Greetings, dear readers, from The Netherlands, where my Dear Husband and I are attempting to escape world events with a delightful Viking cruise. My own photos to follow, but so far we have spent time in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Kinderdijk, and other locations. Also, I just finished reading Dear Mrs. Bird, about life in WWII-era London; charming and recommended, but all too evocative of a troubling time.
How are all of you coping? Resilience? Denial? Resolute Optimism?
An interesting parenting column in today’s New York Times has me thinking about whether boredom is just another name for stress dressed in sweatpants. Although not a parent of small children anymore, I can certainly relate to the excruciating sameness we are all experiencing. It’s also combined with the inability to meet some of our basic human needs such as anticipation, order and control, and touch.
Wherever possible, it’s helpful to search out little ways to feel happier. Could be planning a trip, varying your routine even if only to get takeout from somewhere new, moving some furniture around, calling a friend rather than emailing, etc. But let’s not get all Pollyanna about this — the seemingly-endless pandemic sucks. Read on!
Before the pandemic, I found comfort in the routine of my life and the rhythms of my family — what Nora Ephron once called the “peanut-butter-and-jellyness” of days with children. I liked the morning thunderdome of getting the children dressed and fed and breaking up some fights along the way, dropping them at school and taking the 20-minute walk to the subway. When I got off the subway, I had an array of coffee shops to choose from, which at the time did not seem exciting, but after a year of pandemic isolation would probably feel like bungee jumping.
At this point my commute is the five feet from my bed to my desk, and I am somehow both tired and agitated when I start work each day. My kids never leave the house, except when we go to the same three parks in our neighborhood. Sometimes when I go running outside, I fantasize about just … not stopping, my eyes thirsty for some new horizon.
In other words, I’m so freaking bored.
I’m not the only parent — or nonparent, to be sure — having trouble with the monotony of this moment. A study conducted early in the pandemic of more than 4,000 French people found that though respondents felt an increase of stress and fear, they mostly experienced a “slowing down of time” that was attributed to boredom and sadness.
“I’ve particularly struggled with boredom this year, in fact it resurfaced so many of the mixed emotions of maternity leave for me, feeling lonely and bored but simultaneously guilty for not treasuring every moment with my daughter,” said Jenny Brewer, the mom of a toddler in London. She said she feels her brain cells “ebbing away,” and like she’s not achieving anything at work. “I am so used to organizing days out and time with friends and family, that when it was taken away I was at an utter loss for how to kill the hours,” she said.
The way Ms. Brewer describes boredom is actually very close to the way boredom researchers — yes, there are boredom researchers — have defined the emotion. “‘Feeling unchallenged’ and perceiving one’s ‘activities as meaningless’ is central to boredom,” according to a study by Wijnand Van Tilburg, an experimental social psychologist at the University of Essex in England.
“The bored person does want to do something quite desperately, but does not want to do anything in particular,” said John D. Eastwood, an associate professor of clinical psychology at York University in Toronto, and co-author of “Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom.” Boredom is distinct from apathy, because if you’re apathetic, you don’t want to do anything at all — but if you’re bored, you’re both restless and lethargic, Dr. Eastwood said.
Even in normal times, boredom is a very common emotion — a study of almost 4,000 American adults found that 63 percent felt bored at least once in a 10-day sampling period. While most cases of boredom are mild, chronic boredom can metastasize into depression, poor health behavior like drug use, or risk-taking behavior, said Dr. Van Tilburg. The causes of boredom are multifaceted, but a lack of control over your situation is a common one. He added, “There’s research that shows when you’re limited in your control over the situation — that intensifies boredom.”
Parents of very small kids may find our pandemic lot particularly stifling because it’s both repetitive and involuntary — we have no choice about keeping up the routines for our little ones, who cannot do things for themselves. Emily Lyn-Sue, a stay-at-home mom of two in Miami, said that while her husband and older son have outlets outside the home with work and school, she feels isolated and bored at home with her 3-year-old. “We speak an entirely different language that no one else understands. We are literally on an island alone, together — he is my Wilson and I am his Tom Hanks,” she said, referring to the relationship Hanks’ character develops with a volleyball while shipwrecked in the movie “Cast Away.”
