As the world around us is gradually opening up, the transition to a late-pandemic new reality is happening. With more of us vaccinated, the weather getting warmer, and the confusing health guidelines and rules out there, we might not notice just how much of a strain this process can be on us. We've been languishing or worse for too many months now. Yet for many of us, it’s clear this re-entry process will continue to be a challenge beyond what we can understand at the moment. I've been encountering new discomfort in situations I wouldn't expect to feel in pre-pandemic life, and I'm noticing a disconnect between my expectations of myself and what I can handle. In opening up to my friends and peers around me about this, I’m finding that many of us are feeling similarly right now. I want to offer my current thoughts and findings on this as a way to help us all cultivate more self-compassion during this process.
I was initially beyond excited to attend an in-person masked and distanced yoga class the other day at a studio where I feel very safe. Yet when I arrived, my body was speaking another story. Upon entering the building, I stiffened, and my heart began to race. I walked around the space feeling a bit disoriented, telling someone that I'm not ready for a hug yet despite us both being vaccinated. (Why was I refusing a hug? I love hugs!) I managed to put down my mat in the back of the room (But I used to love the front!), laid down, and let my silent tears of overwhelm fall, hoping no one would notice. "There's something seriously wrong with you." My inner critic said. Oh my, there really is, I thought. But it also clear that my nervous system had its own agenda and just plain wasn't used to all this. It's been many many months of ... a lot, and me and my body are just not the same as we once were. It wasn't so much a fear of contracting or carrying the virus that was present for me that day, it was more of a weight of all that the past year has brought, with so much still yet to be mourned, uncovered, processed, and released. Along with other indistinguishable layers of which I'm sure I’ll need time to gain perspective.
I tell this vulnerable story because I know I'm not alone in this. I've read pandemic life (for those working from home at least) being described as "a strange kind of forced solitude that conditioned the body and brain to less noise, less chaos, less scheduling, less busy ways of being. It was in all ways quieter. In actions, sounds, and behaviors." And now we expect ourselves and our nervous systems to suddenly jump back into some new kind of idealized “normalness”?
We each need to move at our own pace through this transition. We are where we are, others are where they are in this, and each of our paths may look vastly different. We need to listen and care for our own bodies, minds, and spirits. This is going to require a whole new level of self-awareness and communication as we relay to others where we are in this process. We need to create a culture of understanding in our communities where it is safe to say "I don't feel comfortable with that" or "I'm not ready for that today" without judgement or repercussion.
As I'm not one for giving advice, I instead want to share my current late-pandemic transition game plan to help give you ideas in crafting your own. Here’s what I’m focusing on lately:
Lowering my expectations of myself: I'm just not doing everything I used to, and I'm letting myself be extra imperfect right now. (Not that perfection was ever a real thing.) I will continue to stumble my way through remembering how to talk small talk or meet new people in person, and that's just the way it is right now.
Checking in with myself: Through daily meditation and mindful awareness throughout my day, I’m trying to stay informed about what’s going on within me. I’m trying to let any emotions arise as they need to instead of pushing them away.
Practicing self-honesty: This is about actually listening and accepting what’s going on within, a.k.a. the hardest part! But we need to be honest with ourselves to take care of ourselves and take appropriate steps.
Honest communication with others: I'm noticing my impulse towards people pleasing, and instead will attempt to veer towards honesty instead. Carl Jung once said, "Loneliness does not come from having no people around you, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to you." We’re taking note, Carl!
Asking others where they are in their own process with openness so that they know that all answers are valid. I've been trying this lately, and I feel so assured when I find out others are experiencing similar challenges to me. We both end up feeling better after sharing.
Re-prioritizing: Where am I spending my energy each day, and how can I align my energy with my priorities? This transition can use up lots of energy unexpectedly, so I'm trying to slowly reintroduce activities from pre-pandemic times, while some things will never be returning. For me this includes keeping some distance from the news and social media. It's okay to shut off the news sometimes especially since we know it's going to be pretty bad most days anyways.
Rest and self-care: I’m trying to keep up with nourishing myself through getting enough rest and sleep, nourishing food, hydration, exercise, and anything else I am needing. Let’s not forgo the basics during our transitions or anytime!
Small-scale purpose-seeking: I generally seek to immerse myself in my interests and my purpose, but when feeling stagnant and tired, it becomes harder. Even something small in my day that gives even a short-term purpose can create a feeling of forward movement and accomplishment. A state of languishing and fatigue can make us feel disconnected from our bigger purpose view, so focusing on small energizing actions can do wonders.
Joy and endorphins!: Engaging in healthy endorphin creation through movement, conversations, laughter, time in nature, seeking flow activities, learning something new, petting a dog…. There are so many things that can bring us joy, even if they are short moments during the day.
We're still in the middle of this chaotic pandemic, with injustices happening all around us, with past and future losses to grieve, our languishing or burnout or anxiety and depression to tend to, and so much more. Whatever your current mix of emotions, whatever your situation, know that you're not alone. I'm here to say to you and to myself that it's okay and our natural responses are very much warranted. Navigate these uncharted waters at your own pace.
Take care, my friends!
ADDITIONAL ARTICLES TO READ:
Filling Your Summer Calendar? Slow Your Roll By Ashley Abramson
Preparing for Re-Entry to the Workplace by Allison E McWilliams