I’m all for positivity and personal development, even (and especially more so) in really tough situations. But even I’ve had it with this pandemic.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself toggling between feelings of anger, immense sadness, and just emptiness. Even though I’d consider myself to be pretty good at directing and controlling my thoughts — going through an eating disorder taught me that the hard way — I’m still hit by random waves of emotion on any given day in quarantine. As much as I love rollercoasters, this is not a fun one.
I’m tired. All the freaking time. I’m tired of already feeling shitty when I wake up. I’m tired of having lived the same day for the past year. A lot of us are. Some more than others. My boyfriend, for example, doesn’t seem as fazed by the whole thing as much as I have been recently. He says being on a ship for nine months was infinitely worse (he was in the military). Sometimes, I feel like I have to curb my melancholy in front of him so I don’t seem… weak.
Does anybody else feel like this? Slightly oppressed by the ones who seem to not be as indignant at the whole ridiculous state of the world? Mental Conditioning expert Trevor Moawad says that uttering something negative out loud makes it 10 times more powerful than if you had just thought it, so I’ve actively tried not to complain during this time. But it’s gotten to a point where I feel like I’m being suffocated.
I need a break from positivity. From self-help articles. From motivational quotes that say we should be using this as an opportunity to thrive in new ways. Just for a brief moment in time, before I go back to trying to show up as the better version of me, I would like to acknowledge how maddening and utterly shitty our current circumstances are.
We already feel so isolated physically from one another. But, as an overachiever (most of the time), the feeling that I should be more productive, vibrant, and energetic instead of negative, lazy and unfocused has made me feel emotionally isolated too.
So I’m writing this for anybody who hasn’t been on their A-game and feels guilty about it like I do. I’m hoping that by taking this time to acknowledge together the great sadness of the world, to stare nakedly at our collective melancholy, we’ll at least feel solace in knowing that we’re not alone.
Maybe it’s time we all cut ourselves some slack and wallow for a hot minute.
We’re Lacking A Compelling Future
If you watched Tony Robbins’ “New Year, New You” live streams, you will have heard him talk about the importance of a compelling future. He says this is why so many of us are struggling right now — we don’t have one. For a majority of us, the most we’re hoping for is making it through the pandemic and economic crisis and political unrest and everything else that has gone awry in the past year.
Dean Graziosi mentioned how, when he tells his son that he can go play baseball, he gets so excited he jumps out of his seat, ready to go. But when it’s time for him to do his chores, his energy will instantly drop and he’ll put off doing it as long as possible. When Dean tells him to devote just 12 minutes to cleaning his room and then he can go play baseball, he’s able to complete the boring and mundane task in a short time without any procrastination because he’s pumped to get to the game.
That’s a captivating future. That’s the kind of a vision of a vibrant event that makes us get out of our seats, seemingly without any effort, and get things done. Most of us don’t have that right now. It feels like it’s been so long since the pandemic started (almost a year now, which just blows my mind) that we’ve kinda forgotten what a normal, exuberant, exciting life was like. We don’t know when this is going to end; we don’t know if and when normal will be normal again.
And for those of us who do have a captivating future that we’re working towards, it’s hard to derive energy from it because, in our current circumstance, it seems so nebulous and far away.
I remember when I was a kid and I would come home from school, I would immediately start working on my homework so that I could get it over with quickly and go play games. In our current situation, we have the work but we don’t have the playtime to look forward to. That’s one reason why a lot of us haven’t been as productive as we know we could be.
But you’re not lazy. You’re not an underperformer. You’re just human. You’re dealing with an extraordinary amount and it’s normal for the pandemic to have taken its emotional toll on you.
It’s Not Laziness, It’s Quarantine
Steven Kotler, in this recent interview with Tom Bilyeu, says that focus takes quite a bit of energy. You actually burn more calories when trying to concentrate on something you’re not interested in. The brain doesn’t want to expend extra energy if it doesn’t have to, because it’s trying to keep you alive.
What happens when you add into the mix the stress and anxiety of a yearlong pandemic? (Let’s not even mention everything else that has happened in the shitshow.) This little bit of data will tell you: Since last February, there has been a 300% increase in people searching “how to get your brain to focus”, an 110% increase in “how to focus better”, and a 60% increase in “how to increase focus.”
Dr. Amy Arnsten, a psychology professor at Yale, has done extensive research on the brain’s response to stress. The part of the brain that’s responsible for focus and critical thinking is the prefrontal cortex. According to Arnsten, “the prefrontal cortex has got this built-in genie that causes it to weaken with stress signaling.” This area shuts down in order to allow the more primitive parts of the brain to help you survive.
Arnsten also says that there are three particular reasons why the current pandemic would weaken the prefrontal cortex:
1. It’s invisible.
2. We don’t have much control over it.
3. We have to go against our normal habits to protect ourselves.
The first reason makes the second one that much more pronounced. COVID-19 is not an immediate danger that we deal with and then move on; its shadow is hanging over us all the time. Even when we don’t look at the news. Even when we don’t think about it consciously. That’s why we’re emotionally exhausted and find it hard to focus and be productive. Our brains are busy just trying to keep us alive under all this stress and pressure.
Arnsten also says, “Why understanding neurobiology is so helpful is that you can watch yourself in that downwards spiral and you can say, ‘This is just my biology, evolution is making me do this, this is normal neurobiology, and I don’t have to blame myself, it’s okay.’”
Bottom line: it’s natural if it’s hard to find your focus right now. You’re human. It’s a normal human reaction to stress. Don’t beat yourself up about it. We’re already dealing with a lot. We don’t need to add self-reproach on top.
(I’m telling this to myself as much as I am to you.)
You’ve Had It Harder If You’re An Empath
My boyfriend and I were talking about our biggest flaws and he told me he thinks mine is that I’m sometimes too emotional. It didn’t come as a surprise — I know that I can be really sensitive at times but I think that, as an artist, you kind of have to be.
The other day, I was reading this article called “5 Challenges Empaths Faced with COVID-19” and it articulated perfectly what I have been trying to explain to my boyfriend, which is that as an empath, I tend to take on the sorrows of the world upon myself. I sometimes internalize that darkness which causes me to feel melancholy in a heightened way that somebody else might not understand. But this is not necessarily a bad thing — I think it’s the empaths who are able to cause great change in the world. Yes, it’s a double-edged sword, but I think the price is one worth paying.
I think we sensitive souls have perhaps been more negatively impacted during this time. That’s okay. To be an empath is a beautiful thing, despite how painful it may get at times. It requires a lot of courage to take on the pain of somebody else, of the whole world even, and put it up on your own shoulders in order to understand, to feel. If you, too, are weighed down by that immense weight, be gentle with yourself and take a moment to appreciate the kind of strength it takes to allow yourself to feel on such a deep level.
Today, the only call to action I have for you is to be more compassionate with yourself. Have more grace. More patience. Who would’ve thought at the beginning of 2020 that we’d be dealing with a pandemic or that it would last this long?
Being cut off from physical connection, from touch, communal joy, exciting adventures that make you feel alive — it all has taken its toll on our psyche and that’s natural.
We have to constantly think about the implications of every action and normal, everyday activities. No wonder we’re all exhausted.
If you needed permission to be negative for a day, and allow yourself to bemoan the state of the world and just wallow in our shared invisible sadness, this is it. Because god knows, sometimes we even need a break from trying.
If you feel weary and drained and worn out like an old tattered sweater, I see you.
And I’m with you.