It seems as though the pandemic is coming to at least a temporary end in the United States. Vaccines are widely available, and the case numbers continue to decrease. But before we move successfully forward, we might pause and look back at what has gotten us through this stressful year, what we have learned about ourselves and our environment, and how we can adapt those lessons to a new chapter of life.
A few weeks ago, the New York Times imparted clarity and wisdom on this subject. It declared that during this pandemic year, the overwhelming feeling that many of us experienced was called “languishing”, a kind of stagnation and emptiness that in the worst case scenario could bring about deep sadness and withdrawal even from loved ones. The opposite of that, says the Times, is “flourishing”, a feeling of well-being and a newly found sense of the meaning of life and self-worth. How can we make the jump from languishing to flourishing?
Take it Slow
After this year of isolation, the reentry process may be immediate for some and very slow for others. There is, nevertheless, uncertainty for everybody. For example, a young person might feel eager to resume life, while the elderly experience trepidation. Individuals in middle age may be somewhere in between. Regardless of your age or experience, accept your feelings and the speed you wish to reenter. Do what feels comfortable for you and don’t feel pressured. Although the CDC has given us permission, in certain instances, to gather together, we might not feel immediately comfortable. There are still lingering safety questions. When is appropriate? How do we want to socialize? How will we make new social connections? Do we continue to work from home or return to the office? How do the vaccinated live amongst the non-vaccinated? How much risk do we feel comfortable taking? Should we adopt new hygiene habits with mask-wearing as the new norm? What can we expect in the future from the virus and its variants? Below are some tips on how to tackle these questions and make decisions that allow us to enjoy ourselves and feel safe.
Evaluate the Risks
While no vaccine is 100% effective, and there will be breakthrough cases, currently those percentages are low. We do take risks in our life every day; driving, flying, crossing the street, etc. Only you know how much risk you are comfortable with, but try to base that on facts, not fear.
The emotional piece is real. Try to mitigate this by starting in small groups, maybe outdoors. Taking a stepwise approach and exposing yourself in small doses over time is a good way to reenter. Making plans with people with whom you feel safe can be a first step towards socializing with acquaintances. If you don’t feel fully ready to reenter, blame it on the CDC or your state guidelines. Don’t get into debates with others. Everyone has their own individual comfort level. Do your best not to judge yourself or anyone else for theirs, and if others are judging you try not to allow that to shake your sense of how you want to proceed.
Participate, Reestablish Routine and Connection
What really got us through this difficult year? Personal resilience and grit, family ties and community. It was also, and still is today, about taking care of our physical and mental health, connection with others, good nutrition and exercise.
What part of our current pandemic life do we keep and what do we discard like an old face mask? We should keep the routines that brought us joy, serenity and positive change. Perhaps you learned that you enjoy focusing on home and family, books, videos, home cooking or comfortable clothing. While the vaccine is giving us the freedom to partake in the luxuries of urban life; restaurants, cultural activities, beauty salons and sporting and social events, maybe you have learned some of these are less essential to you. I became so good at manicures, I’m not sure that I will return to the salon!
Do What Brings you Happiness
In order to truly embody “flourishing” and feel the full excitement of being alive and optimistic about our future, we must use our new freedom as an opportunity to start anew. This might include finding new challenges, engaging in relationships that bring us joy, finding meaningful work in the office or out, or participating in more celebrations. It could mean a completely new definition of what you identify as the basic ingredients for a good and fulfilling life. Arguably, the most important way to reach this desired state of “flourishing” is to focus on fulfillment and purpose. What makes you truly happy? What makes you feel connected? What moves you? What is your passion? Are you looking to make changes in your life? Are you thinking of making some career decisions? Are you contemplating changes in the way your relationships are working for you? During this pandemic year what changes in your life brought you the most contentment? Was it your new puppy? Give her a hug as you contemplate your reentry.
Moving forward, if you are having difficulty answering these questions on your own, speaking to a professional could be helpful. At The Midtown Practice, our therapists have experience contemplating these issues for ourselves and others. If you are struggling with how to start this new phase, please call upon us to help guide you towards your best post pandemic self.
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