When the tide recedes at sea, the waves can pull back so far that the starfish forget there ever was an ocean and stiffen with dismay, and the seaweed weep themselves dry on the rocks with nostalgia. The essence of this tale seems sad. However, the reality is that starfish adapt to the rise and fall of the tides, soaking up chilly water during the high swells to protect themselves from the blazing temperatures that persist when they are left stranded, and seaweed becomes revived with the return of the waters.
Today, the tides are changing with regard to pandemic life, and we are once more being called to adapt. With the promise of vaccines and post-pandemic life around the bend, we are faced with the challenge of reworking our lives, which were only too recently overturned. Some can approach this change with fresh eyes, while others are exhausted and stunned, perhaps disoriented as the sea stars appear. The question becomes, how might we practically adjust with intention, encountering the least amount of unhealthy stress as we can, emerging from this year with a mindset of growth and hope?
It is first immensely important that we each take a private, individual moment to acknowledge and compliment ourselves on the accomplishments that we have achieved this year. No matter how privileged or challenged we may be, each of us have been forced to alter our lives in significant ways. Isolation, continued hypervigilance, grief, extended uncertainty, and fear do not bode well for any human soul. Do take the time to give yourself grace and speak to yourself as you would a friend—congratulating yourself on how far you’ve come and what you’ve endured. This act is an undertaking of self-compassion, which does not come naturally to most. It is important to note that self-compassion is not an indulgence, but a requirement for living an intentional life that has personal meaning.
Another aspect of self-compassion is cutting ourselves some slack. Media influencers are talking about coming out of the pandemic with the beautiful wings of a butterfly and are touting all the things they will accomplish when we are allowed to come together again. However, anticipating returning to the pressures of the hustle and bustle of regular life can wash over us, leaving us feeling frustrated and overwhelmed with possibility. It is okay to simply consider the new changes and readjustments to our post-pandemic lives, even as small as the new commute to work in lieu of working at home, to be large ones. We do not have to place any expectations on ourselves other than to once again reacclimate to another transformed environment. Do not compare yourself to your past life or to anyone else. Start with bite sized goals and celebrate every small step. If you find yourself being judgmental of yourself or others, stop, acknowledge, take a breath, and start again.
Every move we make from this part on takes courage. Remember that the transition may be an awkward one, for all of us. For introverts, going back into the “normal” world may even be an unwelcome prospect. It is okay to feel frustrated, anxious, and have trepidation at this time. It is best to identify and name those emotions, so that we can move forward with awareness and constructive intent.
One positive theme that I hear from my clients is that the pandemic has afforded them the opportunity to experience a reconsideration of priorities. When we challenge ourselves to think positively in a stressful time, we can begin to pare away the unhelpful things from our past lives and grow the valuable ones. Setting purposeful goals can help us to electively re-evaluate our lives in a generative fashion. We are given an opportunity to cast off habits, obligations, or unhealthy behaviors that did not serve us well pre-pandemic and set purposeful goals for the future. This is easy to say, and harder to implement.
Again, we do not have to put undue pressure to grow or emerge differently from our current situations. Living with intentionality in alignment with our core values is the most cherished ambition of a life worth living. For now, getting through the next day and months is a worthwhile achievement. We have all been through trauma. There is enormous growth and power that can come from emerging from distress, and it is important to remember the promise of that power. As we wait, watch, and participate in the re-opening of our world, consider this a time of re-evaluation—essentially a time in which we decide which behavioral changes we made during the crisis we will abandon, and which we will sustain.
Finally, take the time to honor the ups and downs of your personal experience, limit large amounts of media exposure, and make time to help others. Keep in mind daily the three basics of any healthy lifestyle, which are eating nutritious foods, sleeping well, and keeping our bodies moving. If life seems too overwhelming or it seems too difficult to wade through the changes, seek out professional help.
As we watch the waters draw away from the past year of COVID-19, we are afforded the chance to surface with strength and intentionality of living. The world shifts around us and we shape ourselves to fit. Time is not the tide, it moves only in one direction, and it is our challenge to go forth with courage and in hope.
I provide mental health services via the Lyons Emergency & Assistance Fund (LEAF) here in Lyons, which includes individual and group therapy, and assessment and referrals. LEAF also provides many resources, to include a weekly, very inclusive food pantry, Meals on Wheels, limited direct financial assistance, and community support through the Lyons Volunteers. LEAF has been key in keeping our community together this year and will continue to be there for you and our community. Check out LEAF’s website at leaflyons.org. for both services to participate in and opportunities to volunteer. And, as always, if you or someone you know needs to talk or is seeking mental health support, contact me for a completely confidential discussion about options at email@example.com.