This is your brain on post-languishing ennui
I keep thinking about that old D.A.R.E commercial: the guy cracks an egg, the egg sizzles in the pan, and the guy says, “this is your brain on drugs.”
I imagine something similar every time I freak out about what this relentless pandemic has done to my brain. Not to mention my mental state. I’m fried. And I can’t imagine I’m the only one.
Initially, we were restless, because we were told we’d be getting out of lockdown in two weeks. This seemed unfathomably long then, but so naive now. Then we were sad, unmoored, languishing. And after all the variants and waves, we’re left with pandemic fatigue.
While the initial phase promised rest and reflection, so much time has passed that I don’t feel refreshed, I just feel stagnant. This is a common feeling, apparently.
According to the New York Times: “at a certain point, rest creates inertia. Our minds and our bodies are as recovered as they’re going to be. Yet we still feel off. At this point, many can benefit from deploying a psychological concept called behavioral activation.”
Behavioral activation is the notion that you can self-generate the motivation to do things that depression inhibits.
Very Well Mind says: “Behavioral activation is designed to increase your contact with positively rewarding activities. Particularly when you notice yourself feeling anxious or depressed, you should work on an activity. This teaches you that your behavior can affect your mood … Although behavioral activation is a pretty simple coping skill, it can be difficult to do, especially when you're not feeling motivated.”
And the killer of all motivation? These, the longest years of our lives.
The New York Times continues: “The challenge with behavioral activation is mustering enough energy to start acting on the things that matter to you: Make that phone call, schedule that walk with friends, write that email, get off social media and start on the creative project you’ve been procrastinating on. This may sound simple, but when you are languishing, simple does not mean easy.”
For behavioral activation to work, it’s important to choose tasks that matter to you. You’ll never feel inspired to do things you think you should do. Shoulds usually lead to obsessing over not completing the activities weighing on your mind.
If you tell yourself you should clean your room or wash the dishes, but you really want to call a loved one, do the latter first. Because there’s less of a mental barrier with that phone call. Then, once you start, you’ll have the impetus to tackle the other things.
Using the momentum from small bursts of motivation to stack your tasks is a game-changer. Once you start, you’ll find it easier to continue. That’s behavioral activation in action.
One way to trick your mind into wanting to do more chores — because, let’s face it, telling yourself you deserve to avoid the dishes is a slippery slope — is to make those daily obligations more enjoyable. Whether that’s upgrading your gear or brightening your aesthetics, anything that stops your covid-addled brain from sabotaging you is a good investment.
Here are some of the things I use to trick myself into getting motivated:
Working out is a big ask on a normal day, in normal times. When I’m at my worst, it’s the last thing I want to do — even though that’s when I need those exercise endorphins the most. I’ve recently upgraded my workout gear to include these aesthetically pleasing Bala weights. They make working out more of a treat.
Sure, I love my skincare ritual — in theory. Mustering the energy morning and night can be a huge task. So, I ordered this facial roller to wake up and depuff in the mornings. But, here’s the trick, I only let myself use this soothing tool when I’ve finished my full routine. No more skipping steps if I want this reward. And I do want this reward.
Not only are these good for the environment, they’re way more fun. Rather than plastic sponges, these wooden brushes deep-clean my dishes and make the chore less strenuous. Cottagecore, here I come.
This is one splurge I’ve gotten so much satisfaction from. Instead of putting off and putting off my laundry, I actually look forward to adding The Laundress x Le Labo collaboration to my load. I inhale this luxe scent, happy with the knowledge that there are no chemicals that will weaken the fabrics. It’s a win-win.