Lately, following the news as I tend to do, I’ve been finding it hard not to succumb to overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair. What with environmental disasters, endless wars and idiot or downright evil politicians in charge of too many countries (to name just a few of the dangers), keeping depression and negativity at bay certainly isn’t easy. I could of course just boycott the news, bury my head in the sand and ignore all the terrible things happening in the world. But while it might be good for my mental health, I don’t altogether approve of such ostrich-like behaviour.
Now, on top of all that, we have the pandemic to frighten us on a more personal level. Here in Spain, everything is shutting down. The streets are empty, even the Prado and the Alhambra closed, the tourists gone. So, partly to keep up my spirits, I’ve put together a few ideas for ways to stay sane and keep going, even in isolation mode.
As a writer, I’m fortunate to have a readymade means of escape. Once I get stuck in to my fictional world (even if that world reflects some of the less positive aspects of the real world), I can forget for hours at a time the fears and preoccupations that would otherwise be troubling me. The protagonists of my novels have different concerns and it is within my power to give them hope, to reward them with love or the realisation of their ambitions. Even if their story is sad, I feel their grief at one remove, as a second-hand emotion.
Having all my social life and out-of-the-house commitments cancelled due to the virus gives me more time to write, which is a definite positive. It also gives me more time to read: another brilliant way of escaping reality for a while. Immersing ourselves in a gripping story can temporarily take our minds off whatever worries are bugging us. I can quite understand the appeal of happy endings in times like these. Romances fulfilled, ambitions realised, difficulties overcome – these are scenarios more likely to lift our mood.
Dancing is another pursuit I can’t recommend enough – and who says we can’t dance alone in the house? It’s one of the most joyful activities I can think of and it costs nothing. From the twist, the letkiss and the locomotion (anyone remember those last two?) in my teens, to freestyle bopping to the Stones, the Beach Boys or the Who in the 60s and 70s, I moved on to ceilidh dancing in Shropshire, salsa in Cuba, England and Spain, and more recently to biodanza and tango (I even had a phase a couple of years ago trying to learn swing and lindy hop but at sixty-something, neither my brain nor my legs could keep up with the twenty-somethings who made up the rest of the group). Whatever the style, I’ve always found dancing a great way to boost my mood. As of yesterday, my regular dancing is cancelled so dancing in solitary it will have to be. The music is part of it and you don’t have to leave the house to liven things up with some music. Even if you don’t dance, just singing along to anything with a good beat works well. Don’t worry, be happy seems like a good choice right now. It’s probably not the best time to listen to Leonard Cohen, much as I adore his songs and his voice. For those who can play an instrument, making your own music must be even better.
I’m lucky to have sunshine (the best mood-lifter of all) nearly every day but wherever you are, there is beauty in nature. Going for a walk, a run or a bike ride can really help keep you calm and rekindle hope – it’s spring after all. The countryside is beautiful, nature awakening, bulbs flowering, trees coming into bud and blossom. Plus any kind of exercise fosters wellbeing. I’ve been feeling a strong urge for the sea over the last few days so yesterday I took a three quarters empty bus to the nearest beach. It worked wonders as soul medicine. Even swimming in an ice-cold sea felt invigorating and the sun was strong enough to warm me up afterwards.
UPDATE 14th March: No more walks, bike rides or trips to the sea for the foreseeable future. Spain is in lockdown and leaving the house other than to stock up at the supermarket or pharmacy is prohibited by law. Still, I have my terrace and I can at least look at nature from there. I am luckier than most.
Restrictions on our freedom come as a shock but it doesn’t do any harm to be reminded that most of the world’s inhabitants do not and never have enjoyed the freedom to move at will. Many emigrants far from home struggle to earn enough money to support their families back home, often separated from them for years on end; others are trapped in war zones, unable to escape.
We can try to focus on the positive – on the amazing volunteers risking their lives to help in the refugee camps, medical staff working on the frontlines of wars or attending to virus sufferers, for example. They are making incredible sacrifices every day. There are far more selfless volunteers putting themselves at risk to help others than selfish types who clear the supermarket shelves of toilet paper or steal sanitiser and face masks from hospitals. Then there are the inspiring young campaigners like Greta Thunberg and other activists fighting to save the planet, a new generation in whom to invest hope.
Children live in the moment – being with them can infect you with their natural optimism, their sense of fun. Although at the moment we grandparents are supposed to be keeping away from them (mine are, in any case, far away)… Well, as they say here, ¡Ánimo!