Has lockdown destroyed our ability to look forward to anything?

My excitement levels peak at the following: I can raise a smile about a new Netflix show, seeing a friend from two metres away, the end of my work day, my bed, maybe the post. That’s about it.

Yes, I guess the post is fun, especially if I’ve been online shopping.

Ah, yes, it’s that great dress I ordered for the wedding I’m going to in…ah yes, that’s cancelled now. Oh, but I also ordered that summer skirt. I can’t wait to wear it to…err…the park I guess?

The park! Something to be excited about, right? Or is it something to be a bit apprehensive about? All that anticipation muddied with layers of ‘oh what if the park is crowded’, ‘what if it rains?’ and ‘where the f*** do I pee?’

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I cannot get excited anymore. About anything.

2020 has not exactly been a bumper year for joy. From a global pandemic to the tragic murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the widespread, ingrained racism those killings represent – much of it sadly evidenced by the EDL protests last weekend – there’s not been a whole lot to feel jump-up-and-down happy about.

For most of us living in the monotony of life under lockdown, this general sense of unease is trickling into our everyday lives. It’s certainly affected mine.

Planning social engagements used to be my own personal version of crack. My diary was balancing coffees, lunches, after work drinks, parties, pub lunches- slotting in friends like people Jenga. It was bank breaking, but exhilarating.

Now it’s fraught with tension, with constant weather updates, with painful logistics about who is prepared to walk the two hours it takes to meet half-way between North and South London.

Even the idea of pubs and restaurants reopening is tempered by the realisation that they won’t be the same. They will be nervous, tepid endeavours. There is also the knowing feeling we have that they probably shouldn’t, that it may well be a crowded, viral mistake, that we may get a side order of ‘oops! Second wave!’ from the government and before you know it, be back under strict lockdown, no trip to Barnard Castle in sight.

I just can’t get my excitement boner up these days.

I speak to psychologist Dr Tina Mistry, who explains the current situation can indeed have a profound effect on the part of our minds which processes excited emotions.

“This part of the mind is the drive system and it wants us to engage in pleasures and move towards success, be it in relationships, career or personal development,” she says, “When the ‘drive system’ is stuck or unable to move towards its goals, this leads to feelings of anger, frustration, anxiety and in some cases helplessness and hopelessness.”

This explains the pervading sense of hopelessness I have been experiencing. Excitement for future plans was what got me through life. I liked to have a treat waiting for me at the end of a working week, travel planned through the year. Something to keep me going.

It was what pushed me to work hard. The old carrot-stick routine. Get these deadlines met, stretch yourself- and that 7pm Old Fashioned and a table of your friends is waiting. Get that project finished, that edit done, that chapter written and the weekend will unfurl before you with all its delights…

But not any more.

Everything I was excited about this year- a work trip to New York, three of my closest friends’ weddings, a road trip in Italy with my boyfriend- have understandably been cancelled.

Because it all happened in stages, like sad, slowly falling dominoes, I let myself keep hoping. Each cancellation just pushed my excitement parameter further out, moving on to the next wedding, the next trip, the next hen do…but they all fell, one by one. Now I am not even allowing myself to get excited. It’s too painful.

It has also led me to feel real anxiety for the first time.

“What also has happened during this global pandemic is that our sense of control has been shattered,” explains Dr Mistry, “Many of us believed that we could do anything, had a false sense of freedom, and this has destabilised this rigid way of thinking. This sense of being out of control can definitely lead to increased feelings of anxiety.”

With no control over my future, I am trying to lean into the idea that I may be able to start living in the present. Isn’t that the mindfulness dream after all?

Yet, Natasha Natasha Tiwari, Award-winning Psychologist and CEO The Veda Group, tells me that may not be so easy.

“Without having excitement, it’s very easy for us to become disillusioned about the future, and for that to impact our ability to be happy in the here and now. This also has a knock on effect on our motivation, which would explain why maybe increasingly you find yourself lacking energy,” she explains, “Frighteningly, these low feelings also impact our biochemistry, weakening our immune systems.”

Oh great- no excitement and a weaker immune system in a global pandemic? *tries not to panic.*

But Natasha is right, we are somewhat trapped in a situation which exacerbates our anxiety; in turn making it harder for us to ground ourselves in the present, at a time when we cannot look to the future. Urgh.

“Estimates are suggesting that up to 2 in 3 people are battling with varying degrees of anxiety, and this makes it even more difficult to “just enjoy being in the moment”- which has been touted as the silver lining of lockdown,” she says, “The fact is, it is easier to enjoy being present when we have a sense of security and control around how our futures looks.

The future is, Covid or no Covid, always uncertain and so maybe we should not get so used to living days and weeks ahead of ourselves, and instead milk enjoyment out of the every day.

Natasha believes it is not impossible to bring excitement back into our everyday lives.

“For the here and now, invent fun end of day rituals that mark the end of the work day and also create important boundaries between work and play!” she says, “Give yourself something to look forward to while you work. This could be as low key as calling a friend for a chat, or as buzz inducing as putting on music and having a dance party at home. Also, commit to rediscovering things you once loved but no longer have time for; throwing yourself into creative pursuits will have your inner child riding on a high. All of this adds up to micro moments of feeling good, joyous and excited, and overtime is going to be crucial to your sense of wellbeing.”

So, I should allow myself to get excited about the small things: the post, even a rainy after work drink in the park, or a simple Deliveroo in my own kitchen.

I also shouldn’t be afraid to let a little hope in. After all, if everything that’s happened this year has taught us anything, it is that hope and determination to make the future a better place, is a powerful thing.

It might just keep us going.

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