After months of stress and frustration, many are searching yet again for a reset—let’s call it the fourth wind. Looking yet again for an energy boost as the pandemic wears on? You’re not alone.
For many, a deep sense of weariness is setting in, caused by months of pent-up stress and the dread that winter and rising cases of COVID-19 will bring more disruption. Frustration and anxiety come from many sources, including economic hardship, conflicting attitudes toward social distancing and mask-wearing, difficulty balancing work and online schooling, breaks in rituals and traditions, and uncertainty over when a sense of normalcy will return. All contribute to mounting fatigue that makes recovery particularly difficult.
“You can’t count on surging all the time, you’re going to be depleted,” says Ann Masten, a psychologist and regents professor of child development at the University of Minnesota who studies resilience. “Surge capacity” refers to the mental and physical resources that humans draw on to survive acutely stressful situations, like natural disasters, Dr. Masten says. This surge capacity works well in short-term emergencies, but to manage the drawn-out, indefinite span of a pandemic, renewing these protective systems is critical for well-being. “We all have to be aware of how depleted we are and what the signs of depletion are—it may be tiredness, trouble sleeping or a low mood—and then you need to focus on whatever you need to do to replenish.” she says.
Now months into managing so many stressors, new approaches are needed for taking care of ourselves. Here is advice from people who specialize in resilience on the best way to find your second (or fourth) wind:
First, recognize it’s OK to not be OK
Even though we are all months into our pandemic lifestyles, it can still feel suddenly difficult. Missing a long stretch of rituals like birthdays, vacations, concerts, school events, prayer services and sporting events has a cumulative, tiring effect, Dr. Masten says. “People have underestimated how draining this is, but it’s starting to sink in and that’s part of the weariness,” she says, noting that in addition to the pandemic, many Americans have been dealing with wildfires, hurricanes and droughts. “Why are we expecting everybody to be managing everything so well? This is an unprecedented, complicated disaster.”
Needs may be evolving, too. At the beginning of the pandemic, meditation app Calm rolled out additional resources to handle stress and manage panic and anxiety, says Tamara Levitt, the company’s head of mindfulness. Months later, the app is expanding its selection of meditations and other resources that emphasize support. “Now we’re focusing on how to develop resilience and how to soothe ourselves as we move through uncertainty,” she says.
Create a challenge
To break out of a slump, Cami Ostman, a marriage and family therapist based in Seattle, challenged herself to run 10 miles every day for 10 days. For accountability, she posted her plan on her social-media accounts and shared updates of her progress. “It got me out of my house for two hours a day, 10 days in a row, and it completely reset me,” says Ms. Ostman, an avid runner and author of “Second Wind: One Woman’s Midlife Quest to Run Seven Marathons on Seven Continents.”
The project was so uplifting that she asked her clients to craft their own 10-day challenges. One client cooked a new recipe every day for 10 days, another wrote 1,000 words each day. “It’s not to start something that you ‘should’ be doing, it’s taking something that you love to do and pushing it just a little bit,” Ms. Ostman says.
Running 100 miles over the course of ten days gave Ms. Ostman a needed sense of accomplishment. She also got a significant boost from simply spending time outdoors on trails around other people, interaction that she realized she missed after spending so much time alone at home. The 10-day structure of the challenge also offered a daily dose of control, which is helpful amid so much uncertainty, she says. “We don’t know where the finish line of this pandemic is, which is why we have to create some finish lines for ourselves.”
Think two years ahead
To feel better right now, Rob Clark, an author and consultant who specializes in resiliency, suggests imagining your life in two years. “If you’re looking to refill that reservoir, don’t focus on now,” he says. “This pandemic isn’t a lifelong pandemic, it’s a moment in time.”
Instead, imagine yourself in the future, after the pandemic is over. “What will you be doing?” Mr. Clark says. “What have you taken for granted that you will be so excited to get back to? Focus on that—it’s the littlest things and it brings you hope.”
For Mr. Clark, sitting at a bar with a Guinness and listening to live music is his two-years-from-now vision. “Before, that was just a Saturday night,” he says. “Now, it would be so treasured.”
Ms. Levitt of Calm suggests a multi-part strategy to confront a dread of the upcoming winter months further limiting activities. She plans to buy “really good” winter boots. “Being outside in nature has so many nurturing, redeeming qualities, and I don’t want anything to impede me from going out and being in sunlight,” she says.
The next part of Ms. Levitt’s strategy involves making a self-care plan in advance of feeling isolated. She advises writing a list of simple actions to help feel better right away, like going for a walk, calling a best friend, or turning on Netflix, she says. “We need to plan for the moment where we’re facing difficulty,” Ms. Levitt says. “In those moments, when we’re already caught up in panic or anxiety, we’re not going to have the mental resources and strength to navigate that.”
The third step of Ms. Levitt’s winter self-care plan involves reviving hobbies that she loves but doesn’t usually have time for, including personal writing and composing music. “I’m going to be indoors mostly by myself until April,” says Ms. Levitt, who lives alone. “If at the end of that time I could come out of that feeling like I’ve become more skilled in guitar, written some music and gotten ahead on my book, it makes it so much easier to contemplate moving through that time, like there’s something at the end of it.”
Don’t diss Zoom
Even though the initial novelty of virtual happy hours has worn off, the benefits of regularly interacting with other people offers an energizing boost and far outweighs the annoyance of speaking to a screen, says Mr. Clark. “Zoom has become a four-letter word—we say ‘I want to get my life back, enough with this virtual stuff’,” he says. “But it’s never been truer that you get through things together and build resilience together—you can’t do it alone.”
Dr. Masten urges more interaction with friends, family and colleagues as the crisis wears on, both when we need a lift and when we suspect someone else might need a boost. “Human beings are recharged by positive connections with other people and I think we have to learn more about how to reach out when we need a lift,” she says. “Because we surge and get depleted at different times, you might feel better when other people in your family, friends or colleagues feel worse, and you can help each other.”
Ellen Byron , The Wall Street Journal