Knowing that many of us may not be able to have much control over our movements for at least the next few months, how do we try to alleviate our boredom? First, the researchers I spoke to said it’s important to acknowledge there’s no easy fix for our doldrums — so much of what is happening right now is beyond our control, and the vaccines are just beginning to be tested in children under 12, so we may not be able to make big moves just yet.
That said, there are small changes you can make to break the monotony. James Danckert, a professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and the co-author with Dr. Eastwood of “Out of My Skull,” said that because boredom can result from a lack of control over your life, finding even small ways to assert your agency can make you feel more engaged. For me, that means sometimes walking to a restaurant in the neighborhood to pick up lunch rather than making myself the same sad desk salad every workday.
Dr. Danckert also suggested finding some joy in the minutiae of a regular activity; he quoted Andy Warhol, who said, “You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.” To be honest, I have struggled with this approach. When I took my younger daughter to a place we call “toy park” — a park filled with discarded and half-broken toys, which she loves — I tried paying close attention to the interactions of the children and the interplay of light from the spring sun breaking through the trees. But boredom won out, and I ended up looking at Twitter.
One bit of advice that resonated more with me came from Dr. Van Tilburg, who emphasized that boredom doesn’t just have to be a negative thing — it can also be a wake-up call encouraging you to find activities that are more meaningful.
I am by nature sort of a hermit, but pandemic isolation has stretched the limits of my introversion. This weekend, we saw relatives I adore for an outdoor Easter egg hunt. Just 90 minutes of warm interaction with these beloved adults made me feel so happy and alive that I was smiling for the rest of the day.
As the weather gets warmer here in the Northeast and more of my peers are inoculated, I am planning more get-togethers, with and without my kids. Whenever I drop back into the doldrums among those discarded toys, I will think about all the walks and dinners and hugs on the horizon.
Do you ever get to the point that life has gotten so far away from you that you don’t even know how to begin to make excuses?
That’s how blogging has been for me these past couple of weeks. A combination of factors that I rationally know are out of my control but are nonetheless stressful, plus long lists of specific things that need to be done, overlaid with general anxiety about world issues such as the weather and that damn impeachment trial. (Seriously — how could any sentient being think 45’s behavior was anything but inexcusable?!) But that one, at least, is in the rearview mirror for now.
I know this is a first world problem, so I apologize in advance.
Dear Husband (DH) and I are in the midst of renovating our soon-to-be-one-and-only-house, which is rapidly being gutted. This is all good news, though it means we are renting a townhome/apartment in another location and need to drive out periodically to pick up mail and make sure there are no contractors lying insensate under a random beam.
Meanwhile, we are trying with no success to date to get on a Covid vaccination schedule. We have signed up in both of the counties where our house and rental are and neither has resulted in an appointment since the state has nowhere near enough supplies for everyone who wants to get it.
On the good news front, our Texas house went under contract within a day of our lovely realtor — who is DH’s oldest daughter — notifying a few agents that we were preparing to sell it. Everything would be proceeding smoothly if it weren’t for, oh, deadly ice storms, massive amounts of snow, power outages, etc. We’re thankful not to be living there but worry about friends and family who are coping with this.
Selling the house also means having someone else pack and ship it. Anxiety-producing because a) we have a lot of things we hope to sell or donate and can’t manage this ourselves, and b) we have to relinquish all fantasies of control over the specifics of the process. I’m trying to adopt the attitude that “stuff is just stuff” and if something gets lost or broken we will replace it. But this is not helping me sleep at night… I’m not counting sheep, I’m counting boxes.
I guess, like all of us, I have to put my faith in whatever powers-that-be may exist, know that we will eventually be on the other side of pandemic-related stress, and just hunker down while managing the few small aspects that are within my control.
If anyone has any good tips for patience after this year of endless upheaval, please share!
I’ve been trying to stay positive throughout the whole hideous pandemic but this week it’s gotten the best of me.
We’re fortunate enough to be sheltering in place near the ocean where we’ve been able to stay sane with daily beach walks and lovely, clear air. Unless Wednesday.
