Mind Your Mood: Flow

Mind your Mood is a series about coping with mental illness or poor mental health during quarantine, written from the perspective of lived experience. The following should not be treated as clinical advice. Talk to your doctor if you need professional help. What I find helpful may not work for you. Respect where you are at this moment. We are all doing the best we can; all we can do is keep trying differently.

I’m pretty sure I’m the only person alive who has not seen Tiger King at this point.

I notice the memes floating around, and I hear my friends talking about it, but still I don’t watch it. I can’t bring myself to complete much of anything these days. An avid book lover, I wake up guiltily to a pile of books next to my bed, because I haven’t been able to read more than a page before losing myself to distraction.

We are going through a life-changing event. It’s normal to be distracted, and I remind myself that every day.

But what to do with all the unspent energy? It can really trigger both my anxiety and depression when I get nothing meaningful done in a day, resulting in pent up feelings and guilt.

One thing that has helped me lately is puzzling. I bought a puzzle on a whim in March, before the shortage (unbelievably, it’s a thing). But the puzzle itself isn’t essential; it’s what I experienced while completing it. Flow.

To put it simply, flow is the feeling you get when you are entirely absorbed by a task. When time feels almost like it’s stopped. When your brain is engaged in this way, it doesn’t have the space to worry, or be self-conscious. It is sometimes referred to as being “in the zone.” There is only you and the task at hand

Flow can happen during any kinds of activity, as long as it a) presents an achievable challenge and b) is personally rewarding as an activity. You can learn more in this video.

Research indicates that people who experience flow on a regular basis have lower levels of depression and anxiety. Puzzling helped me find flow. For a couple hours each evening, I felt a reprieve from my thoughts. But you could also try crosswords, knitting, baking, or working out. Whatever you choose should meet these conditions:

1. You need to care about the task at hand 2. The activity, job or task cannot be too easy or too difficult 3. Optimally, the activity should be something that you are good at. 4. Your mindset surrounding the task should be focused on the journey, not the destination. You could be an athlete focusing on the game instead of the medal, or a mountain climber focusing on the climb instead of the top view.

If you want one simple activity, try colouring. The Foundation’s office coordinator Dana created some cute colouring sheets for you to print out. If you want more of a challenge, try creating patterns of your own in the blank spaces around the design.

Download colouring sheets here.

Here’s a list of other ideas. If you’re looking for some good flow music: Try this album. If you don’t have a Spotify account, search Michael Vallera on Youtube.