We’re creeping up on a year of lockdown. That’s almost 365 days of uncertainty, isolation and life-altering disruption.
On top of this monumental and persistent stress, we have also been deprived of all the things we would normally do to blow off steam, unwind and keep ourselves sane.
We have now done nearly an entire year with no parties, no massive weddings, no holidays, no big nights out, no boozy brunches, no last-minute weekend getaways. In other words, we have been starved of fun – and the impact of that shouldn’t be underestimated.
It might seem frivolous or shallow to complain about not being able to have fun amid the loss and devastation of the pandemic. But, the reality is that losing an integral part of your lifestyle – suddenly and for such a long period – is having a real and detrimental impact on many people’s mental health.
‘Feeling “fun-starved” can create low mood and may lead to spiralling negative thoughts, which might in turn lead to unhealthy habits,’ says Honey Langcaster-James, psychologist and ambassador for Noom.
‘It’s important that we actually have times when we can enjoy life to counterbalance gloom.’
A big part of this spiralling negativity stems from having nothing to look forward to.
Often, we use the ‘fun’ things that we plan to break up the monotony of everyday life, work and chores. With nothing ahead of us but empty pages in our diaries, the hard, stressful and boring elements of life feel endless and threaten to overwhelm us.
‘Having nothing positive on the horizon, can increase stress leading to raised levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and make it hard to see yourself coming out of a tough situation,’ says Honey, ‘which could lead to symptoms of depression.
‘Left unchecked, you may also experience dips in serotonin, which is the main hormone that stabilises our mood and gives us feelings of wellbeing and happiness.’
Honey says that anticipating fun times in the future has been shown to have a positive impact on your mental health.
‘There are in fact three key regions of the brain involved,’ she explains. ‘The ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in encoding rewards and perceived value of events, the midbrain, which impacts motivation and is rich in dopamine, and the hippocampus, which is involved in memories of events.
‘All three regions have been shown to be involved when you anticipate positive events, so having something fun to look forward to may even give your brain a positive boost too.’
Hannah is 33 and lives alone in London. She has been working from home since the beginning of lockdown, and she says the lack of fun in her life is really starting to make her feel low.
‘I don’t even know how to mark my weekends at this point,’ Hannah tells Metro.co.uk.
‘They are just another two days that I have to fill. Since the start of this latest lockdown, I have been really struggling with emptiness of my life. I feel like I am simply existing, not really living at all.
‘I have had to cancel so many things over the last 12 months – like everyone has. Weekends away with my friends, music festivals, my sister’s hen do. These are the things that normally break up my year and make me feel good and happy – without them, I just feel so flat.’
Sara, 26, agrees. She lives in Manchester with two flatmates and has been working remotely since the start of the pandemic. She says the lack of fun has affected her motivation to do anything at all.
‘I feel like I am literally wasting my prime years stuck on the sofa in my house,’ she tells us.
‘All the things that used to feel like a nice, relaxing treat – binging Netflix, or having a night in on my own – that’s now all we can do, so I have completely fallen out of love with self-care.
‘At first, I didn’t realise how much I needed things like nights out, dinners with friends and holidays, but now, after almost a year of doing nothing, my brain is crying out for a huge blow-out.
‘It’s strange because even though I am craving fun, I also feel as though I have been drained of all motivation to do anything. Like the less I do, the less I want to do.’
Cognitive behaviour psychologist Martina Witter says Sara’s reaction is not at all surprising. She explains that being fun-deprived can reduce our life-satisfaction, and make us feel that the things we are doing are less worthwhile.
‘As humans, we need fun to thrive – it is a fundamental human need,’ says Martina. ‘However, due to living in a pandemic, the physiological and safety needs of the world have understandably been prioritised over psychological and self-fulfillment needs.
‘Fun-deprived individuals are lacking motivation, and I have observed this with the clients I work with.
‘A lack of access to fun activities can result in reduced dopamine and serotonin, due to being unable to fulfill the natural desire for fun – all work and no play isn’t good for anyone.
