Dr Kate Middleton from the Mind & Soul Foundation recognises that we are experiencing a mixed response to the lifting of restrictions – and offers some helpful advice to us all
Even with the delay in a full release of restrictions, increasingly parts of life are starting to feel a sense of returning to something closer to their pre-pandemic ‘normal’. But many people are finding their own reactions to coming out of the pandemic are taking them by surprise.
This season is emotionally complex. We think going back to normal will be easy but after more than a year of a different way of doing life, your mind has adapted. So, this is as significant a change as going into the first lockdown – and that is raising everyone’s stress levels.
But it isn’t just the stress of adapting. There are three other things that are affecting us in this season:
Lockdown has been exhausting for your mind. It’s not just the relentless demand, change and anxiety – your brain needs stimulation to function normally, so the monotony of our limited, locked down lives has made normal things like focusing attention, motivating yourself, or cognitive skills like problem solving or memory much harder than usual. And that means your brain needs a break, the opportunity to rest and time to recover.
The need to process
The pandemic has taken a huge toll on our lives, changing and challenging many things we used to rely on. In the acute challenges of lockdown we suppressed a lot of the emotion this triggered, but as our minds start to feel safe again, we have to do the work to think through how those things have affected us, and whether they need to change how we act in future. Which means at precisely the time we expect to feel better – or even experience excitement and joy – instead we can find unexpected emotions bubbling up: loss, grief and anxiety.
This last one is a tricky. Throughout the pandemic we have used stories relating to the world wars to help us understand the dramatic way life had changed. But wars have a clear end, a moment of celebration when it is all finished. We’re realising now that the pandemic is not going to end the same way. Instead, every decision requires working out what risk we are prepared to tolerate. This is really hard after such a long season during which life was lived by black and white rules in order to stay safe. What do you or don’t you do? How do you understand how much risk you’re exposing yourself to by certain activities? How do you know you are safe? Uncertainty and risk trigger a lot of anxiety, which for some in particular is very difficult.
So how do we do ‘re-entry’ well? It’s all about taking it slow, and finding the time and space you need to react and process all that is in your head. But most of all it is about self-compassion. We shouldn’t feel guilty or afraid at how we are reacting: these are actually normal reactions to a very unusual moment. But it’s likely it may take longer than we expect to truly feel ‘back to normal’.
For more on re-entry, how to manage anxiety and many other topics the Mind & Soul Foundation has articles, resources and links for further support: mindandsoulfoundation.org