As the days shorten and nature starts to signal the shift in seasons, we draw nearer to when would historically have been the wrapping of the traditional busy tourism season here on the Oregon Coast. Pre-pandemic, in the hectic buzz of the high season we tracked the passage of time not by the calendar but rather by the completion of our major annual summer events. The Sandcastle Contest, 4th of July Fireworks, Astoria Regatta Festival, Seaside Volleyball Tournament and Hood to Coast relay events would have brought thousands of visitors to our region to fill hotel rooms, shop at stores, dine in restaurants and replenish the coffers of our small businesses. For all their benefits, making it through each of these events also gave our business community a sense of relief — because they could see, on the horizon, a blessed chance to catch their breath and return to a bit more of a “normal” pace.
When the pandemic struck in March these events were wiped from the calendar. The normal cadence and expectations business owners long built plans around were no longer available. Instead each day brought a new challenge or change and keeping oneself from sinking into constantly moving quicksand became the standard operating procedure.
This constant motion required would fatigue even the most resilient and prepared of individuals. It is understandable that many business owners are mentally, physically, and emotionally drained and yearn for the respite that the shift in seasons usually offers. Unfortunately, change is still on the horizon: the pandemic continues to threaten the business environment, looming winter weather means business models that have been squeezed to make room for social distancing may, once again, no longer be viable, customers will be making new patterns to accommodate their own disruption at home, and political and societal unrest at the global, national, state and now local level are layering on added tension.
Many business owners have expressed a feeling that time seems to be flying by with nothing of note to mark its passage and little confidence that they can slow it down or have control over their future — like they are living in “Groundhog Day." In her bestselling book, "Rising Strong," noted researcher and author Brene Brown stated, “We are most dangerous to ourselves and to other people when we feel powerless. Powerlessness leads to fear and desperation. And our fear grows in tandem with the strength of our belief that an opening has been forever closed. Pervasive feelings of powerlessness eventually lead to despair.”
Author and pastor Rob Bell describes despair as “a spiritual condition. It’s the belief that tomorrow will be just like today.” To help combat the feeling of despair caused by "Groundhog Day Syndrome," here are some strategies to help get yourself out of the rut, shake off the fatigue and perhaps build a sense of hope:
1. Give yourself permission to take “time off” to recharge. When "doing" feels like it's what is keeping your business going, taking time for oneself can feel selfish or even impossible. Yet, to function at peak performance, our brains and bodies need time to rest. Even if it is scheduling an afternoon off or short getaway, make sure you are giving yourself an opportunity to break away from your business.
2. Set small goals that give you a sense of “win." Setting big goals that are not achievable can be a recipe for disappointment. This may be a time when 30-day challenges or achieving major life milestone achievements is unrealistic. Instead, try to set yourself one small goal daily that is achievable — whether it is doing 15 minutes of yoga, calling a loved one, paying a nagging bill — something to give yourself a sense of accomplishment.
3. Be a connection for others. Despair and fatigue can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation — yet human connections are one of the most valuable constants we have in our lives right now. It can sometimes feel uncomfortable to think about needing others because we don’t want to feel like a burden so perhaps think about someone in your life who might need some support right now and reach out — the likelihood is that you will both benefit greatly from making the connection!
4. Celebrate life’s special moments with even more flair. If you have an anniversary, birthday or other milestone coming up but find yourself depressed that you cannot “celebrate it like you used to” it’s time to shake it up. Gather friends together for a Zoom party where everyone wears funny hats and participates in a dance competition, or re-create a romantic dining experience by ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant — but transform your dining room into a candlelit affair complete with the fancy china! Now is the time to bring magic, fun, laughter and love back into your life through excessive celebration.
5. Do, see or create something new. One of the best ways to get out of a rut is to experience something new or different. Brainstorm one thing you have always wanted to see, one thing you have always wanted to do and/or one thing you have always wanted to create — then do one or all of them! Reminder: make it achievable!
6. Move your body. Exercise and movement releases endorphins that send positive signals to your brain and can help you cope with stress. Even if it is a going on a 15-minute walk or doing 10 minutes of seated stretching, taking time to care for your body will also help you care for your mind. Even better, try to get outside while doing it and give yourself an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful place we call home.
Just like Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Groundhog Day” eventually experiences, today is indeed a new day. Hopefully one or more of these strategies will help give you a way to make it different, filled with a renewed sense of hope and opportunity!
Jessica Newhall is the associate director and Small Business Management program manager for the Clatsop Community College Small Business Development Center. She can be reached at email@example.com.