If you’re feeling apathetic, stagnant, and joyless, you’re not alone. A sense of lethargy is one of the key emotions of 2021 as we navigate life in an ongoing pandemic as well as process other terrifying world events.
But although many people are struggling and these struggles should not be ignored, the pandemic has also provided opportunities to flourish – working well and feeling good, along with a sense that life is meaningful and worthwhile. , despite the challenging circumstances.
Flourishing operates at the top end of the mental health continuum, with lethargy at the bottom end.
A separate but related continuum deals with the experience of symptoms (ranging from zero to severe) of mental illness. Key to this thinking is that mental health (sluggish versus flourishing) and mental illness are independent of each other, and it is possible for mental illness to coexist with and vice versa.
The recently published Statistics NZ Data provides an overview of the well-being of New Zealanders during the pandemic and concludes:
New Zealanders remain resilient, with most people happy, healthy and satisfied with their lives despite challenges [of the pandemic].
For Māori in New Zealand, who generally experience disproportionate rates of poor mental health compared to other groups, recent research highlights that positive outcomes following the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown were almost unfavorable.
So, here are three strategies we can use to accept lethargy but still move on to more experiences of climax.
1. Hold ‘and’
Holding “and” is a psychological practice commonly used in many therapies, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). In its simplest form, DBT encourages a balance between opposites.
Often, when we are facing difficult experiences, we get into the habit of thinking “all or nothing” or “black and white” and we find it difficult to see gray. The lockdown and the delta version are good examples of challenges where we can find it difficult to see a balance between both extremes, between thinking that “things will never be back to normal” or “all is well”.
Read more: Lethargy, irritation and stigma are among all possible psychological effects of Delta living in the community
Holding onto the “and” in this scenario can seem like accepting that our normal is being disrupted right now, and knowing that we have the tools to make it up in one piece. This style will allow and encourage you to feel hopeless and grateful, resentful of moments of calm, and cautiously optimistic while feeling scared.
2. Practice Active Acceptance
When we have some ability to influence or control a situation, proactive coping or problem-solving strategies are usually best. But this way of taking charge is much less effective when we are managing circumstances beyond our control in the current pandemic-like situations.
Research shows that a coping style called “acceptance coping” results in significantly less distress during such times.
Importantly, acceptance is not a passive process. It is not giving up. Rather, it is reminding itself that “this is how things are right now”. Psychologists call this supportive, active acceptance the opposite of resigned acceptance.
The key step to acceptance is to notice and accept the thoughts and feelings about a situation and then focus on what is important to deal with the challenge. For example, you may feel depressed, allow yourself to experience that feeling (acceptance) and then focus on something important to the day, for example checking in with coworkers. To dial in a team meeting.
3. Connect with Others
The third strategy that helps us thrive is to connect with others. In our world of physical distancing, the good news is that with connection, it’s quality over quantity. The benefits of being with others come largely from the emotional connection you form with another person.
Significant research has shown that consistently experiencing positive emotions (hope, happiness, and accomplishment) helps people stay resilient and thrive, even in times of crisis. Recent studies show the positive feelings co-experienced — the good feelings you get when you actually connect with someone — can be even more important than the positive feelings you experience alone.
Read more: 4 ways to meet the need to socialize during the COVID-19 pandemic
In even more compelling evidence, recent research examining more than a hundred risk factors for mental illness found that social connection was the strongest protective factor against depression. One of the best strategies is to find ways to feel connected with the people in your bubble, as well as stay connected with others online.
These key strategies of balance, acceptance, and connectedness help us move from lethargy to flourishing. Focusing on practicing these skills can serve as a psychological vaccine in this pandemic time.
Gaynor Parkin and Dr. Amanda Wallis of Umbrella Wellbeing both contributed to this article.