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How to Break the Monotonous Groundhog Day Cycle

April 21, 2020 | by Emuna Braverman

Stuck in lockdown, what to do when one day is the same as the next and they all just blur together with no end in sight.

“Variety is the spice of life,” wrote William Cowper in 1875. Whether we fall back on that old adage or use our own words, I think we all know what he meant. I think we all experience it. Part of our ability to accept the drudgery of everyday life lies in our knowledge that it will soon be interrupted. Something is coming that will, even if just for a moment, upend our routine, challenge our expectations, lift us out of our doldrums.

It may be a child’s birthday party (or our own!) or a family simcha, it may be a long weekend, a drive to the countryside, an exotic vacation, or even just a night out with friends. It may be going to a show or a restaurant, a park (state or local) or, here in sunny SoCal, the beach. All of these experiences break up the monotony, rejuvenate us, and give us the energy we need to return to our daily tasks.

What do we do when all that has been taken away from us, when none of those experiences are available? And no, zoom birthday parties just don’t cut it. What do we do when one day is the same as the next, when they all just blur together with no end in sight – it’s frequently difficult to even remember what day it is! – and nothing seemingly to look forward to? How do we cope when the days stretch on ahead with every day being some version of same old, same old, of Groundhog Day, or as Yogi Berra used to say, “It’s déjà vu all over again!”

I’ve been wrestling with this issue since the end of Passover and exploring my options. Option one is to give in to depression and lie in bed all day with the covers pulled up over my head. As tempting as that may seem, I have decided not to give in to that one.

Option two is to be creative (never my forte) and find small things to look forward to and appreciate. It’s not always easy but I’m left with no choice practically (there is also option three which I’m coming to). It’s a matter of survival. So yesterday when I took a walk with my husband (in the neighborhood where we live on the streets we walk every day) I tried to notice things that usually don’t catch my eye. There right beside us were some luscious red roses in bloom. I’m not exaggerating and I’m certainly not being poetic (!) but they were exceptionally beautiful. Maybe if I weren’t so starved for variety, I wouldn’t have paid attention. But I would have lost out.

I also find that if we run into anyone we know when we are out for a walk, we end up having much longer conversations (at a social distance of course). Whereas in the past, we would have mumbled “Hello” and one of those meaningless “How are you?’s”, we now stop and chat – and learn about each other’s lives. We are eager to see a familiar face. Before each walk, I wonder who we will run into and what we will learn from them.

Around our house we’re all trying to read more (anything but the news!) and enliven our conversation with discussions about the quest for power in Henry the Eighth’s England for example. It definitely takes our mind off “the situation” and provides food for thought, some “spice” as Cowper suggested. And with our kids and grandkids who live with us, we’ve been doing a project that involves the whole family. The kids have to research and do projects on a particular country (led by their mother at age-appropriate levels) and my husband and I are in charge of making the corresponding food. My husband has become the pastry chef (way out of his comfort zone) and devotes a few hours one afternoon per week to baking with them and I am in charge of dinner with my sous-chefs at the ready. We all share a meal based on the foods of another country and see the children’s projects as the price of dinner. It’s definitely something to look forward to, although it is a lot of work! If I think about it, even the kinds of things I “used” to eagerly anticipate, like travel, required tremendous effort; I’m just rechanneling that.

And finally (but certainly not exhaustively), option 3 is to look forward to Shabbos. Who could imagine that under lockdown, shut-in circumstances, we would still eagerly anticipate Shabbos, perhaps even more so? I find that I am just as busy as before and really welcome Shabbos. It is a great break from all the frantic zoom activity – meetings and classes – and the stresses of the news. Even though we are home ALL the time, Shabbos still gives punctuation to the week; it provides a goal, a focus and yes, even some variety. I even know a number of people who are turning to Shabbos now amidst this plague, more eager than ever to shut down, to disconnect, to get away from zoom and facetime and houseparty, all of which are simultaneously blessings and curses.

So yes it does seem like the days are all the same and it’s true that many of the activities we used to look forward to are not available but the answer is not to give up and grab the ice cream (although ice cream can be something to look forward to!) but to refocus and reframe. There are so many opportunities for pleasure, for gratitude and appreciation, so many small beauties and experiences that can enhance our days and break up our routines, if only slightly, but we have to look for them. We have to work for it.

And let’s not forget about Shabbos. A disconnect, a family dinner, any aspect of Shabbos that we incorporate into our lives at this moment refreshes and renews – and gives us that ultimate experience to look forward to, a connection with the Almighty.

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