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Unstimulated in Uxbridge

By ANDREW OLIVER - May 15 2021

I am sure you are hearing this from a lot of people but 2020 has been the worst year of my life. Financially, it hasn’t been too bad because I am retired and living on a pension but emotionally I am at my wits end. Prior to the pandemic, even though I lived alone, I have managed to keep myself stimulated by taking local community classes, volunteering with a couple of non profits and visiting family and friends. I now feel as though all three have been taken away from me. Ive watched everything on Netflix, baked every recipe on youtube and watched every dance on TikTok.
Every day feels like groundhog day! Somedays I just don’t feel like getting out of bed. I am not depressed, I am bored. How do I keep myself mentally stimulated in this new normal?

Unstimulated in Uxbridge

Dear Unstimulated:
I hear you. It may not make you feel any better but you are not alone. The effects of social isolation on mental health can be damaging. Many studies are being done during this time and although there is no one answer, there are many articles on Google with advice and tips. After looking through a number of them I can only come to one conclusion…there is no one answer. I will however provide some tips and hints garnered from both academic sources and my own humble experience.

1. KEEP TO A SCHEDULE! I cannot stress how important that is when we are going through a time when the days meld into each other. Some ways you can do this is to set an alarm and get up at the same time every day. Eat your meals at the same time. Schedule exercise into this. Rather than turn on the tv to a news channel and leave it there, be very specific about when you watch. Keeping to a schedule helps keep a sembelence of “normal’. One thing I started was doing a Sunday dinner for the elderly couple in my bubble. It encourages me to come up with a new menu, clean my house and have a start and stop to the week.

2. SLEEP! AND SLEEP WELL! I went through a period of insomnia and having bizarre COVID dreams. Having never suffered through insomnia before I thought I had just become another statistic. I then started doing a little analysis. Without my usual activity I was napping a lot during the day. I also wasn’t keeping to a schedule and at night was doing a lot of snacking. I realised that I was actually sleeping more but not sleeping better. I decided to up my exercise, focus on regular healthy meals and and making sure my bed was made every morning and my sleeping area was free of social media. I actually even gave away the tv in my bedroom. I will admit, I still go to bed every night with a good book.

3. EXERCISE! Yes, I have to admit that although as much as I hate exercise there is a mind body connection. In fact, many experts will say that exercise is as important or maybe more important than mental stimulation. So even though it is a challenge to me I have gone for a daily walk at least 95% of the past three months. It is now a habit. I walk every day with my bubble buddy friend. We also walk at the same time every d ay. When you are living alone it is vitally important to have that one person you see every day. I also am able to arrange my day to a before and after. (Chores before, laughter after!) In the evenings I do free yoga on youtube. There is something for everyone from calming yoga to all out aerobic workouts.
4. GOALS! If there was anything you wanted to learn…now is the time. I have never had a green thumb but last year I decided to start my own plants. It was a disaster. I am not giving up. I have a whole new batch of seedlings set out to die a slow death this year…but I am getting better. Do you want to learn a new language? Paint something? Clear out your closet? Bake?
Other stimulating activities I have seen recommended include learning to write with your “other” hand, doing jigsaw puzzles, dancing, journaling, writing your life history. Everytime you venture into a new project, learn a new skill, try a new activity you are building brain muscle.
I know its been said before (ad nauseum) but we are seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Stay strong, stay safe and as much as possible, keep your spirits up. I am sending you (virtual) hugs.

Dear ELCEE is written by Deborah Noel,
Send her your questions.

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