Post pandemic healing
As we move forward from (we hope) the worst of COVID-19 pandemic, it's time to grieve, heal and reconnect with the parts of ourselves that have been lost.
Pandemic's don't seem to have a particular 'end' point - there's no glitter cannons to release or date to put in your calendar when it will officially by 'over', and while this ambiguity can be tricky it's important to recognise that things have definitely moved on and we're in a late stage now. So what does this mean for our mental health?
If you're noticing that a lot of strong emotions have been coming up lately, despite things being more OK than they have been in a while, you're not alone. Whilst this might seem strange on the surface it actually makes a lot of sense from a psychological and nervous system point of view; now you are safe you have capacity to process your emotions. I know what you're thinking....
Think of it this way: you've been in survival mode and now you're in rest and digest mode. Feeling all the feelings that you just haven't been able to process until now is actually a good thing, it means you're safe and you're clearing the decks. So, let it all out! Dance, walk, sing, make art, talk, cry, laugh, punch a pillow, scream, bake, garden, write....whatever you need to do to feel your feelings, allow it.
For those grieving a person or pet it's important to go at your own pace and grieve in the way that feels right for you. Moving forwards with your life when they've gone can feel painful, but that doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do.
You can also be grieving experiences that didn't happen, the path you didn't get to take and the time with loved ones you weren't able to have during the pandemic. Maybe relationships have been lost or changed, career stuff that didn't happen, or activities that brought you enjoyed taken away. It all matters and it's OK to feel sadness for these things.
The last two years have been a deficit of joy, fun and freedom. And of course, connection. Physical, in person, connection. If you imagine that someone has experienced malnutrition for two years, you wouldn't expect a couple of decent, healthy meals to suddenly make them well. You'd know that they would need regular balanced meals over a period of time for their body to gain strength and return to health. Our mental health is really no different - we've been starved of fun and connection for a long time so it will take some time to build back up to feeling balanced, contented and fulfilled. Just like the physically hungry person we don't want to have too much too soon else we will be overwhelmed, but we might need a high fun diet for a while to tend to the deficit we've lived through.
Time to stock up on fun!
“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: "When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop being comforted by the sweet territory of silence?”
― Gabrielle Roth
Reconnecting with dormant parts
The pandemic has required us to adapt - an essential survival tactic - which for many has meant pressing pause or shelving parts of our lives and ourselves. Some things we simply weren't able to do any more or it wasn't appropriate or available. We may have had to take on new roles or had a certain part of our lives dominate over everything else.
For a lot of people the lack of fun and freedom, combined with uncertainty, meant work became the main focus.
So take a moment to ask yourself - what parts of you have been on pause? What did you used to do, pre-pan (or maybe pre-kids or pre-adulthood even) that made you feel joyful, content or excited?
And then ask yourself, how can you reconnect with that thing, or at least that feeling it gave you?
The pandemic made our worlds very small. For our wellbeing and our resilience, it's time to widen them again.
"The more one does and sees and feels, the more one is able to do, and the more genuine may be one's appreciation of fundamental things like home, and love, and understanding companionship"
- Amelia Earhart
As we move forwards and learn to live with covid - which for me has become synonymous with living with uncertainty - we need to take a moments pause to readjust.
What's important now?
What do you need more/less of?
What behaviours and mindsets need to change?
This question can be asked in many areas of our lives from work to leisure and relationships. Pandemic life changed lots of thing, such as what we wear (e.g. 'zoom chic'), what we do with our spare time and how far from our homes we're used to travelling.
Recently I was pushed by circumstance to take a journey I was anxious about, but I was very glad of this in the end as it helped me reconnect to the pre-pandemic adventurous traveller part of myself that has had to be shelved for a few years. I realised that being adventurous is a like a skill, it can get rusty, but it's also a core part of who I am, which is why it felt so good once I'd got over the initial anxiety. I can't recover the lost time of the pandemic in which very few adventures happened, but I can dust off that part of me and get back on the road, this time with a deeper appreciation for travel and my explorer self.
As we move forwards, post covid, it's not really about going 'back to normal' but about reconnecting, adapting once again and going forwards into the next chapter. For this we will need patience, curiosity and compassion; we're all figuring it out as we go.