As a nation, we are facing one of our greatest challenges and as individuals we have been thrown into unchartered waters without a life vest, or at least that may be how it feels. We are in the midst of having to navigate a new way of life and adapt on a scale that we have not experienced before. This, understandably, brings a new set of pressures, fear and anxiety as we are facing the unknown.
The reality is that we will probably be in this situation for a while and worrying about what the future may bring will only increase feelings of anxiety. The truth is, we don’t know what the situation will be in the future so the best we can do right now is to accept the situation as it is at the moment. It is what it is. One day at a time and in time, we will get used to our ‘new normal’. So, what can we do now to help ease the stress?
First things first, take a moment to just breathe. Give yourself permission to take some time to process what is going on — Allow yourself the space for this mental and physical adjustment. It is perfectly normal to feel lost and overwhelmed at this stage and you will no doubt find that you feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster, up one minute and down the next. Again, this is a normal response and to be expected — allow yourself to work through these feelings. The temptation might be to leap into action and whilst that can have its merits, it’s important to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. When people react in this way, they tend to not be thinking as clearly, logically or rationally which can lead to them feeling even more out of control and subsequently more stressed. So, focus on what you can control first and set realistic expectations.
Start with your home environment — you’ll be spending a lot of time there so make it as comfortable and secure as possible. This might involve giving it a good clean, ensuring the cupboards are stocked up and designating different spaces for work, play and relaxation. You may also need to take some time to look at finances and work out where you can cut back if needs be and where you can get extra help. If you are part of a family unit, now is the time to work as a team and to come up with a family plan. Figure out what works best for you as a unit — no one expects you to have your days full itinerary completely mapped out yet. Try and avoid ‘comparisonitus’ and ignore all the posts on social media about how amazingly productive and creative people are being. It’s ok if you haven’t figured your routine out yet or if you haven’t made it to ten different online exercise classes or got the kids school schedule down to a t. It’s ok if you feel like you’re not coping right now and are struggling to make sense of any of it. Know that you are not failing and let go of the notion of what you ‘should’ be doing. All anyone can do is the best they can with the resources they have at the time. So, cut out the negativity on social media and the news and reduce the noise. Accept that this huge mental and physical shift will take time to adjust to.
Stay connected — one of the biggest buffers against stress is connection. Check in on family and friends, nurture your support network and utilise the technology we have. Building a safe and secure network is so important to maintain mental and emotional wellbeing at these times. Work as a team with family and friends to keep yourselves safe and secure and look out for the more vulnerable. Whilst we are not able to be as physically close to others right now, we can still connect whilst ensuring physical distancing and following public health and government guidelines. You are still allowed to smile at people outside and chat to them even if they are 2 metres away.
Once you have your foundations in place you will be far more able to adapt to this new way of life and the new normal. Humans are wonderfully resilient and resourceful and have an amazing ability to adapt. The real journey is embracing the process and allowing the mental shift — it will be difficult, raw and maybe ugly at times, but it can also be hopeful, encouraging and strengthening. You will find your new normal and when you do, you will then be in a position to implement your weekly and daily strategies and stick to them. The morning exercise class will feel more manageable, your work productivity will increase, and you will find your mind has space to explore all the other wonderful and creative things you wanted to do. Things will feel more natural and will make more sense. We are just at the beginning of this journey and you are only just beginning to adapt. So, take it slow, one step at a time, allow yourself to process and breathe.