There are so many aspects of life amid the new coronavirus pandemic now eroding at our mental health that I doubt you need me to enumerate them all. But even as I began to think I had a handle on the wide spectrum of emotions I was going through—from grieving normalcy to grappling with loneliness—there was still something I couldn’t pinpoint hanging out in the pit of my stomach. Whatever it was, it was making my depression feel deeper, my anxiety more tightly wound, and my general existential dread heavier, and I couldn’t figure out why.
A few weeks ago, I realized what it was: I didn’t have anything to look forward to anymore. The way things are now, the future is uncertain. We’ve lost our ability to plan our lives in big and little ways. Social isolation means there are no happy hours, no birthday parties, no movie dates on the horizon. Events, vacations, career moves, life changes? More or less on hold. Hell, even weekends have lost their power as an end-of-the-week treat with how days are bleeding together into one large blob of sameness.
Limbo isn’t exactly a place for our mental health to thrive. In the absence of being able to look forward to things with certainty, the best we can do is create small pockets of future hope in the meantime. So in case it helps you too, here are just a few ways I’ve been cultivating the feeling of having something to look forward to despite being stuck alone in my apartment for the foreseeable future. They’re not a replacement for the things we lost, but for now, they’ll have to do.
1. Put upcoming TV, movie, and book releases on your calendar.
I know the pandemic threw a wrench in a lot of planned programming (is anyone else low-key cranky about the abrupt season finale on Grey’s Anatomy?) but at least with streaming, there’s always a steady stream (haha) of things in the pipeline. Keep an eye on your chosen streaming service’s social media and website (or Google “coming soon to Netflix/Hulu/whatever” if you’re lazy like me) to find shows and movies you love so you can start counting the days. The same goes for books you can’t wait to read. If you don’t already have a list going, sites like Goodreads have plenty of user-generated lists of anticipated 2020 releases.
Me, I’ve got May 15th circled because it’s when Avatar: The Last Airbender finally hits Netflix and October 6th earmarked for when I can finally hold The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab in my hands.
2. In fact, put any and all things on the calendar.
I’m finding that sometimes all you need to look forward to something is the reminder that it’s on the horizon. I’ve always been a calendar devotee, whether G-Cal or a bullet journal, and I’ve doubled down on the habit. Anything that stands to bring you a little joy right now—phone calls with loved ones, a new episode of a TV show, your weekly face mask, whatever—put it on the calendar and see if it helps build some much-needed anticipation.
3. Save certain treats or activities for “special” occasions.
Things have gotten a little lawless in this household. Time is basically an illusion, and with the exception of things that get in the way of work, I’ve found that I’m pretty much doing what I want, when I want. In some ways, this is in service of self-care (we’re in the middle of a literal pandemic, I’m not going to beat myself up for eating cookies for breakfast), but in other ways, I’m robbing myself of the enjoyment I get from certain treats by making them commonplace. Kind of like how you can run a song you love into the ground by playing it over and over again.