My advice for today is to aim for busy and not to aim for happy. Happy is a tricky state, and we can’t always guarantee it. When times are weird and uncertain it can be hard to feel ‘happy’, even if you are enjoying something, because there might be a nagging worry or doubt under there at the same time. Happy can let us down if we think we are supposed to achieve it and we don’t. It never helps our mood to feel we have failed. Don’t see not finding your happy as a failure. See being happy as something that may happen but in the meantime you are busy being busy.
That isn’t to say that you aren’t allowed to feel happy. If you do, brilliant! Go with it and make the most of it. This current world doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. If you find your happy, take it as a brilliant bonus.
I think we are all better aiming at busy. Busy means active, but it doesn’t have to mean frenetic. It just means doing things with your time. And if ‘doing things’ to you looks like playing on your Xbox, or listening to music, or chatting to friends online, or colouring in, they are all good. It is much harder for low mood and anxiety to take a strong foothold if we are busy and active.
If you are one of the millions of teens who have had exams cancelled, it can be hard to know what to be active doing right now. It is hard to feel there is any point. I would recommend trying to see being active as the point in itself.
There is a purpose to this not being ‘wasted time’ where nothing happens, just waiting for normal life to return. You don’t have to be enjoying everything you do, but keep busy and at least you can get to the end of the day and have a list of the things you did, even if not a big list of the things you enjoyed. And you are much more likely to enjoy something if you have a range of things to choose from. One of them might turn out to have been OK, or even fun.
It is often said that we play more and enjoy more when we have also done some work that day. Is this a time to learn a new skill online - a craft, a new musical instrument or a language perhaps? It may be that you can do some school work that keeps you busy and then some other activity that will feel more relaxing or enjoyable.
Or it may be that you can find a way to be helpful at home - hanging out the washing, hoovering, washing up for example. That half an hour of being busy will really help out others in your family and that will make you feel good about helping (even if the hoovering or washing you did was really boring itself).
This isn’t an argument against stillness. Stillness and mindfulness can fit here. Being mindful is an active choice which means to pay attention to what is going on and to your experience right now in the present moment. So you can be very mindful going for a walk and noticing the bird song. Or mindful in concentrating totally on whatever you are doing, be it colouring or washing up. You can also sit perfectly still and be active at being mindful of your own breathing.
Get busy. Do whatever it is you do. Find tasks, ask family members for challenges and jobs. Write a list of anything that needs doing, or could be done, and have a go. And if you find your happy on the way, give it a wave from me!
Best wishes to you and yours,
Dr Helen Care, Clinical Psychologist
A Confident Start
Dr Care provides child, teen and family therapy via video at