Remember back in March and early April when the shut-down still had a slightly exciting and very temporary feel to it? It was stressful, frustrating and sad but it was also strangely exhilarating. That’s because we were all operating (and sometimes thriving) using our emergency stress response that humans turn to during a crisis. It’s a surge of mental and physical energy that we draw on for short-term survival in acutely stressful situations.
But what if the crisis lasts for too long? That’s when the crash comes. We can’t sustain the emergency stress response for the long term and things start to fall apart. In my therapy work with adults and teenagers, I have seen “the crash” come in waves for my clients and also in my own home!
Part of the solution to this crash is to recognize that we all need to get to “new normal”. We’ve been hearing that term since the Spring. But how do you get to a new normal when things are constantly changing and the stress levels are chronic? The answer is to figure out your different coping style and what coping strategies suit you best.
Below are some thoughts for adopting new coping strategies and settling into “new normal”
- Acknowledge the loss.
The losses we are all experiencing are a loss of a way of life. It’s a loss of our rituals and traditions, a loss of our daily schedules and systems and a loss of normal relationships. This type of loss is not as tangible as a death, but it is still a major, chronic loss. Things have been taken from us and that is painful. You may experience the same grief stages as a more tangible loss–denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance–acknowledge the loss and whatever stage you are in.
- Expect less from yourself.
Accept that life is different right now and give yourself permission to expect less of yourself. Explore how to best replenish yourself in this new way of living. Where do you get your energy? What kind of down time do you need? The answers to those questions will be different from your pre-pandemic replenishment strategies. No one can function at full capacity with all that is going on.
- Experiment with “both-and” thinking.
We have to face reality during this pandemic, and how we frame that reality mentally can help us cope. “Both-and” thinking allows you to acknowledge the hard stuff while also acknowledging something positive or hopeful about it. For example: “My son is likely not going to learn as much with a virtual education, but he is going to grow in other less tangible ways through being with family and more free play time”. Another example, “I am usually so competent and productive, and right now I need to go with the flow and just do what I can”.
- Look for new and old activities that bring fulfillment.
Self-care has been a huge buzz word during the pandemic, but the irony is so much of our typical self-care activities have been taken away. We have to broaden what we think of as self-care and recognize where we have control over our daily lives. The brain deals with the world in a future/planning way and in the here and now. Those elements provide the brain with natural rewards. Activities like cooking, gardening, painting, house projects or even some video games can give you both the future/planning element and the here and now element that can be so fulfilling.
I know all of these strategies are easy to read about and harder to implement. But focus on what you can sustain for the next nine months to a year. What tools do you need to be able to lower your stress levels and increase your coping strategies until we leave “new normal” and go back to “real normal”?