‘A rise in mental health difficulties is an apparent psychological impact of being fun-starved, as there has been a rise in depression, anxiety, stress and burnout due to Covid.’
Martina adds that you’re more likely to struggle with motivation and drive because there are limited rewards available in life at the moment.
‘Individuals that are fun-deprived are also more likely to be anxious due to not knowing when they can re-engage in fun activities because of the uncertainty and continual changes to Covid guidelines.’
How to cope with feeling ‘fun-starved’ in lockdown
First of all, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this.
When your life is devoid of fun, it can quickly begin to feel like a personal failure – particularly if you get sucked into looking at other people’s curated lives on social media.
The whole point of lockdown is that we are all in this together. So, if you feel like your life is empty and boring right now, remember that everybody else is probably feeling a similar level of dissatisfaction.
Secondly, try to create a structure and a plan to build fun into your life – even if that means redefining what ‘fun’ means to you.
Creating structure can be tough when you feel like the days are melting into each other, so we asked the experts for their top tips on how to cope:
Put something fun in your diary
‘A good tip for your overall wellbeing is to put something fun in your diary, even way ahead, that you can look forward to,’ says Honey.
Even if we can’t plan holidays yet, add in that Zoom event that you signed up for, or your call with your best friend. Just having it written in black and white can help with motivation and enthusiasm.
‘Having something that you can focus on can give you a sense that whatever you’re going through now, this will pass, and brighter times are ahead,’ adds Honey.
Set attainable goals
‘Setting yourself some attainable goals to achieve can also really help, especially if they lead to improvements in your health, wellbeing or lifestyle,’ says Honey.
‘Working towards your goals in a steady manner can give a purpose to life now and can make it feel like this is not just wasted, “fun-starved” time.
‘A goal to be healthier for your loved ones by getting fit or losing weight for example can help you see a brighter future.
‘Ultimately, having something to strive towards can be motivating and as you reach incremental milestones that can increase your sense of hope as you can literally see yourself getting there.’
Redefine what ‘fun’ means
Are there ways to have fun that don’t involve spending money, travelling or being in large groups of people?
Martina says it’s important to look inwards during this time, and find creative ways to set new expectations for fun and personal fulfillment.
‘It’s important to engage with your core values and passions when defining fun activities, as this will ensure that you’re sufficiently motivated to pursue these activities and not cancel them due to the limited psychological, social and physical benefits,’ says Martina.
‘2020 saw the rise of digital and virtual fun – such as online cocktail classes, cooking and exercise – I would suggest engaging with this, rather than resisting, otherwise you’ll find yourself restless, isolated and apathetic.’
Do something to give back
Martina suggests considering whether self-fulfillment might be found in places other than what we traditionally consider ‘fun’ – like giving something back to people who are in need.
‘It may be useful to consider volunteering if this is something that you find rewarding,’ she suggests. ‘It is an opportunity to build social connections and purpose in the midst of a pandemic.
‘Why not consider what helped during the first lockdowns, and begin re-engaging with these activities whilst fostering an attitude of gratitude which will enhance you happiness.’
Check your priorities
‘Ask yourself the question – “is fun the focus of a pandemic? Or simply remaining alive?”,’ says Martina.
‘I know it’s bleak, but it is the reality, and we should try re-framing our beliefs and readjusting our expectations for fun, as some are simply wanting to find a job or have sufficient income for their basic needs.
‘We’re living in tough times, but remember – tough times don’t last but tough people do.’
It’s so important to remember that there is privilege in filling your life with the contemporary markers of ‘fun’ – like going abroad every year, or spending your weekends at restaurants and bars. As Martina says, learning to develop gratitude can help us all to recognise this privilege.
‘I would suggest planning fun activities for post-Covid life, such as holidays, spa days, afternoon tea, birthday celebrations,’ says Martina.
‘This will give you hope that there is an end to this crisis whilst enabling you to be resilient and optimistic.
‘Don’t forget to do those things you had been putting off and include fun activities that give you a sense of achievement as this is important in ensuring that your mood is elevated.’
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