I wrote yesterday that like many across the world I’ve been feeling more anxious during this pandemic lockdown. I had hoped that retirement – and leaving behind the stress of work – would bring with it a new calm, chilled existence.
That hasn’t happened and the monotony of these two months of confinement has brought this feeling into sharp relief. Before all this started my new retired life comprised a routine that kept me active, had a fair amount of variety and was punctuated with some sort of break or holiday every couple of months.
That’s all been wiped away and I can no longer rely on the structured life I had started to build and the void that is left is forcing me to confront my anxiety demons. Here are some of the things I am consciously doing to help me stay calm and relaxed:
- Exercise – I always feel mentally – not necessarily physically – better after a run. It seems to quieten those brain gremlins that nag at whatever is causing unease. It also affirms that I’m probably in good health which negates any worries I might have in that department. Trouble is there’s a limit to how much you can do or else you end up injuring yourself or feeling run-down.
- Activity – My garden has been transformed these last few weeks and there’s something about the relatively low-skilled, varied and never ending nature of this task that immediately lowers my blood pressure. Unless it’s a specific project I can’t rush gardening and have got into a work pattern which helps me relax. Being outside also feels good and there’s something about being in contact with the earth that makes me feel spiritual. Other home-based activity such as DIY – I’ve just finished decorating four rooms – works less well. While it’s absorbing when I’m doing it and satisfying when complete I can’t help but work to a deadline and always feel in a bit of a rush.
- Alcohol – in moderation, of course, and sometimes I have to admit I am drinking a little too much but at the end of a day there are few things nicer than relaxing with a gin and tonic. I also enjoy a glass of wine when I’m cooking which helps me wind down and later on get to sleep more easily. I once read that people who drink in moderation generally live longer than teetotallers and I wonder if this is part of the reason.
What’s not happening so much now is the daily social engagement that I’ve learned is important for my well-being. During the lockdown I am finding the time, at least every other day, to phone a family member and am keeping in regular contact with friends via social media.
I’m missing out on the travelling that I was so looking forward to at the beginning of the year. New places to go – either an occasional day-trip on my own – or a three week campervan holiday to France with Mrs Jones were going to be a a big part of 2020. It’s not just the travelling, it’s the planning and looking forward to them that gives me something to focus on.
Certain leisure activities such as reading, listening to music, playing word games only work intermittently and sometimes leave me agitated. I need to be in the right frame of mind to do them.
There are some things I’m actively trying to do that I’m struggling to make happen including:
- Choosing time each day to just do nothing. This tends to be in the morning after breakfast. Truth is is I’m always doing something on my smartphone or reading the paper.
- Not getting wound up about things you can’t control. There’s so much going in the world that makes me frustrated and angry. Truth is I can do nothing about it and should accept that.
- A couple of weeks ago I downloaded the Headspace app to encourage me to take up mediation and a range of other calming activities. Disappointingly I have hardly used it and I really must find a space for it in each day.
The good news is that I am gradually getting used to the confinement and building a new way of living for the time being at least. Also it’s occurred to me that for the most part my anxiety is mild and fleeting – even now – and nothing like as bad as how I used to feel when times were hard at work.
I suppose I’ve got to accept I’m new to this and these are unprecedented times so perhaps I need to just let life happen a little more.