Like so many others, I put a lot of pressure on myself to be serious, focused, and productive during this period of stay-at-home and social distancing. While I’ve made major strides with my new novel, being hyperfocused also left me feeling drained and depleted. The tipping point came when my nineteen-year-old daughter, Yasmine, remarked I seemed downcast and grumpy. Aside from bouts of pandemic melancholy, I blamed it on my writing woes, but ironically, I was experiencing forward momentum and should have been in a better headspace.
In deference to Yasmine, I analyzed my situation directly after her comment: papers scattered on the kitchen table, hair coiled like a bird’s nest, outfitted in plaid pajama pants from Costco, snacking on bags of plantain chips yet sensing I was getting out of shape–all with the distressing din of news reports in the background. Whatever writing progress I had made was overshadowed by my solemn, desk-bound routine. It’s not like I hadn’t read articles about the importance of self-care during quarantine. Putting on real clothes. Incorporating one hour a day of physical activity. Maybe even topping it all off with a glass of wine in the evening. But I was writing. Being productive. I didn’t have time to indulge in these simple pleasures and mood boosters.
Nevertheless, it was becoming clear amassing words on paper wouldn’t be enough to bolster my morale when the world was turned upside down. I’m grateful beyond measure to be safe, healthy, and surrounded by my family, but even under the best of circumstances, being “productive” does not guarantee peace of mind, sustain that creative spark, or inject a bolt of energy to your day. I was in a rut and needed a pick-me-up.
Along with silver lining, the word “joy” has popped up a lot as a coping mechanism to deal with pandemic anxiety: the Joy of Missing Out, the joy of staying in, the joy of small things, Arianna Huffington’s joy triggers. But I had retreated into survival mode for the first two months of #stayinghome and in the spirit of solidarity, hadn’t given myself permission to delight in joyful experiences, no matter how brief. To quote Yasmine: “I just wasn’t feelin’ it.”
Unfortunately, our status quo is no longer temporary; co-existing with Covid-19 for the foreseeable future is our new reality. With that in mind, I’ve adopted a more proactive, optimistic approach. I’m still very humble and cautious in the face of this insidious virus, but I’ve also been making a conscious effort to steer my daily schedule and create “pockets of joy” in the midst of uncertainty. I define these “pockets of joy” as self-generated activities to nurture my mind, body, and soul. I’ve also included things I may have considered unnecessary and self-indulgent when the coronavirus outbreak began.
My daughter’s observation prompted some self-examination, and since then, I’ve been cognizant of filling every day with “pockets of joy”–even if the writing gets backlogged and I’m not as productive.
Lately, I’ve gotten so much enjoyment from:
Lengthy discussions with my kids about everything from Drake’s spectacular mansion in Architectural Digest to what my daughter might want to major in at university.
Taking short writing breaks and putting the manuscript aside on weekends. Coincidentally, glitches have been easier to spot after I’ve let the words incubate!
Stretching, working out (elliptical machine), or going for a walk in the morning. It’s an empowering start to the day and I feel the endorphin rush for hours afterward. Post-exercise, I also have better writing sessions and a brighter disposition :).
Mindful eating. Spending the extra time to consider what I consume has given me more control over my choices and increased my energy. My latest obsession is flatbread pizza–but in moderation!
Dancing with abandon in my kitchen! Our family is loving the old school 90s soundtrack from “The Last Dance.”
Organizing those messy drawers and cupboards. Going through my closet and donating what I no longer need. Decluttering has been cathartic, like shifting to a new phase with more clearly-defined priorities.
Watching/listening to IGTV videos. I’m hooked on cooking tutorials and author interviews. They make it look so easy!
Forcing myself to stay awake and read before I go to bed. I can’t wait to dive into These Ghosts Are Family, A Good Marriage, and Rodham.
Zoom Birthday Celebrations and Happy Hours with friends from around the world. I’ll put on a festive top or don a funny hat and open a bottle of something bold or bubbly. Sometimes we all talk at once, the audio is scratchy and the screen freezes, but seeing their faces and hearing their voices make up for it!
I’m sure my “pockets of joy” will evolve but at their core, they’re about finding balance. Balancing productivity with room to reflect, laugh, and live responsibly. I hope you’re finding your own “pockets of joy” during these challenging times.