Integrative therapist Abby Rawlinson says…
SCENARIO: You want to adjust your mindset to prepare for normality
Accept it will take time to find our way back and reconnect with life. Going back to old routines will feel unusual and may even make us fearful, anxious, angry or nervous. Responses will vary from person to person, with some people wanting to jump headfirst back into ‘normal’ life, whereas others will be more cautious – and it’s important to remember that there is no ‘right’ way to respond. Take the changes at your own pace and don’t let others pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do. Ease your way back in by creating a routine that is realistic and that feels achievable for you – remember you’re in control of what you feel comfortable doing.
SCENARIO: It’s a struggle to remember who you were pre-pandemic
Carve out some time for a little self-discovery. The pandemic has shifted our entire external reality and caused us to question many things in our lives, so it’s natural that some people will experience a loss of identity. Ask yourself, what helps me relax and enjoy yourself? What hobbies or activities make your life meaningful? What are your values? Do you live your life accordingly? These are questions we don’t normally take the time to consider but it can bring a level of awareness that goes a long way toward outlining our sense of self. Also, meditating, keeping a journal, and experimenting with new hobbies can really maximise self-exploration. Finally, it’s also important to remember that our identity naturally shifts and develops over life as we learn and grow, so its normal to have some moments of confusion or self-doubt.
SCENARIO: Agoraphobia suddenly feels like a very real thing
Push yourself to reconnect with people and overcome that initial awkwardness. Even those who generally describe themselves as extroverted are noticing social anxiety, which is an umbrella term for a common problem that exists on a spectrum and can have various triggers. It makes sense that we might feel uneasy with other people after lockdown, and we might have to push ourselves to feel normal again. Social anxiety tends to turn our attention inwards, which can make the symptoms of anxiety worse. So, if you’re feeling nervous in a social situation, attend closely to what your conversation partner is saying, rather than thinking about what to say next. Many people who worry in social situations are fearful that their anxiety is visible and that they will be judged. It’s important to remember that although anxiety may feel terrible, it usually doesn’t look as bad as it feels.
SCENARIO: You’re worried about going back to work
Take each day at your own pace. For many of us, the past year has been spent working from the comfort of our homes, so it’s natural that some people may be feeling anxious about whether they will be able to readjust to life back in the office. This is a form of ‘re-entry anxiety’, which is a specific form of stress related to the fear of being unable to adapt to previously established routines.
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to feel uncertain and nervous – this is a challenging time for everyone. If you’re experiencing re-entry anxiety remember to take each day at your own pace. For example, if your office reopens, but you’re still allowed to work from home, build up your attendance in the office slowly and re-establish a routine that feels comfortable for you. And don’t put too much pressure on yourself to complete lots of work as soon as you return. You might find going back to the office very tiring, so make sure you take care of your wellbeing and set aside some time each day for activities that can help you relax.
SCENARIO: Money is an issue because you’ve lost your job
Feel those difficult feelings and take note of your strengths. The most important thing you can do is allow yourself to feel the loss of your job. It’s likely been an unsettling time and it’s totally normal to experience a range of emotions from anger to sadness or hopelessness. It can be tempting to push difficult feelings aside and just power through, but don’t suppress your feelings, as addressing them will help you come out on the other side. Also, don’t compare yourself to other people. Some people might respond to redundancy by applying for ten jobs a day, and others might take the opportunity to reflect and think about what they want to do next. There’s no right way to deal with it. Losing your job can knock your confidence and leave you feeling confused, so it can be helpful to do an audit of your strengths. Combine some internal reflection with feedback from trusted friends and explore what you’re good at. It can help to also look out for online training courses and other educational resources, which can help you upskill and build your confidence as you re-enter the workplace.
SCENARIO: You’re worried about how to cope until June
Watch out for your inner critic – it tends to get louder when we’re overwhelmed. Notice your thoughts and respond with kindness and self-compassion. Communicate with loved ones or people you trust about how you’re feeling, chances are they will be feeling the same way, so offering support to one another will help. And don’t forget the basics – eat well, move your body, stay hydrated, take breaks and rest.
