Finding Our Way Back to the Future
It has been a long, difficult slog through pandemic life this last year. If anyone tried to talk to me about this the first week of March 2020, they were swiftly kicked to the curb as I confidently asserted, “It’s just a bunch of hype.”
I admit. I was wrong.
Looking back, and being the ever-learning, fascinated neuroscience geek that I am, I know why I renounced the warnings as I did. More and more these days, “shock media” spins its yarns more in hopes of earning high ratings than being truthful, making me automatically skeptical. However, the greater culprit for my willfulness in this case was my own brain — which blatantly rejected the type of changes being proposed on the nightly news.
I share this because I know I am not alone, and I wish to validate others who struggled with accepting reality as it was at any point along this trying and arduous journey.
Now, one year later, I want to get out ahead of the next wave of surreal news about to head our way, namely our crawl out of the sludge toward the path of re-entry into physical proximity to other humans. In other words, our post-pandemic life.
We are not out of the woods yet by any means, but we may be heading in that direction and it behooves us not to put off planning for it until the last minute. Looking back, it took me several weeks to a few months to really wrap my brain around what was happening in the world. Again, I do not think I am alone in that. The goal this time is to be proactive.
Believe it or not — making our way out of this mess may end up just as challenging as getting into it was. We may not like to admit this, but most of us have become used to some aspects of our new way of life. It is far easier to roll out of bad, toss on a shirt (notice I did not say remove pajama bottoms and slippers), tousle our hair, and mosey into our makeshift offices for work. Some of us have gone from fighting traffic daily to not at all. We may even feel a bit averse to being around people now. I don’t know about you, but every time I see a television show or movie filmed pre-pandemic, I am jealous and angry that they are not wearing masks. It just feels weird to me to see an entire human face now! Who would have ever believed the very thing we long for may cause us discomfort and even feel overwhelming at first?
Therefore — we need a plan.
As much as we wish they would, many things we want in life do not “just happen” without concerted effort. However, if we use foresight, the effort can be stepwise and slow rather than bowling us over like a tidal wave.
The following are some suggestions to help.
STEP ONE: Get Your Brain in Gear. You may not be aware of this, but a great deal of thinking goes on in your brain outside of your conscious awareness. All throughout the day, tiny adjustments are made to manage your life. Experiences and environmental cues tell our brains where we are along the safety continuum. Thirteen months ago, alarm clocks, traffic signals, and bumping elbows with our colleagues, though unpleasant at times, signaled routine and, therefore, safety. Now, however, all these things indicate quite the opposite. Here are some ways to get your brain to work with you rather than against you.
→ Create a truth statement to say to yourself every time you do something “new” like you “used to do”. Setting an alarm again, getting dressed and engaging in a morning routine, and being close to people are all things we spent most of our lives doing without any thought at all. Now, it will feel wrong, even when we get to the point of acceptable safety risk. Say something to yourself to remind you your feelings make sense, and you will get used to this in time.
→ Use the 10–10–10 technique. Ask yourself how you will feel in ten minutes, ten hours, ten days, ten weeks, and so on. “In ten minutes back in the office, I will be pretty uncomfortable and anxious. In ten hours, probably the same. In ten days, though, it will start to feel more normal. Certainly, in ten weeks, I will acclimate to what I am doing and will feel much better.
→ Use your brain to tell your body you are okay. Doing something new causes your brain to work against established neural pathways. This may make you feel frightened or excited, trepidatious or adventurous, depending on several factors. These feelings are often triggered by things in the environment of which we are not consciously aware. Try to notice which thoughts, emotions, or situations tend to make you most uncomfortable and during that time, tell your anxious body to breathe and relax. Focus on the sensations rather than the running commentary of doom in your brain. Try counting slowly to sixty. This will give your brain time to reduce the panic neurotransmitters and you will start to feel better.
STEP TWO: Modify Your Routine — Slowly. Whatever your daily routine has become, like it or not, it probably feels “normal” to you now (whatever “normal” is). It will be some time before there are significant changes to our now-established routines. Don’t wait until then. Start now imagining the changes to come and approximate them now as much as you can. Get up and get dressed as if you were going into the office (okay, you can keep your slippers on). If you had a morning radio routine before work, start doing that again at home. You may even want to get up every day and drive your car around. Take small steps toward making your new routine and when the time comes to actually do it, you will feel more ready.
STEP TWO-POINT-OH: Be Nice to You AND…Celebrate. Thoughts and emotions are not facts. Really. It’s true. You will think that your rolling-out-of-bed and falling into work habit is much nicer than the rigamarole of clomping into the office, however you have probably forgotten all the perks of in-person work. Either way, the old way will feel new now and you may feel anxious or irritated when you are around people again. Feeling anxious and irritated does not actually mean anything real is happening to cause it. These thoughts and feelings derive from your perceptions. It is a great deal of work to make changes. Do not beat on yourself for your thoughts and emotions around the change, but neither allow them to drive the bus! Create a list of small to large things that motivate and reward you and intermittently throw in one of them to keep your motivation up.
Listen…this is hard work we are all doing. As a neuroscience-informed consultant, I know all the moving parts with this and I can tell you, just getting through the day is monumental for some of you. The more you can think ahead, use your environment to prompt you, and celebrate your wins, the easier the change will be and the more successful you will feel. There are no badges of honor for working harder than is necessary with this, so give yourself a break and a lot of encouragement. You are worth it!
Written by book author, blogger, & educational/motivational speaker, Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP. Founder and owner of Potential Finders Network, Hannah provides consultation, training, and personal development services. Hannah’s passion is to see people reach their potential and find lasting, positive change. If you have topics you want to suggest, please don’t hesitate to contact her at Hannah@PotentialFinders.com and check out www.PotentialFinders.com or https://www.facebook.com/PotentialFindersNetwork to learn more.