The Hamster Wheel Effect

Persevering with wellbeing after one year of the pandemic. Find freedom within when external resources are restricted.

Throughout the pandemic my clients (and friends) have expressed an underlying theme of unease. “This morning’s meeting feels like it was last week,”“I don’t get as much done as I normally would.” “I’m just so sleepy all the time.” I also hear dissatisfaction with creeping habits of staying on computers longer, drinking wine at the end of every day or watching TV late into the night.

When I inquire about this, they all identify some form of feeling disconnected. “Chatting with friends over video just isn’t the same as in person.” “I try to think positively but not much optimism comes to mind.” Even for those who enjoy their daily efforts, they too are dissatisfied. “I go to bed and wake up just to do the very same thing every day.”

For months I have been telling them that they (me too!) are not alone. There is something a bit comforting at least in knowing that this is a shared phenomenon. During the first part of the pandemic as we buckled down and coped, the steady vigilance dined out on our wellbeing reserves. Then we got into a restricted routine and the inner questions began. “What is this all for?”

Articulating these experiences helps somewhat, lifting the mind and heart out of the fog to give it a name. I call it ‘the sticky place’. This provides a narrative to launch from, to extrapolate a trajectory to a preferred state of being. However, what are we searching for? “I wish I could go dancing.” “I miss travelling.” “I can’t see my grandchildren.”

A growing number of writers about this suggest to find alternatives, to engage in something new, to stimulate the senses. We know being outdoors provides many benefits. How about start a new hobby? Create an online family project? By the nature of opposites, we want to flip a switch from can’t to can. These can be good practical strategies but if they don’t work, then they are simply distractions.

You may have read to this point and assume I have an answer for you – sorry I don’t! Typical of a good coach, we don’t provide solutions but we open the door to inquiry. My instinct taps into deeper work, acknowledging the grieving of normalcy and inviting self compassion, to make room for mental, emotional, physical, spiritual (MEPS I call it) unease.

Consider the doorway into the next room. It is not where you want to be but how you want to be. What are we grasping for? What is beyond the present moment that will solve our problems? For example, what is the essential thing missing when you can’t see family? Love. Be with this, hold space for love.

The world is as it is. Outside of ourselves we are showing up in all kinds of ways. If we feel lost, tune in to the ‘internal traveller’ I call it, the ultimately peaceful place where there are no answers, just presence. It may not bring happiness, but I think it resembles contentment. What is, is just ‘is’. Breathe gently. Rest. And the then move again when you are ready.