In the 1993 comedy, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays Phil Connors, a grouchy weatherman covering Groundhog Day in small-town Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. After getting stuck in Punxsutawney due to an unexpected snowstorm, Phil finds himself waking up on February 2—Groundhog Day—every single morning. Phil is not impressed.
A year ago this week, COVID-19 arrived in Canada, along with stress, fear, uncertainty, worry and many restrictions on life as we knew it. Slowly, many Canadians started to feel they had entered their own version of Groundhog Day. Like Phil, most people weren’t impressed. For many of us, daily repetition can lead to feelings of anxiety, low mood, even depression or despair.
The negative and positive effects of sameness
Groundhog Day, or the feeling of “sameness”, can be a matter of perception or outlook. Let’s look at how we can transform monotony into meaning, minimizing the risks to our mental wellness.
Everyday being the same is just so boring. Being bored is something to take seriously. The Inc. article, You’re Not Burnt-Out. You’re Bored-Out, says, “Employee boredom, labelled bore-out, is a growing workplace trend and is seen as a psychological disorder that can lead to burnout and illness.” If boredom can cause burnout at work, how much damage can it do when we’re bored with work and life?
Monotony and boredom make us deeply uncomfortable, sad and even anxious. In a 2016 research study called, Self-inflicted pain out of boredom, participants could administer an electrical shock to themselves when they were feeling bored, sad or neutral. The authors of this paper found that “Participants in the boredom condition self-administered more shocks and with higher intensity, compared to both the neutral and sadness condition. The results indicate that the shocks function to disrupt monotony and not to regulate negative emotional experience in general.”
We need change and stimulation but we also need routine. Verywell Mind reports that routines “can help you lower stress levels, form good daily habits, take better care of your health, help you feel more productive … [and] focused.” And Darren Hardy, author of The Compound Effect, says, “A daily routine built on good habits and disciplines separates the most successful among us from everyone else. The routine is exceptionally powerful.”
The best state
The best state for us is stimulating and even moderately stressful. Living free of change or stress is not desirable. However, we do need some predictability in our lives which is why we crave routines. The perfect balance is a mix of stimulation and certainty, the optimal zone is the area between panic and boredom.
Sameness and boredom—especially when combined with uncertainty and isolation—can distance us from meaning and remove our zest for life. It’s easy to get into a pattern of sweatpants, Zoom, feed kids, Netflix, sleep and repeat. Even if this pattern starts as stress-relieving, the positive side effects wear off quickly when we can’t find meaning in the sameness.
Lesson from Groundhog Day: Act purposefully
When Phil first realized Groundhog Day was never ending, he began drinking, crashing cars and eating too much. However, Phil got bored of injecting hedonism into every day and he still didn’t know how to get out of the Groundhog Day loop.
Phil did the only thing he could: he surrendered and started acting purposely. He accepted that his current situation was beyond his control. To act purposely, Phil decided to make the most of his current reality, despite his frustrations. His Groundhog Day got better when he started learning, helping others and finding meaning in the everyday sameness. He was able to move from bored to optimal.
It’s possible to find meaning and stimulation when your days are on repeat.
Five ways to make the best of your Groundhog Day experience:
- Take care of yourself – Whether you’re wired for excitement or are naturally inclined towards stability, neglecting self-care takes a toll. When every day is the same, it’s a great opportunity to add the right things to the calendar. Self-care involves getting enough quality sleep, eating whole foods, moving your body and staying connected to people who lift you up.
- Learn something – Accomplishments make us feel good; they stimulate us. Learning something entirely new or learning a new element of your favourite hobby increases your enthusiasm for life.
- Take a weekly digital break – If your Groundhog Day includes many hours of screen time, give yourself a break. A digital break is one day a week of limited screen-time (no smartphone, tablet, computer or TV). It might feel hard or weird at first, but it may soon become your favourite day of the week. Unplugging lets us relax and enjoy life more than we can when we’re tied to electronics.
- Do the same thing differently – There’s still room for novelty once routines are well-established. If you usually take the same route for your daily walk, take a different route or take the same route and walk in the opposite direction. Even though it’s a small difference, this can quench your thirst for change while maintaining your positive habit.
- Manage worrying – When life feels like Groundhog Day, try to reduce anxiety and worry; experts agree this will not be a permanent state for us. Author, Leo F. Buscaglia says, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy.”
If life feels the same right now, that’s okay. You might even start to benefit from your own Groundhog Day!
How to Write a Worry Script
If worrying is part of your Groundhog Day, read How to Write a Worry Script from Anxiety Canada and put it into practice. Writing a worry script helps people manage excessive worrying.
Game Changers for Mental Health: Self-Care
Read this self-care guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and discover different types of self-care to incorporate into your life.