After 16 months in the slow lane, life is speeding up. How ready are we to return to whatever the new 'normal life' will look like? If you worry about how you will cope, you are not alone. And this article offers a helping hand.
Today I was rummaging in what was previously my ‘work bag’. Do you remember work bags? Those friendly receptacles of everything-I-could-possibly-need-but-probably-won’t-actually-use which used to accompany you everywhere?
It was a strange experience; a bit like coming across a personal fossilised history: a set of train tickets to far-flung places such as Banbury, business cards (real cards!) and collection of those small heavy things made of metal... coins. That such basic everyday items could become redundant so quickly was a shock. Didn’t we adapt quickly to life in our burrows?
So now we can gradually emerge, blinking metaphorically into the bright light of society and other people. And we will be fine, right? We are social animals after all.
Or will we?
Privately many of us are experiencing a tumble of emotions at the moment: anxiety, fear, guilt and reluctance to change. The ‘shoulds’ pepper our self-talk: What we ‘should’ be doing? How we ‘should’ be behaving? And our emotional pendulum may be swinging wildly, influenced by others: ‘Oh they are doing x so maybe I should be doing that too….’ We seek affirmation that we are taking the right path out of the strange new world which has become more familiar than most of us would have liked.
I experienced this recently. I had been sitting on a kind invitation to a celebration in the autumn at the other end of the country. When the invite came I felt elated. I forgot, for a moment, about the lengthy risk analysis that now seems to accompany the simplest plan and just felt how lovely it would be to see the kindred spirits likely to be at the party. I smiled. Then my over-thinking mind went to work, grinding away at all the ‘What ifs’. I became paralysed with doubts and fears which my rational brain knew were mostly ill-founded.
The strange thing is that I didn’t feel anxious about my health. I am philosophical about catching Covid at some point and deeply grateful that I have been able to be vaccinated to reduce the impact when I do. No, this was more trivial in a way. I realised – I am out of practice. Going out there, doing these previously ‘normal’ things is a novelty now. And as with any ‘new’ experience, it brings accompanying fears: Will I cope?
Will we cope? And what are we to do?
Here are a few suggestions which could help:
Remember that you can choose to shift the focus of your thoughts. If you are a natural over-thinker, use this well. Notice when you are going into thought overdrive, choose to park the decision/issue and focus on something which feels less stressful. Distraction can work really well.
- Get yourself a new set of personal criteria. Ask what works for you and give yourself permission to stop worrying about benchmarks set by others’ choices and behaviours; they will have their own, different doubts, fears and struggles.
- Check what underlying expectations may be lurking in your mind. Do you feel obliged to go back to normal rapidly? If so why? Are you being a bit of a perfectionist? Try awarding yourself permission to just mostly be ok. You may then feel more emboldened to try ‘new’ (or mothballed) things.
- Having set a personal framework of ‘rules’ which makes you feel good (or at least ok), try reframing your upcoming change or challenge. When I had used the tools above, I decided to view my first trek by train as an adventure and a way to flex my travel muscles again. Suddenly I felt better, or rather ok enough to start planning.
Our minds are endlessly adaptable and it’s great to be able to shift our mindset if we can. But if you find you are still struggling, the ‘listening with care’ which coaching offers could help you. There is something powerful about expressing your thoughts out loud and having a supportive and honest sounding board. And online coaching gives even more flexibility. Why not drop me a line if you would like to try?