How To Thrive in the In-Between

Photo: FilippoBacci/Getty Images

Politically and culturally, we’re in a curious liminal moment: Many of us have more reasons to feel hopeful than we have in a long time, between the vaccines for Covid-19 and a new administration — but at the same time, personally and professionally we’re all running on emotional fumes. We’re about to hit the one-year anniversary of the pandemic’s arrival in the United States, but it’s still hard to see the finish line, or believe that there ever will be a definitive moment when we know it’s all over.

We’ve entered the in-between time — and being here is its own stress. Our human brains are bad at dealing with the unknown, and even worse at it when we’re tired. And intense emotions are in and of themselves exhausting, creating an insidious feedback loop.

So how are we supposed to deal?

One piece of advice that’s stuck with me is about finding ways to break up this long, uncertain slog. When the Evil Witches newsletter interviewed a group of mental health professionals about how to handle hitting the pandemic wall, Emily King, a psychologist in Raleigh, North Carolina, suggested thinking about different phases of the pandemic as seasons. “There was a season of campaigning and then waiting for the inauguration and there will be a season, I hope, of empowerment or advocacy or whatever we feel is our thing to put our energy into after this,” she said.

But after each season, King explained, it’s normal for there to be a feeling of aimlessness. “That letdown we feel is that someone let the air out. You release a pressure valve. It’s like the day after your wedding or after Christmas. Notice that, and be reflective — what are you missing in that moment, what did you enjoy about that process, what’s your next thing? What’s your next season?”

Here are three ways we can all get through the season ahead:

Celebrate everything

My household is lucky because we have two February birthdays to look forward to, and you best believe there will be too many balloons, overly ambitious cakes, lavish breakfasts, and special cocktails. But this time is also rife with other opportunities to be a little more joyful. Send sloppy, heartfelt, homemade Valentines to people you miss. Buy tons of candy. The Lunar New Year on February 12 is a great excuse to learn how to make dumplings or support a local restaurant.

And remember that February 2 was a cross-quarter day, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. There’s a pacer for you — winter is half over, which may not mean anything about Covid-19, but definitely means more light.

Get a low-stakes obsession

This is not about setting some kind of goal to do a handstand or run eight-minute miles. Personally, I’m out of energy for productive pandemic hobbies. You might be, too.

So my current obsession is growing out my gray hair — I always dyed it because I thought I wouldn’t like gray hair, but it turns out I do. Now I just need it to grow six inches. Or get a chic, short haircut. Or try to give myself one. Maybe hats are my look right now. Oh look, there’s a whole world of Instagram devoted to #grombre — the growing out gray ombre effect. What a satisfying rabbit hole this is. Maybe I’ll have my hair sorted by the time this pandemic business is over. In any case, it’s a finish line I know I will cross eventually, without any real work on my part. Find something where the stakes are similarly low, and port your impulse to obsess over something right into it.

Do challenging volunteer work

It seems absurd to suggest that anyone pile more things onto their plate right now, but this is an addition that can take away your stress, not add to it — getting outside of your own reality tunnel is a really good way to reset. There are lots of virtual volunteer opportunities out there; find one that speaks to you and see how much more connected you feel.

Or here’s a good deed that’s even easier: If you are a person without children, ask your parent friends if you can take their children for a short outdoor hang, just enough time to give the parent a moment to breathe. If you’re a parent, offer to lend your child to a person craving interpersonal contact. Everyone wins.

You might notice that all of these strategies share something: They all involve living in the moment. And that might be the true answer to how we’ll get through this, and any, season of life.

Annaliese Griffin is a writer and editor who most recently led the Quartz Daily Obsession, an award-winning newsletter. She lives in Vermont with her family.