Last weekend I heard live music and danced with my husband somewhere other than our living room, for the first time in 14 months. My weekends are filling up with out of town trips to visit family and friends, reunions I’ve anticipated since last summer. With vaccinations, relaxed COVID restrictions and a decrease in COVID cases, things kinda, sorta, feel normal.
These developments are good. What I’ve been dreaming of since last Spring. So why do I feel overwhelmed with my burgeoning calendar? Shouldn’t I be thrilled to jump back into life, doing everything and seeing everyone that’s been off limits the past year? I reflected on these questions, and garnered several insights to help me mindfully navigate the reopening of our country. I hope they may resonate with you as well.
Give yourself and others grace. We should always do this, but especially now. There’s no universal way to re-enter after over a year of COVID restrictions, but if we pay attention, we can discern the right way for us. Don’t be surprised if you’re experiencing fatigue, mood swings and possibly anxiety, after successfully enduring the worst of the pandemic. These are symptoms of the exhaustion phase of the stress cycle, which occurs after coping with a long term stressor. Often when the stressor is removed, or significantly decreases, the body and mind release their struggle, and we tumble into exhaustion.
If you’re fatigued, and less jubilant than you expected about the return to normalcy, don’t judge yourself, apply self compassion. Make choices that feel good for you. Focus on the basics of self care, plenty of sleep, regular exercise, healthy food, engaging in meaningful spiritual practices and spending time with loving people.
Have grace with those around you, and don’t judge their choices. Although we’ve all lived through the pandemic of 2020, each of our experiences were unique. Some had COVID. Some lost loved ones to COVID. Some relished the quiet. Others were climbing the walls. Some lost jobs and financial security, while others saw their businesses thrive. Honor what’s best for your well being, while respecting that others will do things differently.
Assess your priorities. A potentially life threatening situation, combined with more time to reflect, often crystallizes our priorities. Your health, and the health of loved ones most likely topped your priority list, but what other areas became more valuable during the pandemic? Nurturing relationships? Time in Nature? More flexible work schedules? Playing with your children? What activities were you mourning while staying at home? Which ones were you relived to be rid of? Make a list of your top 5 priorities, and use this as a guide as you resume more normal life. Do your best to ensure that where you spend your time reflects your priorities.
Personally, I found that solitude and writing time is a priority I haven’t honored enough in the past. I find it difficult to say no to invitations and to create time alone, which I often use to write. During the pandemic, I thrived with fewer evening and weekend commitments, and made substantial progress on my third novel. Now as my calendar fills up, I feel frustrated that my writing time is diminished. My focus, as I re-enter, will be to balance my priority of solitude and writing, with my priority of maintaining meaningful relationships.
Incorporate new strengths into your life. The pandemic of 2020 was an unprecedented event, and required us to adapt to manage these new circumstances. Reflect on how you adjusted to the changes. What strengths rose to the surface that you were unaware of? Did you become more adept at using your computer? Did you access your creativity to keep yourself or your family entertained? Did your compassion for others deepen? Did you create more self discipline while working from home? Once you identify a previously untapped strength, look for ways to nurture this as life resumes a more normal flow. If you’re having trouble identifying strengths, I recommend the VIA Survey of Character Strengths (click on questionnaires and chose this one).
The pandemic forced me to be more flexible than I’m comfortable with. I like a plan, and a routine because it keeps me in control, or so I thought. After transferring my counseling practice from in person to virtual in two days, I realized I can do things differently, without much planning, and still have control. I’d contemplated doing tele health from home one day a week, for almost 6 months prior to the pandemic, but never made it happen because of the what ifs; what if I couldn’t figure it out; what if no clients wanted tele therapy and so on. When I was forced to make this change, things were stressful for a short period of time, but I did it successfully. Even though more clients have returned to in-person counseling, I’ve continued to work one day a week from home, doing tele-health. Flexibility is a strength I’m going to emphasize as life re-opens. When something doesn’t work out as planned, I’ll focus on a new approach given the circumstances, rather than lamenting the disruption to my routine.
I challenge you to intentionally re-enter life this summer, giving yourself and others grace, spending time based on your priorities, and utilizing a strength you exhibited during the pandemic. None of us chose to spend 2020 like we did, but we can mine our experience for knowledge that will improve the quality of our lives.