SCENARIO: You feel distant from friends or family you used to see all the time
Be patient and understanding. Some of our relationships might feel strained now, or we might feel awkward about getting back in touch with people we haven’t seen for a year. It’s important to be extra patient and understanding, both with each other and also ourselves. Again, go at your own pace when it comes to socialising again. After a year of online communication, face-to-face contact might feel draining, so be sure to check in with your energy levels on a daily basis and learn to notice when you’re feeling depleted.
SCENARIO: You’re struggling to believe the world is a safer place
Challenge yourself and track your progress. You might feel some anxiety and fear about going out in public, and it’s important to acknowledge that these feelings are reasonable, and to expect them. For many people, lockdown has been quiet and isolated, so going back into shops, work and transport might lead to sensory overload (feeling overwhelmed by sights and sounds). It’s only building up tolerance gently that can help us move though these fears, though. If possible, take things at your own pace – but try to challenge yourself to try something different every couple of days, and keep note of what you’re achieving.
Mindset expert & NLP practitioner Amy Crumpton says…
SCENARIO: You’re still really stressed or anxious
Focus on what you can control. There’s so much that’s out of our control right now, and the only thing we can have autonomy over is how we react to situations. If you feel you’re struggling with something, take a step back and ask, are you in control of this situation? Is there anything you can do personally to change this situation? If not, focus on how you react to the situation. Slow your breathing and consider the words you would use to describe a situation to yourself – avoid catastrophising anything. As you become more aware of your reactions, you will be able to control them better. Also, think back to a time when you felt happy and confident. As yourself, what was it about you ‘then’ that you loved? How can you tap into those feelings and emotions that you felt when you did feel happy and like yourself?
SCENARIO: Getting back out there makes you feel nervous
Take small steps. Perhaps meeting up with a friend for an hour is all you feel comfortable with right now. That’s okay. Start small and build from there – don’t feel pressure to mix in big groups if you’re not ready for that. Remember, your friends probably feel the same, so talk to them and be honest about your feelings. Do what you need to do to stay safe. Everyone has their own model of the world and take on what’s right and wrong, so focus on what makes you feel safe and confident.
SCENARIO: You’re apprehensive about going back to an office environment
Think about all the positives. What did you used to love about working with your colleagues? Remember, everyone will probably be feeling the same and if you’re struggling, speak to a manager before you return to explain how you feel. There will most likely be some form of support for going back into the office as companies will be forced to realise their employees might be struggling with a host of mental health challenges. Also, try to see this as a fresh start and be excited about what’s next. Think about what you really want to do and what would make you feel happy and fulfilled.
SCENARIO: The isolation is taking a real toll
Focus on the longer days and a more structured roadmap to normality. Remember to get outside in the fresh air and feed your mind with positivity as much as you can. We have survived almost a year of this – it’s an incredible achievement. The next three months have the finish line in sight. Also, take some time to reflect on the past 12 months, picking out any positive developments – you may have found a love for walking, improved your tech skills, or perhaps decluttered your home. When times feel like they are becoming a struggle, turn to this list.
SCENARIO: The news still feels overwhelming
Set some boundaries with what you read. Maybe you only check in once a day and delete apps from your phone that cause you to feel overwhelmed. I would also suggest ‘stopping the scroll’. Instead of starting your day by picking up your phone and absorbing the news before you are even really awake yet, take the time to think about the sort of day you want to have. Make checking the news a conscious choice.
SCENARIO: It’s difficult to find time for yourself
Take ownership of ‘your’ time. Remember, when you’re on a plane the safety instructions are put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others and it’s so true. This is a concept we need to extrapolate into our everyday lives. When living through a year like we just have, where there is so much outside of our control and so much unknown, putting the effort into self-care is something we can affect.
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