I woke up to what looked like a vivid sunset, along with the dense, acrid smell of smoke. US readers will know that we are facing massive wildfires on the west coast, and even our little corner of Oregon is not immune, as there have been outbreaks to the north and east of us. While we’re intensely lucky not to have to evaculate thus far (fingers crossed), the air remains at a dangerously unhealthy level so all outdoor activities are curtailed for now.
Suddenly, sheltering in place is even more claustrophobic, while my anxiety is skyrocketing and even minor annoyances feel overwhelming. Praying for rain.
OK, enough whining; how about some activism? In news from London, thirty bare-breasted women locked themselves to the railings outside Britain’s Houses of Parliament to demand action on climate change. Members of Extinction Rebellion, they’d written the dire consequences of global warming on their bodies to call attention to our world’s predicament.
I’d go topless too if I were a few decades younger.
I admit it’s hard to find any good news today. But I did find a wonderful way to relax, courtesy of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Jelly Cam. The livestream, available from 10 am to 9 pm PDT on their website, features hypnotic images of floating jellyfish, accompanied by spa sounds.
You can also ooh and ahh over live footage of their sea otters and penguins.
13-year old techie Amanda Southworth had suffered from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts for most of her young life. When she couldn’t find an easy, affordable alternative to traditional modes of therapy, this brilliant coder invented it.
Three years later, her app AnxietyHelper has helped more than 68,000 people. The app provides information on mental health conditions, links to hotlines, and tools such as a stress relieving game to help its users cope with daily challenges.
Southworth hasn’t stopped there. She’s created a safety app for the LGBTQ+ community, an app to help psychosis patients manage their hallucinations, and a social media platform for protest groups so they can mobilize more safely and efficiently.
Sorry; this is an outright lie. If you’re a parent – whether to a child, dog, or gerbil– you know there’s always something to worry about. What’s more, what you worry about is a moving target: Just when you think you have a handle on the problem, something you didn’t anticipate rears up to scare the living crap out of you.
The Seven Stages of Anxiety
Infancy: Colic; SIDS; will I drop the baby on its head? Should we decorate the nursery in black and white for stimulation, gendered colors since you’re tired of people asking if it’s a boy or a girl and besides you actually like pink or blue, or a neutral color they can “grow into”; your baby’s measurements vs. the norm. (Note: The 20th percentile daughter I feared would be abnormally short has grown into a very slim 5’7”.)
Toddler: How to keep them from climbing on tables; how to keep them from pulling off all the baby-safe outlet covers and sticking wet fingers into them; how to stop them flinging food all over a restaurant while shrieking hysterically; whether they’re talking on schedule (how many five-year-olds do you know who don’t talk?); potty training (how many eight-year-olds do you know who aren’t potty trained?). Deep breath.
Kindergarten: Biting: It’s the law of the jungle—your kid is either a biter or a bitee; falling off the monkey bars and cracking their skull open; being “behind” the rest of the class; whether my son would have permanent nerve damage from putting his hand on the broiler-cooktop at Benihana. (He didn’t, though he still has issues with impulse control.)
Elementary school: Bullying; not having friends; having the wrong kind of friends; doing their homework; remembering to actually take said homework out of their backpack and turn it in; whether they suck at sports; ADHD; their exclusive diet of pizza, soda and candy.
High School: Drugs; sex; cutting class; smoking; not being able to get into college.
College: Drugs; sex; cutting class; smoking; not being able to stay in college.
Early adulthood: Not finding a job; not staying in a job; staying in a dead-end job; dating the wrong partner; dating the right partner but not committing; living too far away; living too close and wanting to stop by when it’s really inconvenient; not calling enough; calling whenever you’ve settled into a quiet night watching your favorite TV show; not telling you what’s going on in their lives; telling you too much about what’s going on in their lives and giving you new things to worry about.
The point is: For better or worse, your children have their own destiny. Once you’ve safely guided them through the early years, keeping them in one piece with a minimum of trauma and hopefully imparting a set of values and a sense of humor so they can make good decisions, your job is done.
I’ll always worry, but now that my kids are 25 and 30 I try to keep it to myself. Some days are more successful than others. Happy Mother’s Day!