Weeks go by, day in, day out with nothing to break up ‘time’. ‘Time’ in lockdown lacks focus and energy; it is blurred and colourless.

Morning, evening and bedtime; in winter, in this pandemic it seems like every day is indistinguishable from the next.

In lockdown we have nowhere to go or to be – except at home. Confined to one space, we lose track of time, days, and the world outside.

We still have meals to prepare (and to eat) home-schooling and working from home. TV to watch and household chores to do.  And family stuff. Monday laundry.. ….Thursday shopping… Saturday…cleaning. An online church service on Sunday? An online quiz with friends, or Zoom yoga?…. Or, maybe not.

There is so little to break up the day… the week…. this past year. It feels like we are merely existing; not living.

Because we spend so much time at home it is more difficult to ‘see’ our home as a space. It’s just somewhere to be. It looks the same, it feels the same. The texture of our daily life is monotonous because we are not able to add contrast.

The truth is: lockdown is not just boring; it is dulling our minds.

While people are dying, and healthcare staff are working flat out, it may seem frivolous or shallow to say:  ‘we are bored’.  But, away from the frontline, this phenomenon is shared across the wider population – not just shielders, and not just people living in care homes –   we are all becoming institutionalised by our own (very) limited outlook.

Being bored is not the critical issue. It is when boredom leads to lack of motivation, inertia and lethargy that it becomes a route into depression, anxiety and lack of self-esteem. 

It is when boredom leads to a crippling level of  isolation and sense that nothing will ever change that the unstimulated and uninspired mind can move towards dark, deep thoughts. Particularly if there is no-one at hand to keep these thoughts in check.

As our conversations on the phone become noticeably shorter, we find we are boring ourselves.  We have no ‘news,’ no gossip – except what is in the news. And, although thankful we are safe and well, we have nothing else to say… or do.

In this midst of all this, people on furlough live in a strange twilight world of ‘being employed’ but ‘not working’. And of course, there are those who have lost their jobs, with the added worry that they may also lose their home.

This is more than just the normal lethargy of  the ‘winter blues’. Covid is creating an underlying life of fear and anxiety –  of other people, of other spaces. If staying ‘in’ (at home) is the only safe place, then ‘outside’ the home must be risky and perilous.

We feel like prisoners in our own homes. 

Even if we have a lovely home –  our dream home –  it is still a confined space and so, in this pandemic, our access to other people is limited  to whoever we see when we are out shopping, or walking.

For those of us who play by the rules, this experience is making us all old before our time. We have lost our va va voom. The longer this goes on, we worry that we may not get it back again. We also worry for our family and our friends, and for society as a whole.

Being at home is all we have been asked to do –  and all that we can do. 

At home, our lives are safe. But, we are in a kind of limbo: waiting for change to come; for the virus to go away and for that elusive thing called ‘normal life’ to return.  Whatever that might be.

Watching TV recently, one scene shook me up more than the unfolding drama. Picture this:  A man walking along the street drops into a pub to meet a friend. 

A pub. A place to be sociable; a welcoming environment full of people, and atmosphere, conversation and laughter.

That moment of being outside and  then… inside. That instant of being hit by the warmth, the bubbling conversation and music. A pub is a community of strangers, but it is generally a happy and welcoming place.

To be able to ‘choose’ to step from a street into a pub – with the sole purpose to be with other people in a warm, lively, public and social  atmosphere – is something we took for granted.

A pub is not just about drinks and getting drunk.  It’s a place that draws people together. There may be live music and dancing so the pub becomes an immersive mind and body experience. It is much more than just a boozy ‘night out’. 

Pubs draw friends, colleagues and families together as a place to be sociable. There is the pleasure of sitting with friends in a crowded bar where you can people-watch,  or just ‘ be’  with other people.

A year on from the start of Covid these simple diversions to daily life are what we miss most – and what we crave.

Now, nothing happens in a random, carefree way.

