Original article: What we can learn from ‘Groundhog Day’ in a perpetual pandemic.
“It’s Groundhog Day!”
The radio presenter’s voice booms from Bill Murray’s clock radio as it ticks from 5:59am to 6:00am.
It’s 2 February.
I’m not suggesting my colleagues on Morning Ireland are anything like their Pittsburgh counterparts in the classic 1993 movie, but 2021 might just be the closest we get to a real-life Groundhog Day.
For many of us, the current restrictions are tiring and tedious. The short and dark winter days have made this third lockdown feel like it’s never going to end.
But, beyond the weather, there are plenty of reasons as to why our current circumstances might be more difficult to manage than last year.
“Back in March, we were all fired up in terms of our response,” psychotherapist Anne Marie Shepherd told Prime Time.
“But, over time, when more people are exposed to the same fear, that will naturally die down,” she said.
And that, she said, allows other emotions, like sadness and despondency, to come to the fore.
But Anne Marie reckons there are lessons to be learned from Bill Murray’s unremittingly monotonous days covering the appearance of groundhog Punxsutawney Phil over and over.
“The movie is all about change and transformation,” she said.
“There’re a set of circumstances that are repeated and Murray’s character completely rails against that. But in the end, he changes his own responses – and he gets different responses back.”
There are also those who argue repetitive days aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
“We actually quite like repetition and predictability,” said Prof Ian Robertson, co-director of the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College Dublin.
“We find that, when things aren’t predicted, it makes us anxious.”
In fairness, Prof Robertson is also deeply aware of the impact of too much repetition.
“There’s no doubt about it – that every day being the same, being in the same place, not going to work, not meeting the same range of people, means we have to create our own stimulation for our brains, because we’re not getting it from the outside,” Prof Robertson said.
“We need a bit of variety.”
But overall, he told Prime Time, there are plenty of people who are managing our version of Groundhog Day just fine.
It may be tough for people who are living their own – but, for most people, their average level of wellbeing hasn’t changed a whole lot.
“We are an incredibly adaptable species – and we have adapted,” Prof Robertson said, noting that it is often the small things in life that make us happy.
“It’s taking pleasure in the moment,” he said.
So how can we learn to find more joy in our day? To remember to stop and smell the… hand sanitiser?
Routine and behaviour can play a role in helping us feel a sense of achievement, according to Anne Marie Shepherd.
But so too can a sense of closeness to others. Nobody wants another Zoom quiz, but maybe we need one, she noted.
“What got people through world wars was that sense of community – and physically coming together,” she said.
“We can’t do that because it is not safe, but we can find ways to keep in touch with one another – and that’s possibly fallen off a bit.”
Prof Robertson also advocates the setting of small goals.
“It’s very easy to miss out on these little success experiences that acted as the equivalent of mini-antidepressants,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to be a big deal – but structure your time, give yourself a tick for a goal achieved and reward yourself a little bit.”
There’s also the simple act of taking a deep breath.
“A little part of my brain called the locus coeruleus is responsive to how much carbon dioxide is in my blood, and as I change the carbon dioxide levels – by taking deep breaths with a long exhale – my locus slows down its firing, and that reduces the amount of noradrenaline in my brain.”
Noradrenaline, he explained, is one of the chemical messengers associated with the fight-and-flight stress response.
“I can change the chemistry of my brain more precisely than anything the pharmacist around the corner can give me.”
But maybe what we need most of all this Groundhog Day is optimism.
“We can reflect back on our experience of the first lockdown and remember that we got through it,” said Anne Marie Shepherd.
“Our thoughts, even before this ever happened, would have probably suggested to us that it was impossible. That it wasn’t achievable. And yet we did.”
It’s Groundhog Day. But it won’t be forever.