Who would have thought that part of the grand twenty-first century would be spent exploring every centimeter of your room, rather than the planet? We live in a time in which traveling has never been easier, and yet the most exciting part of our days seems to be the time spent on social media. Or, the occasional visits to the grocery store as we get to see other people in flesh and bone. At least, until all of this is over.
As with social media, and other inventions in the last decade which shape our life experience today, there is no handbook on how to best manage to live in this very point of history. But has there ever been instruction for tomorrow, when humankind is always in the midst of creating it?
It seems we have entered into a phase of reflection – things have slowed down. For everyone.
While reflecting upon our experiences is a rather good thing to do, as we learn so much from ourselves when we take the time to listen beneath the superficial noise, there can actually be something as ‘reflecting too much.
It’s called “overthinking”.
And, how can we not when our home seems to have turned into our very own personal physical echo chambers? Our thoughts seem to bounce right off the walls back into our heads, as our brain has already registered every centimeter of our home, and there is nothing new for it to digest.
I have certainly experienced the spiral down memory lane which takes me out of my room while I’m still in it, and leads to an oasis amidst a desert. That desert represents all the grand new experiences I have had recently. Yeah, not much to see right? However, it is not long before I find out that the oasis my mental self has found itself in, and yours might too, turns out to be but a mirage. Because as you thought to have found comfort, a small windstorm comes around, and instead of tiny sand particles you see tiny question marks which float through the palm trees of the oasis you thought to be real.
Then, you begin to see all kinds of memories emerge on the horizon. Beautiful and sad ones: You notice small details about interactions that have long passed, that you have never noticed before – and you begin to question the words you spoke, the actions you took. Was that the right thing to do? Did I seriously say that? The What if loop begins.
The oasis just a faint memory; in fact, it doesn’t exist, but you only remember that when something makes you snap out of it. So much for going down memory lane in search of uplifting moments. So, what do we do instead?
We take an exit route – some of the signs say ‘Netflix’, ‘Instagram’, ‘YouTube’ – the list goes on, as we long for connection and something which might make this very day memorable.
As beautiful and infinite as our grand world wide web may be, surfing is limited to viewing a screen instead of taking up a board and jumping into the ocean with its cool refreshing temperature on a hot summer day. Yeah, I know. Even imagining that hurts a tiny bit when you’re someone who loves the beach but lives in the city.
Yet, this presents our counterpart to our ‘reflective phase’ when done in excess: it’s called ‘avoiding’.
Now I do wonder, will Psychologist come up with a similar stage model we go through in this pandemic as it does with grief? The one in which it is the denial first, then anger, then a couple more stages until it reaches acceptance? Or, perhaps the very same stages apply to our current emotional journey as we grieve the life we have known. And, by life I mean the serendipitous conversations with strangers, the bitter glares at someone who just sneezed in an overcrowded bus, canceling a night out in the club with the excuse that we have to watch our hamster when we don’t even have a hamster, crossing paths with strangers who become friends or sitting in overcrowded lecture halls on a warm summer day and sweating as if you’re wearing a ski suit amid the jungle in Madagascar.
All these seemingly insignificant moments which made life so wholesome, just went to watch their hamster. Metaphorically speaking of course. And their places are taken up by countless hours of consuming content on the web or spiraling down an anxiety slide.
I have had many conversations with friends lately who have confided in me how they are overthinking most of their interactions with new people, or who feel as though their social skills have melted away into a puddle.
And I don’t want to sound ungrateful, as I am aware of our privilege to live in a country that has a stable infrastructure and enough food and water, and medical resources to get through this pandemic in an organized way. How everything is handled can still be debated, but this here right now is about our mental health.
we’re humans and we long for connections – that do not require an internet connection first. We long four touch, for close moments with laughter and intimate whisper without looking at a screen.
But how exactly can we put a stop to this overthinking and avoidance loop when all we want is the stop to be over? It’s not like we can just press the ‘Start button, right?
Actually, I’ve thought about this. In our very own way, we can press start. And, I won’t lie when you’re not in a very optimistic mood right now, hearing the following will feel as though you’ve landed in candy cotton land while you’re depressed. It just won’t feel right – but it’s still worth the visit as it might give you a different perspective, or mental environment than you are used to.
So, how exactly do we press start on the rewinding tape our life has found itself in when there’s nothing new on the tape? Easy, we rewrite parts of it slowly. We cut it at one part, add new knowledge, and tape it in between the separated parts. And, what do you know? Introduce a bit of new knowledge at the beginning and you might find that the usual following story of – wake up, spent day at home, maybe work on a laptop, sleep, rewind – has already changed a bit. That added piece of tape can be anything; from a new hobby, a new book to a new topic you have decided to expand your knowledge in.
Turns out studying is not exclusively limited to students – and the best part: studying for ourselves is actually one of the greatest joys in a time of easily accessible information. Imagine there would be no internet: the shelves in libraries would be empty, and there would be a waiting list of over a hundred people for one certain book. And what do you know? By the time the pandemic is over there are still twenty-three other names above yours on the waiting list, and then when it’s finally your turn for the book? Life just got too busy again. So, let’s take advantage of the internet and make an effort to break out of our echo chambers and confuse the algorithm that is eating all of our cookies.
So, perhaps a way to make this whole stay-at-home echo chamber more bearable for our mental health is to set out and learn something new every day and spice up daily tasks by putting an extra effort in. Talking of spice, you might want to try out new recipes from all around the world. This way you get a tiny bit of travel into your life without actually traveling.
If this time teaches us anything – then it is that it’s all in the details, and while we might not be able to control the world’s circumstances we can learn more about our control zone and find our power within it.
By learning something new our minds get to think fast on slow days in a less self-destructive way, and instead we benefit from new knowledge which expands our horizon, while the view of our window does not actually change.
By Veronika Foer