16th May 2020, another early saturday morning, and I am occupying the same position on the sofa, listening to the same radio station, different song. The news is the same, the same as it has been for the past 2 months. The pandemic has completely consumed our lives, everything we do is influenced by our response to COVID-19. I have been writing about my experiences of this virus for 8 weeks. We have all suffered from the effects of it, whether that is physically, psychologically or both. I have now decided to restrict the amount of news I consume. I read a few articles in the newspaper, the 6 O’clock news on BBC1 then to provide a more human and international perspective I watch Channel 4 news. I think I have only read one news item that is not coronavirus related in recent weeks and that was the terrible news that gunman had attacked a maternity hospital in Kabul. That is why like most of us I am spending a lot of time listening to music, watching entertainment on the TV or reading. We all need to anchor ourselves to the familiar. We all need something that comforts us. I have to keep up to date with the news, but I am noticing I am needing less and less time to keep up with it as very little has changed. Before all this happened I would talk about (to anyone that would listen) about the importance of having an hour of happiness a day. I always like to use the analogy once described to me by a mental health first aid instructor. Imagine you have a bucket that carries all your stress for you. It might be a big bucket if you thrive on stress and enjoy the hustle and bustle of life, or you might have a smaller bucket if you prefer a calmer more predictable life and don’t cope well with stress generally.The thing is it does not matter whether your stress bucket is small or large it still has a capacity. If you have a big bucket, you may experience and attract more stress than someone with a smaller bucket who does not seek out stressful situations. Both types of people may well fill their buckets at the same rate. So everytime something stressful happens to us we put that stress in our bucket. Most of the time we can keep a track of how full our bucket is and empty it when we it starts to reach the top. Sometimes we get busy doing stuff and we stop paying attention to our stress bucket and before we know it our bucket is full and overflowing. At this point we become overwhelmed and struggle to function. There are other times that our bucket fills a lot quicker than normal because there is a lot more stress than we are used to and we have not had chance to notice our bucket filling up.
So here is the thing. It is possible to put a tap at the bottom of our bucket that is always set to a trickle. So it is much harder for our buckets to fill and overflow (not impossible mind). The best thing is, it is not difficult to do and by its very nature is enjoyable. As alluded to earlier all you have to do is allocate yourself an hour happiness everyday. Already I can hear the objections. “An hour?… I don’t have that much time to myself….I have got too much to do”. You are right we are busy, we do have commitments. What if though some of the things we already do, if we looked at them differently gave us pleasure? For instance if you have small children you are really busy caring for them making sure they are washed, dressed, fed and entertained. When we do this everyday it becomes routine, and sometimes a chore, especially when you get them dressed, then for them to get undressed when your back is turned. But just pause for a moment, think about how cute, funny, amazing, adorable your children really are. Think about how much you love them and they love you. Now think about the time you spend with them and how priceless that is. Now allocate that to your daily happiness quota. Housework can be a drudge, another chore to get done. Next time you clean and tidy your house, take a moment just as you have finished and look around. How good does that feel? It was a tip when you started, now it looks like a show home. Stick that in your happiness quota. Then think about what you love to do, like reading, watching dramas, going for a run, playing music, or taking the dog for a walk. We all have something we really enjoy. Make sure you have time in you life for these.
So to sum up, It is vital to keep your stress bucket in check by putting a slightly open tap at the bottom. You can do this by allocating an hour of happiness every day (you can split it up, into segments, and you can have more than an hour). The first thing to do is to map out your daily routine. Identify which of those activities make you happy, or could make you happy if you viewed them differently. Next write down all the things that make you happy. If you have a long list, prioritise them, and try to incorporate at least the top 3 into your weekly schedule.
Now here is a bit of a health warning.
If you have things like drinking alcohol, shopping, or eating, then ask yourself why you are doing these activities. Are you drinking, taking drugs, eating too much, or shopping to dull the pain or for the pleasurable sensation? Let me explain this. If after a hard day at work you stop off at the supermarket and by the biggest, highest alcohol content bottle of plonk they have along with a supersize bag of crisps, a tub of icecream and a giant chocolate bar, to then go home and binge shop on amazon, then I would suggest that this is not going to empty your bucket, in fact you bucket is just going to fill up the next day, when you wake up feeling sick with a bad head and an empty bank balance.
However if you go the the shop and buy a bottle of your favourite wine, go home order you favourite take away, and then sit and watch a good film or boxset, you will no doubt empty your bucket.
The most enjoyable and stress relieving activities are productive, are those that increase your connection with others or have an end product, like baking, gardening, exercise, socialising with friends etc.
Stay home, stay safe.