The 1993 comedy starring Bill Murray, ‘Groundhog Day’ has become a cult classic over the years. And now, it may feel more relevant than ever. Though most of us aren’t a cranky weather reporter who wakes up every day to a snowstorm, during a pandemic, it’s easy to forget if it’s Monday or Thursday. Many people have also lost track of how many weeks they’ve been on ‘lockdown.’ And for those out of a job, it can be depressing to think of their unemployment stint.
Though it may not be as comforting as we would hope, we are all experiencing our own version of ‘Groundhog Day.’ Sadly, no one knows when we can collectively wake up to a new beginning. What causes this mental experience? And how can we make it less intense? Here, psychologists explain what’s happening:
The separation of work and play are gone
Before COVID-19 threw a big ‘ol wrench into every aspect of our lives, many people had a natural separation between the office and their personal lives. While these lines are always blurred, they are even more intertwined when we must thrive under one roof, 24/7. Dr. Sarah England, a licensed neuropsychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group, explains how much of the external structure reduces our cognitive load (aka—our internal workload) and provides us with clear demarcations (aka—what day it is) has been stripped away.
This isn’t only felt in our schedules that have gone completely haywire, but it’s also decreased those signals to our brain that tells us to ‘shut down’ for the day and move on to a new task. “This clear demarcation of time allows us to mentally prepare for the workday, home in on tasks we have to complete, and affords us a greater chance to concentrate on these tasks as compartmentalization has been established for us,” Dr. England explains. Without it, we’re left feeling aimless.
We are going through various levels of shock
Even if you haven’t been laid off from your job and your salary hasn’t been impacted, you probably know a few struggling people. You also feel empathy for your local community, like restaurants and small businesses battle to stay standing. Though it’s easy to discount your grief as less than others, in some way or another, everyone is experiencing a level of shock right now, according to Los Angeles-based psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. “When something disturbing and out of one’s control such as this pandemic is happening, a person may feel in shock or traumatized,” she continues. “While a person is experiencing these types of emotions, the concept of time can get distorted, with each day being indistinguishable from the others.” As a coping mechanism, Dr. Thomas says many people go into auto-pilot mode, going through the motions of daily work and daily living, but shutting off their emotional response. Over time, this can start to make each 24-hour period feel repetitive as if you’re barely functioning.
We aren’t able to do the same things that typically excite us
Many professionals can’t wait for summer to arrive. Full of out-of-office events to fields and rooftop happy hours, colleagues take turns going on vacation and covering for one another, and the whole mood is lighter. This season looks different than the others, though, since we don’t have the same travel plans, event opportunities, or even the ability to dine at a restaurant in some states. This is a bummer, of course, but it also decreases other feel-good hormones in our mind that keep us chugging along.
“Along with these events, the emotions generated by them—excitement, anticipation, eagerness, joy—are not being produced, and possibly not experienced as part of our days right now,” she continues. “Instead, they have been replaced with waking up to the same home you fell asleep in last night, just how you left it yesterday, the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before that, and so on.” While we all know it won’t last forever, it can quickly feel that way when there is no ebb from the flow.
We can’t celebrate like we usually would.
As states across the country and other nations begin formulating slow reopening plans, social distancing requirements are still fundamentally in place. Some schools of thought believe the six-feet recommendation will be in place through the fall. But how do you celebrate a birthday without hugging the particular person? Host a wedding without dancing? Attend graduation that has enough space for all graduates and their families to cheer them on? It isn’t very easy, and even if we are honoring these significant milestones, they don’t feel the same. That’s why those Groundhog Day vibes can fester, according to Dr. Thomas. “Certain days which used to have some significance associated with them can’t be celebrated or experienced as they were in normal times,” she continues. “Now, they tend to feel like any ‘regular’ day of the week with limited social contact and limited ways to honor the occasion.”
We struggle to find things to look forward to
Beyond the headliner events, there are also small gatherings that usually bring us joy. Say, taking a favorite workout class with a friend and grabbing a cocktail afterward. Maybe, browsing through a local art fair with a coffee in hand that you can drink, since back then, a mask wasn’t needed. These out-of-question experiences have not only transformed our schedules but our minds, according to Dr. England. In fact, she says our lives have—momentarily—been reduced to the same general happenings each day, with no new information added, an unclear outlook, and uncertainty as to when we can enjoy those little meet-ups again. “This takes away from the feeling, ‘I’m looking forward to…’ because it is not clear what or when we can look forward to something,” she adds.
Tips to overcome it
Yes, Groundhog Day may be our way of living for a while, but that doesn’t mean you can’t break out of the mold and create new ways to spruce up your calendar. Remember, a little creativity can make a huge difference:
- Establish and maintain structure: “Schedules give us clarity and understanding of what to expect and therefore the ability to future plan. Without them, there is a lot of uncertainty and thus, difficulty in fitting in fun and relaxing times. Following a regular workday schedule if you can. If you have a separate space that you can go to for work within your home, that will be an immense help. If not, some other, possibly more manageable recommendations are with broader strokes for your schedule.” —Dr. England
- Try to recreate your hobbies at home: “If you had been excited to go to a concert, but it’s been canceled due to the pandemic, listen to the music or watch a YouTube clip of that favorite performer or group. If you had been looking forward to watching or attending a sporting event, find some old footage on the internet or tv since some classic games are being re-run as a way to provide entertainment and help satisfy the cravings of sports fans. The bottom line is that even though life currently cannot be lived in the same way as it had been before the pandemic, you can still make your days productive and meaningful.” —Dr. Thomas
- Mark the end of the day with something relaxing: “This will give you separation from your working hours and personal hours, and give you time to unwind from work stressors. You could go for a short walk around the block, meditation, play fun music, dance or call a loved one. This does not have to be the same one each day, you may want to mix it up so that Monday and Wednesday are one activity, and Tuesday and Thursday are another.” —Dr. England