I feel… weird.
After years of building my knowledge of “How To Self Care,” I’ve become well-versed in identifying my needs and fixing them. I know how to rest when I’m tired, or how to channel my energy when there’s an excess.
But lately it’s been increasingly difficult to recharge. I feel drained in a way I can’t quite describe and I can’t even begin to articulate whatever need it is that I’m failing to meet. A quick browse of The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows suggests I’m feeling an overdose of kenopsia—“the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now abandoned and quiet”—but that’s only part of the story.
Anyway, even if I knew for certain what was going on—if my Fairy Godmother appeared and informed me I’m suffering from sublimated covid anxiety mixed with kenopsia, lack of direction and boredom—well, great. What do I do about it?
None of my usual strategies for recovering my energy are working. My restful activities are leaving me more tired, and trying something active is making me stressed. Nothing I try prevents my energy from draining away, bit by bit.
So, in a possibly unwise move, I turned to the internet. The plan: as a one-month experiment, act on as many novel “recharging ideas” as I can.
Here’s how it went.
Idea #1: Less social media
Productivity and self-help experts often recommend limiting social media time. Now that I think about it, beaming a constant stream of unnecessary doom into my eyeballs does seem like a poor idea. And since I can’t ban everyone else from social media—which would solve the problem at a single stroke—I’d better ban myself.
From experience, I know it’s easier to aim to cut something down rather than cut it out, so in the end I didn’t ban myself entirely from social media. Instead, I made it harder to access by deleting all my mobile apps and automatically pausing distracting websites on my desktop browser.
I found I didn’t miss the excess social media at all. And I’ve definitely felt less fury-sadness during these weeks. This change didn’t replenish my missing energy but it did seem to slow the drain.
Deleting social media from my phone isn’t as good as throwing every computing device owned by humanity into the sea, but it was a strong beginning to the month of experiments. 10/10, would recommend.
Idea #2: Get closer to nature
I hate being told to get closer to nature. Don’t get me wrong, I love nature, I just hate being told to appreciate it. (This probably tells me that deep down, I know that I ought to be doing it more.)
I made an effort to get outside and spend some time by the river or in the countryside. But I also thought that I needed something more permanent, so I bought a plant. He’s called Ken, and I have enjoyed both the project of looking after him and the improved ambience he’s bringing to my home. Making my space a little more natural has raised the baseline for every day, which can only help.
Idea #3: “Yes Day”
While browsing for ideas on how to recharge, I came across the concept of a “yes day.” For parents, this might mean putting your kids in charge for an entire day. I have no kids, but my partner and I thought this idea might be fun. So, on the basis that something completely novel might be enough to break me out of the mysterious funk, I nervously agreed to do whatever she wanted for an entire day.
I was afraid of what this might entail (there was initially talk of horse-riding, makeovers, and lengthy shopping trips) but, in the end, I had nothing to worry about. She wanted to go to an art gallery, to the cathedral gardens, out for lunch, and drink cocktails in the sunshine. Perfect.
Even though this ended up being a day I might have planned for myself, it was freeing that I hadn’t done so. I realized that I’ve spent decades planning my days down to the smallest detail. It was liberating to let go completely, without even collaborating on making the plan like we usually do.
If, like me, you rarely take a day off from decision-making, and if you have a friend, partner or family member who you trust enough, it might be a pleasant, recharging experiment to put them in charge for a day.
Idea #4: Lazy journaling
I always feel better after journaling about my thoughts and feelings. But mostly, I can’t be bothered to actually take time to write about how I’m feeling or what I’ve been doing*.
* I appreciate the irony of writing this in an article about what I’ve been feeling & doing.
However, every source of recharging advice was enthusiastic about journaling, so eventually I got worn down and vowed to try it… in the laziest possible way.
I opened a document, I refused to think about what I was writing, and I began to type.
I find it much easier to commit to stream-of-consciousness writing, perhaps because it prevents my internal editor from getting in the way. As a result, I was able to express some frustrations which I hadn’t been able to articulate before. And occasionally, my thoughts would meander onto random nonsense, which helped by entertaining me with my own silliness.
Overall, this idea was a great success. It brought some much-needed clarity to some confused feelings, and I highly recommend it.
Idea #5: A personal retreat
I’ve written before about the benefits of retreat. At the start of the month I realized I hadn’t been anywhere completely new since January 2020, so I planned to take a couple of days to go somewhere. It didn’t matter where: a nearby town, a night in the countryside, a beach, a park, whatever.
Unfortunately my local area went back into lockdown, so I just stood in a different room at home for a bit longer than usual. It wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. But if you can go somewhere new, safely and without too much effort, it might be worth a try.
Idea #6: A ludicrously early night
Many people swear that occasional early bedtimes are necessary to catch up on sleep, and while I’ve often joked that being in bed by six is the dream, I’d never actually tried it until now.
So, one night, instead of my habitual bedtime at around 10ish/11ish, I got into bed at 8pm. I fully expected to lie awake for hours thinking “this was a silly idea” but I was apparently exhausted enough to go right to sleep and remain in bed for twelve whole hours! I cannot remember the last time this happened.
I would love to say that the next day was a constant parade of energetic success, but I was somehow even more tired afterwards.
The conclusion I draw from this is either:
- I have a significant sleep deficit and this is a signal that I need to do this more often,
- Or the universe doesn’t make sense and I should give up trying to artificially manipulate how I feel, and simply get better at listening to my intuition and sleeping/exercising/drinking water/whatever more naturally.
Which brings me to…
All the obvious stuff
Every piece of advice I read began by underlining the importance of eating well, taking walks, seeing friends (unless it was written in 2020… laughing-sadface), napping, exercising, etc. As usual, this was irritating, particularly since this was all the stuff I was doing that was no longer working.
But I still made an effort to keep it up as best I could because not doing the basics is worse. (I already experimented earlier in lockdown with failing to keep up with the basics, and it was not good.)
A conclusion, of sorts
As the month ends, the weird feeling has mostly dissipated. I would love to tell you that this is because somewhere during these experiments I stumbled on the One Idea That Solves All My Problems, but I can’t even be sure that these experiments helped at all. Perhaps the feeling would have dissipated no matter what I did!
But that doesn’t make this a failed experiment. A few of these ideas were new to me in concept, and most were new to me in execution. At the very least, trying them out made a potentially difficult month more fun, and I have some plans to keep experimenting in future.
The point isn’t that these particular experiments are special. After all, many of them are already habits for other people, and they’re not all possible in every circumstance. But if you’re feeling stuck—and aren’t we all, in 2020?—then I bet there are some similar trials you could play with. Try making a list of experiments and giving them a go. Maybe you’ll hit on an idea that reenergizes your life and routine! And if you do, be sure to let us know.
In the meantime, I’m off to say hi to Ken. Take care.
[this article was originally written for Puttylike]
Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety, and The Shop Before Life, a tale about a magical shop which sells human personality traits. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, speaking about mental health, computer programming, public speaking and everything from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you said hello.