breeze got colder and stronger. The trudge across the field was in a strong wind with hailstones lashing my face thanks very much. When I got home through the front door I’d pushed myself out of earlier, I realised that, despite tempest and hail (let’s throw in pestilence too given the times that are in it) I felt far better in myself.

Evidence, I think, that “get up and get out’”has earned its place on my positivity checklist.

Padraig O’Morain (@PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Daily Calm. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email (pomorain@yahoo.com).

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