Re-thinking Locked-Down Evenings. 

Are you stuck in a rut, doing the same things most evenings? I’ve created a simple 5-Step guide to help you create more fulfillment and balance in your life by transforming your evenings.
Finding fulfillment and balance in our daily lives seems to be harder and harder. As more people are either working from home or unable to go to work due to restrictions, and things we used to do socially, to exercise or for fun have also been restricted, many people find themselves locked in boring, restricted routines. As the strain of the ongoing pandemic adds pressure and increases everyday stress, evenings that may once have been filled with social and recreational activities are frequently a time when people want to “tune out” and avoid any more stress. It seems that a new norm in many households is: dinner followed by staying up late watching tv or Netflix.
While trying to avoid or give ourselves a break from stress is a normal impulse, in my psychotherapy practice, I’m also hearing that this routine is now adding to distress: we’re tired of doing the same things over and over, we’d like to do something different, this routine makes us feel drained rather than energized, we’re becoming lethargic and not sleeping well.
We can achieve the stress reduction we’re looking for by doing other activities, instead of defaulting to the routines we may feel “stuck” in. Actively thinking about what we’re already doing and what we need more of in our lives in order to feel more fulfilled and energized is something I often work on with clients. While we can’t control everything that’s happening in the world around us, we can take small but effective steps to manage our own wellbeing and foster balance in our lives. Taking some time to think about what we’re doing now, what’s missing and how we can create more fulfillment and balance is something we should do on a regular basis to check in with our changing lives and circumstances. We are happiest when we live intentionally and in balance. As circumstances change, it is a healthy practice to periodically take stock and make adjustments in order to optimize our wellbeing.
I’ve created a simple 5-step plan you can work on alone or with people you live with. You may be tempted to jump ahead to steps 3-5 that focus on what you want to add to your life, but I encourage you to go through each step in progression. Steps 1 and 2 are focussed on helping us to identify, clarify and become aware of what we do already. This insight is the first step in making changes.

Step 1: Identify what you already do during the day.
Often our activities tend to be:
• “Obligations” such as work or school: whether professionally, attending classes and completing assignments, or doing projects at home
• Tasks we do alone: we’re normally engaged in these tasks alone, even if there are other people around us
• Externally-focused: we’re doing this for someone or something else
• Sedentary: often (but not always) we spend a lot of time sitting

Step 2: Identify what you regularly do in the evenings.
If you often spend hours after dinner watching a screen, you’re repeating many of the things you may already be doing during the day: watching tv is externally-focused, we do it alone (even if there are other people watching) and it involves a lot of sitting (it’s sedentary). You may not think this is an important step, but

Step 3: Identify the “gap” – i.e., what’s missing from your daily routines now and what do you think would give you a greater sense of fulfilment and balance?
This step is about looking at what it is you want more of in your life. Some examples may be:
• Fun and recreation
• Physical activity or something that makes me feel “invigorated” rather than drained
• Relaxation
• Meaningful, informal, fun interactions with others
• Family and/or Internally-focused activities

Step 4: Brainstorm and make a list of activities you could do in evenings, after dinner, that foster the things you want more of in your life
Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. These activities may be new to you, or maybe they’re things you’ve thought you’d like to try, or they’re thigs you’re already doing. Don’t be afraid to try something you don’t think you’d be good at. And, don’t be disheartened if some of the activities you want to do are restricted at this time. I know if can be difficult to find alternatives to do at home and socially-distanced, but remember: this pandemic is temporary and you’re just adapting to the times. In the future, when the restrictions are lifted, you can (and will want to) repeat this activity and update your plan to reflect the new opportunities that become available to you. For now, here are a ideas to get you thinking:
• After dinner clean up, schedule a walk or bike ride, either alone or with the whole family
• Play cards or board games – allowing each family member to choose the game each time
• Schedule informal video-chat get-togethers with family and friends at regular times
• Try an online yoga or pilates class, either alone or with the family
• Try a new hobby – either alone or with your family: e.g., buy paint-by-numbers kits and have a painting evening once a week, work on a puzzle regularly, have baking evenings when you try something new; do an online dance class, have a karaoke night, play charades with the kids
• Turn off screens at least an hour before bedtime in order to help you sleep better – and fill that time with other activities such as a bath, reading, journaling, playing an instrument, meditation
• Create a relaxing atmosphere in your home as the evenings progress to encourage relaxation: try turning off overhead lights and using accent lighting only, lighting a candle, playing relaxing music

Step 5: Use your list to create a written schedule for yourself or your family
If creating a schedule for each day of the week seems like too big a challenge, try it for Monday to Thursday and leave Friday to Sunday open. Or begin by creating a routine for yourself for only one night a week and build on that. Remember: You’re not striving for perfection and this is not a lifelong commitment. I recommend trying your first schedule for three weeks and then adjusting it as desired, but you’re free to switch things up whenever you want. You’re in control here. Remember, you’re aiming at improving your life by feeling more fulfilled and fostering more balance. This is something you’re doing for yourself (and possibly your family). Enjoy it and be open to trying new things.
Tip: Your schedule doesn’t need to be too detailed; it can be a general reminder of what you’d like to do for your own and your family’s wellbeing. This can include things you know you’ll want to do to just “zone out” sometimes too. Here are examples for three days of the week:
Monday: Dinner, bike ride followed by ice-cream sundaes, play a game, bath
Tuesday: Dinner, painting by numbers, sunset walk, candles and meditation
Friday: Order pizza and eat it with family while video chatting, movie night
Tip: Post your schedule somewhere visible (like on the fridge). If you live with other people and you’ve created this schedule together, you’ll all have access to it for reminders and planning.
I hope you enjoy moving through these steps and creating fulfilling evenings that bring you more of what makes you feel great!

Caroline Rosta, Registered Psychotherapist, see full bio and website