Life After COVID
Can you believe it's been one year since the pandemic started? If you had forgotten, social media has been quick to remind us lately. I've sat back and contemplated what the last year has been like for both me and the people I have the privilege to work with.
When Spring Break ended in 2020, the world seemed to stop. For many of my college students this meant returning home instead of Oxford. For my school age clients it meant switching to this weird combo of google classroom/zoom/homeschool for the last nine weeks of school. For others like me, who are parents, it meant this weird balance of working from home, working from the office and trying to homeschool your child. For me, it all seems like a distant memory but then also seems like last week.
As the pandemic enters a new phase, one with more openness and familiarity for us, I wonder how many of you are struggling with the change. Perhaps you have enjoyed staying home more. Perhaps take out and curbside haven't been that bad. Maybe it's even forced us to eat better or shop smarter at the grocery store. If you are an introvert, perhaps the masks have provided comfort and the ability to not exchange pleasantries with every person you pass, as is the custom in the South. I'm sure some of you may have enjoyed this pace of life. However, I know some of you have not. For some, working from home has been a struggle. Not only is space an issue but being isolated and away from your coworkers has been difficult. For some, balancing home/life is more complicated when the two seem to blend together. For many, you have missed your group activities like sports, social clubs, church fellowship and celebrations throughout the year. And let's not even get started on the travel, vacations and distant family we have not been able to see this year. No matter which camp you find yourself in, as the world starts to turn again you may sense yourself feeling uneasy as we all adjust to a new norm...again.
Here are some tips for adjusting in the months ahead:
Give yourself grace- It's been a long year. No matter which camp you were in, you experienced very sudden and drastic changes. If you loved the change then you will be challenged returning to work/school/social events. If you hated the change then you will be struggling with running quickly back into your old life. There is no perfect path to re-entry. Allow yourself time to adjust and give yourself grace for the moments you feel out of sorts or overwhelmed. Don't over schedule yourself.
Make small steps back to your old life- This isn't the time to leap head first back into pre-covid you. If you've been working from home, try going in for half days or every other day to adjust back. If you want to get started back on the social scene, pick one or two events a week and work your way up to more events. Also try picking events with lower crowd sizes to test how comfortable you are. You don't have to rush to happy hour on the Square just because you are invited. Try a less crowded time or a venue with outdoor seating if you are worried about feeling crowded.
Find your comfort zone with masks- This area also has two camps of people. I'm not here to debate the concept of mask wearing or not, all I would suggest is to know what feels comfortable to you. Maybe you have had your vaccine and you are okay in public spaces without masks. Maybe you haven't and you have a feeling of anxiety seeing others with no mask on. Plenty of businesses are still requiring masks but even if they aren't, you can still wear yours. If you prefer your friends wear a mask around you, engage them in a respectful conversation ahead of your plans to explain why that is important to you.
Take advantage of the outdoors- Now that Spring is here, you can take advantage of being outside your home more while still being in safe, distanced spaces. If you are worried about re-entering groups in public, try this first. Spend some time walking around Pat Lamar Park or The Grove or The Square. This will help you get re-adjusted to being around people (probably without masks too) but not in crowded spaces (like Walmart). Have your friends meet for an outdoor gathering instead of a restaurant or bar.
Ask your friends and family how they are feeling- It's not common for a person to go through a truly life changing event(s) with billions of other people but, that is what just happened with COVID. Every single person you know was affected in some way. You can take advantage of this by talking with your friends and family about their experiences this past year. Ask them how they are feeling about things starting to change again. Ask them how they are starting to return to normal activities. Maybe, just ask them how they are doing...period. It may start a conversation that is beneficial for you both. It will also help normalize how you are feeling.
Label re-entry anxiety for what it is- It's anxiety, folks. And it's completely normal. It's not helpful to downplay it. It's not helpful to make comments about how the strong adapt. Anxiety is anxiety and it rears it's ugly head for many of us. Anxiety is a normal, human response to any threat of survival and a pandemic certainly fits the bill. So even if you weren't struggling with anxiety before COVID, you very well may be now. Acknowledge it for what it is and start implementing ways to cope with it.
Be present in the moment- If COVID taught us anything, it's how busy we are as Americans. Take time each day to just be present. Sit in the silence, pray, journal, meditate, practice mindfulness. Be present with friends and family.
Recognize what you can't control- If COVID taught us a second lesson, it's that we really have little control. Now for some, that is an anxiety provoking thought in itself. However, let's use that to our advantage. You can't control the re-entry process and you can't control what others do. Some will jump head first, ditch the mask and hold massive parties. Some states will slowly re-open. You may experience frustrations with restrictions still in place when you travel this summer. The process will not look the same for each person, city or state and THAT IS OKAY. This is new territory for us all, so let's focus on what we can control and not get stuck in the things or the people we can't control.
Practice gratitude- Yes, it seems hard to be thankful for COVID but perhaps there are positives from this past year. Maybe you had more time at home with your family? Maybe you became closer to your children and understand them more? Maybe you had to grow personally and professionally? Whatever the outcomes are, look for ways that positive change has happened this past year.
Know when you need help- This is always a good point. Sometimes in life we are just swimming along and sometimes we feel like we are drowning. If you find yourself being overwhelmed, having anxiety or panic attacks or a fear of re-entry, reach out for help, You are not alone! Professional counseling can and will help you in this transition time. My office is here for you!
Happy re-entry everyone!