Finally, spring is here. This year the season of transformation and renewal seems especially potent. The days are getting longer and warmer, the trees and bulbs are blooming…. and those Covid vaccinations are blossoming too! It really does feel like easier, healthier days are ahead.
So time to shake off the pandemic and get back to normal, right?!
Well, not so fast. As your own thoughts and feelings might already be telling you, it may take some time to readjust. This will be a process, for each individual and collectively. But the good news is, this transition could be time well spent if we approach it in the right ways.
The pandemic year was harder for some than for others, certainly, and hard in different ways depending on your age, health, job, and other factors. Recovery, too, will vary, for the same reasons. To a remarkable extent, though, the whole planet passed through the challenges of this past year together. And we all now face the same work, and the same opportunities: to heal, to open up again, and to build back stronger — to repair, reconnect, and reimagine.
As I talk to clients, family and friends, it’s clear how life-changing this past year really was for all of us. Suddenly last spring, the pandemic upended the way we live, work, and interact with one another. It also caused an internal shift, affecting our thoughts and emotions. For many it seeped into the unconscious, with Covid themes showing up in dreams.
If you’re reading this, you’ve survived a year of increased isolation, fear, doubt, and death. It is important to acknowledge and make room for the emotional toll of this prolonged stress, the collective trauma we endured, and the anxiety and uncertainty about the future that still loom for many.
We have many things to grieve — lost loved ones, lost jobs, missed moments, closed businesses, emptied places. And of course there are multiple forms and stages of grief, from denial to anger to depression. For a while, we might expect to experience cognitive dissonance, too, as we try to reconcile the reality we left, the altered reality we lived through, and the “new normal” we encounter going forward.
For the foreseeable future, then, it will be important to treat others, and ourselves, with patience and empathy. We can talk openly about how we are feeling. Remember this was a collective experience! (Yes, even your therapist was living through the same experiences.)
Most of us will have mixed feelings about transitioning back to work and school and a more robust social life. Some may have thrived during the pandemic with less pressure to socialize, but might still crave close contact with dear friends. Many adults will be excited to have their kids return to school, but may have enjoyed spending less time commuting and driving around.
As the world opens up, try to take baby steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Take an active role in establishing new routines. This will give you a greater sense of control. Help your kids navigate the transitions by having conversations about what to expect every step of the way. Start slow, ease your way back.
Make a point of enjoying each small pleasure you may have taken for granted before the pandemic: the first hug from an older or younger family member, the first group indoor dining experience with friends, the first movie theatre, the first vacation.
Savoring these things will make them more enjoyable, and appreciating things more fully can have lots of mental health benefits. Cultivating positive feelings of gratitude has been shown to make people feel happier, healthier, and more resilient. It can also help you forge stronger, more meaningful relationships, and this is certainly a good time for that.
One strange gift from a life-changing experience is the realization that we are adaptable, buoyant, and capable of change. A year ago, we were forced to be all of those things. Now, we get to be all of those things.
We all had to adapt — that was hard, but now we see that we can adapt. We all had to make sacrifices — that was hard, but now we know what we can live without. We all had to be still — that was hard, but now we’re acquainted with deeper, quieter parts of ourselves. Perhaps we feel more vulnerable in some ways, but stronger in others.
Every major shift is an opportunity, if we open our hearts and minds to the wisdom that comes from hard times. Instability, loss, and uncertainty allow us to imagine what else life could be like. Suddenly, big changes may seem possible. So, get creative! Use these challenges and problems to choose your thoughts intentionally, to create a life that inspires, rather than weighs you down.
What are you grateful for that this past year brought into focus? What priorities did you discover? If there were aspects of the altered reality that were positive, can you incorporate them into your post-pandemic life? We have all been forced to stretch outside of our “comfort zones.” Was there anything you found there that you were actually comfortable with?
You don’t have to move to Vermont, change careers, or have a baby to change your life, by the way. Reimagining can mean recommitting to familiar things you feel even stronger about. It might mean moving through the same world, but with more intention, more compassion, more self-forgiveness, and more faith in your own strength to endure challenges.
No matter what age you are, no matter how much healing you have ahead of you, it’s worth asking, as Mary Oliver does at the end of her poem “The Summer Day” : “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”