Ask Dr. Paul: How to conquer the COVID-19 doldrums

It’s natural to feel blue from time to time — especially with the pandemic. Here’s what to do when you’re down.

It’s perfectly normal to feel down or anxious with everything going on in the world today. The last few months have challenged us like never before. But sitting idle and not addressing the doldrums can cause serious health issues. Fortunately, there are daily steps you can take to thrive in these trying times.

Q: Lately I’m feeling down and in the doldrums. I just seem to have lost my get-up-and-go. What gives?

A: It’s been a long haul. Between sheltering at home, having kids at home, working at home and hanging out at home — we’re all going a little stir crazy. Add economic insecurity, layoffs, and furloughs to this simmering stew, throw in a big dollop of uncertainty, a handful of social unrest, and we have the perfect storm.

A lot of us have followed the social distancing guidelines and are trying to do our part in reducing the rate of infection. But the fact remains — all this stress takes its toll on our bodies and our spirits.

The lack of novelty and the daily sameness is monotonous. Sure, I’m cooking dishes I never cooked before and people have more time to bake — but every day is too much like the day before. I crave a trip to the mall to go window shopping, which I normally hate. I fantasize about sitting at my favorite restaurant, which I usually get tired of. And I want to get on an airplane and go — anywhere.

While I feel very fortunate that I have a job and get to help others, I feel sad from time to time. I miss my daughters and grandchildren terribly. I don’t know when I’ll be able to see my daughter and her family in New York. I don’t like to think about it. It hurts too much.

So, it’s natural to feel blue and in the doldrums from time to time. What can we do when we’re down in the dumps?

Share your feelings with others. No one likes to be a negative Nick or Nancy, but if we keep our feelings inside, we’ll feel worse. Let your friends and family know what you’re feeling.

Do something different. Get a to-go order from a different restaurant, drive to a different neighborhood and take a walk, cook something completely different and new, start a new book, take up a new hobby or online class, or a plan a vacation for when the world returns to normal. Just make sure you’re staying safe, wearing a mask and washing your hands.

Do a good deed. My son-in-law is part-owner of a distillery in New York. I sent a bottle of his gin to 10 family members and friends with a note that read, “Spirits to raise your spirits.” It made me feel good to do something that helps my son-in-law’s business and brings cheer to others. A colleague of mine is sending handwritten cards to friends and family. Find a way of helping others.

Start a household project. This is a great time to get in the garden, put in some new plants, paint a fence or, in my case, spread three yards of compost in my garden.

Maintain your good habits. Eat balanced meals, get outside, exercise, make sure to get enough sleep, and limit sugar and alcohol. Keep it up and don’t let up. Try making healthier recipes or starting with a weeklong fitness challenge.

Don’t look too far ahead. We’re all adjusting to this new normal that is likely to continue to change. Let’s hope for the best but be prepared for a long siege. Let’s make the best of each day.

Accept yourself. This is a bumpy road — some days are going to be tough. Some days you may be tired, grumpy and down. But then again, maybe tomorrow you’ll wake up to singing birds, a sunny day and blueberry pancakes.

And have a smile on your face.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog. Do you have a behavioral-health question related to COVID-19? Sending your questions to askdrpaul@everettclinic.com.

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