Monday, 2 August 2021

How to live a joyful life in scary times

The smoke is hanging thick in the air, giving the world a sepia-tinted appearance like it's one of those old, yellowed photographs from decades ago. The sun is obscured by smoke, transforming it into a red orb in the sky. Everything smells strongly of campfire, a smell I used to love. Will I ever enjoy the smell again without being reminded of this time? I don't know.

There is new smoke rising up in big, puffy clouds behind the hill not far from here, indicating that the strong winds we're having every afternoon have fanned the flames even more. The fires are all around us, hungry beasts that have been unleashed by human carelessness or accidents or lightning, and are now completely out of control. Thousands of people have been evacuated, hundreds have lost everything, and the rest of us is scared. Will we be next?

The frequent hum of helicopters flying above us in the smoky, sepia-coloured sky adds an ominous flair reminiscent of doomsday- or war-movies. It means there's a fire close by, being fought from the air with helicopters. 
All of it makes it feel like a war is on. And it is, in a way: the fire fighters are the soldiers, the fire the enemy, and we are the civilians, helpless and at the mercy of our army. 
 
Growing up in Germany, we studied the history of both world wars extensively. I often wondered what daily life was like for the people during war times - how did they deal with the constant threat to their homes, jobs and lives? How did they manage to go on while being afraid and worried all the time? 
While wars are definitely much worse than our current situation, there's something I have learnt: the best way to keep the panic at bay is to continue living life. 

I'm a worrier by nature, and with something "real" to worry about (all my worries feel real, but this one is indisputable legit), I've been overwhelmed with anxiety several times over the last month. It comes and goes like waves, but the fascinating thing is that when I can manage to keep it at bay, I simply keep living my life like normal: going to work, watching TV, doing my shopping and chores and stuff around the house. None of that stops, because what you want more than anything during times of uncertainty is to keep a sense of normality. While you don't get used to it, you adapt surprisingly quickly. 

What helps me live every day as best as possible under the circumstances is using a bunch of tools that are useful every day, but especially essential during times of adversity:

1. List 3 things you are grateful for.  This is the quickest way to stop the worry-train about the future. You can't completely freak out and be grateful at the same time. Try it, I dare you! I sometimes do it at night, but most often in the morning to set the tone for the day. It's super-quick, but very powerful. 

2. Move your body. I find that I'm much more restless and nervous on days where I haven't moved much. Two weekends ago I was laying all Sunday on my bed in a semi-catatonic state, surfing the internet (we used to say that, remember? when did we stop?) and watching endless hours of mindless TV. I stuffed my face with ice cream and felt a little bit worse with every passing hour. It wasn't the ice cream's fault (she did the best she could to cheer me up), it was me lying around in misery for so long. Everything in excess isn't good for us, and that includes rest. I binged on "resting" (it didn't feel restful) so hard that it had the opposite effect and started to make me feel restless and fed up. 

This weekend I went on my mat and for walks every day, and the endorphins are flowing! Movement=happiness.

3. Stop watching the news. Just like with Covid, I spent the first half of the wildfire season obsessively reading everything about the fires. I couldn't stop watching the footage online, I couldn't stop talking about it, and I thought about it non-stop. The result? My mental health took a brutal nosedive. 
So I made the conscious decision to stop consuming so much about it and started replacing some of my worry with gratitude (best worry-train stopper, remember?). 

4. Escapism. I'm a huge fan of escapism. All readers are. We read to escape reality for a while and immerse ourselves into another world. I've been re-reading all of Liane Moriarty's books (she is one of my absolute favourite authors), and now I moved on to Lisa Jewell, whom I also love. On Netflix I'm devouring the excellent show Younger, which I can't recommend enough!
And then there is the ultimate escapism: puppy videos. Even better when the puppy is your own - yes, we added a new girl to our pack: Mia!


5. Hobbies. I've woefully neglected my hobbies, choosing to wallow and numb instead. Unsurprisingly, that made me feel worse, which in turn made me want to numb my feelings even more, which made me feel worse - you get the idea. Breaking out of that cycle can be tough, but by using the tools I've listed above I did it! Writing this post may have taken 9 days, but I finished it. 
I'm meditating again, yoga helps me breathe, and I'm making some plans about the future - there are a couple of things I want to change, but I need some more time and insight to figure out how exactly to do it. It will come when it is ready. 

I hope you find joy every day, no matter what's going on in your life. You deserve it!


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