We don’t drop in on people.

We can’t browse in shops.

And so, the ‘experience’ of idly wandering into a card shop…. a book shop… clothes shop… sports shop… is not part of our life. We also miss the option of going to concert halls, theatres, galleries and gyms. In Covid these are ‘non-essential spaces’. But we remember them as gloriously adding  colour and personality to our lives; something that is now sadly missing.

We miss even the dingiest  of pubs because they are part of the whole ‘pub experience’: how a space looks, and feels – and is.  

There is something so deeply familiar and comforting about all the things that make a pub a pub: red flock wallpaper, wrought iron tables, brass fixtures, decorated mirrors, a real fire, wooden panelling, wooden floors, the smell of beer, the taste of crisps, the hubbub of conversation. This cannot be replicated virtually. We need actual physical contact and total body/mind immersion.

We worry about all the people who work in hospitality.

People who built up a business; who created these spaces, this ambience. Hospitality has been totally ravaged by Covid – pubs more so than any other space. In this age of Covid, alcohol relaxes people  – perhaps too much. To be convivial is to let your guard down – which we cannot do.  

This pervasive sense of boredom is more than just ennui: it borders on the pathological. We are surviving but not thriving, because we lack the variety, options and opportunities of other spaces and experiences. 

In order to get through this (and keep depression at bay) we have to adjust our mindset and reduce our expectations. But we have options.

As Albert Einstein once said:

Logic will take you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.

We can transport ourselves into different worlds, times and experiences through film, books and music. Breaking Bad takes us to the lows and highs of Albuquerque…Anxious People to a small town in Sweden and Swing music right back to the music of the greats… Ella Fitzgerald.. Glenn Miller.. Louis Jordan. We can lose ourselves in our imagination –  just so that we can ‘feel’ something different. That is: something stimulating and creative to connect us to other people, places and ways of life.

In this pandemic, our life and ‘community’ is largely lived via Netflix  and TV. We rely on media to add gossip, character, settings, plots, social behaviour, language, historical insights and visual appeal to widen our knowledge and experience. Our media life is the closest thing we have to a real social life. At the very least, it gives us something to talk about!

In design terms there is a very fine line between a space that is calm, relaxing and serene – and one that is bland, dull and unimaginative. It takes experience and skill to maintain the right balance of elements.

Where we are now – on the edge of  boredom – undoubtedly, we have less to distract us. But, as the philosopher Bachelard recognised, boredom can lead to meaningful, creative thoughts and a deeper connection to the physical world.   If we can find that portal from ‘boredom’ to ‘being at peace’ we can awaken our spirit and perhaps find a higher level of contentment and flow.

It can be something as simple as looking out a window.

Staring abstractedly and dreamily outside, can become a creative pause. That is, a point where our thoughts are interrupted so that they shift something in our brains and we relax into a different mode of thinking, and seeing. 

A creative pause is the opposite of over-thinking. It is unforced, undirected and free.

A creative pause is simple….and inspirational…. and poetic.

So, we cannot go to the pub… but we can substitute people-watching with bird-watching. Observing birds  in the garden (their behaviours, feeding habits and how they interact) opens up a whole social world – of the avian kind. My new friends

By switching ‘off’ we re-engage the brain to switch ‘on’ to a more relaxed, full body way of thinking. It is not passive. It is active.

For example: noticing how the sunlight hits a room … or how the clouds move … or the majesty of trees. It is about spotting early snowdrops…the rain on the window… listening the sound of children playing.

Moving past boredom to a new way of thinking taps into our own personal creativity and imagination.

Years ago I visited the Ryōan-ji Zen temple in Japan. It is a place designed just for gazing, looking and thinking. There is something strangely odd about staring at raked stones around rocks – and yet not.

At this time, what we need most is a place where we can be ourselves. Or the mindset where we can just ‘be’.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights across the social/spatial sphere.

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