“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” ~ Dave Hollis
These times are stressful and weird. We’re all feeling nostalgic for normal life. But every hardship carries with it opportunity, and the pandemic is no exception. If you’ enjoy lots of quiet time in your own space, the pandemic might have you feeling better now than you have in a long time.
Social distancing isn’t all bad. When things are normal, many of us feel perpetually overextended and exhausted. Now you might be experiencing fewer demands on your time in some ways. You also might find that getting the downtime and sleep you need is easier.
Putting better personal boundaries into place might also be easier. For example, it may be easier to avoid giving an automatic “yes” to your boss’s request when it’s emailed rather than in person. It’s also easier to avoid getting sucked into serving on the school committee if the committee has put its activities on hold. It’s easier to sleep in if you don’t have a commute. In short, in some ways you may be experiencing less stress right now.
In fact, you might worry that the end of social distancing means going back to a life that is harder. You worry that you’ll jump right back to being overwhelmed and exhausted all the time. Where there’s no time for any of the relaxing or fun activities you have time for now.
So that makes now the perfect time to make a plan for how you’ll maintain some of the benefits of social distancing when normal life returns.
Opportunity is all around…
Because life has changed so much and so quickly for everyone, you have an unprecedented opportunity to change your life for the better. A chance to really reduce stress and anxiety. Together, we can re-invent a personal and societal new normal. No-one is expecting life to go back exactly the way it was. Since everything is in flux, a change in your habits or behavior that might raise eyebrows under normal circumstances might not be such a big deal right now.
As time goes on and we collectively figure out what new normal looks like, taking the following steps can help you reduce stress and make life more fulfilling for your future self.
Take stock of the activities that were part of your “old normal” way of doing things. What things do you genuinely miss? What things do you not miss? Have you discovered or re-discovered any activities during this time that reduce your stress or bring you joy?
Consider the value of things both big and small. Do you really miss your morning Starbucks run? Or do you now think your day would be less stressful if you spent those 15 minutes at home having a quiet cup of joe before heading to a busy day at the office? Is it time to plan an exit strategy from your
sentence service as Girl Scout Cookie Mom, or do you find you find you really miss serving in that way? Are you surprised to realize that you miss hanging out with your coworkers for happy hour, or is it an activity you now realize saps energy without providing much value?
Let’s say that working from home is a new thing for you, and you’ve discovered you like it: you feel more relaxed, and are more focused and productive when doing your work out of the office. What can you do now to prepare for one or two days of working from home post-social distancing? Maybe you make an effort to highlight the quality of work you produce while working from home for your boss, or check with human resources to learn more about work from home policies.
Whatever your solution, when things go back to “normal” think about how you can keep the good parts of the pandemic, the parts that reduced stress and helped you enjoy life a bit more.
Communicating clearly about change that will affect others is critical. It’s not only considerate to engage others, but they will be more likely to support you if you give them a chance to weigh in and get used to the change.
People are also more likely to buy-in and help you make this change if they feel there is some benefit for them. Explain why the change is important to you, and work collaboratively so everyone benefits from change in some way.
Where family is concerned, ask family members what changes they desire for themselves and think about making changes that benefit more than one person. Can you agree to order take-out once or twice a week so no-one has to cook dinner or clean up? That frees everyone up to something more enjoyable with that time! Or maybe keep “movie night” or “tech free” dinnertime as a family activity post social distancing.
If your plan to work from home more frequently could affect co-workers, let everyone affected know that you will be responsive to emails, IM and calls during core business hours. And that you’ll use video to call into meetings so your presence is felt.
Identify necessary steps.
If you’d like to bow out of your role as Cookie Mom, talk to the person who expressed interest in the role awhile back and see if they’re still interested. If you want to take an evening class, figure out a budget solution to help you pay for it. Then walk your spouse through your budget plans along with your ideas for managing dinner and evening chores in your absence. Part of this process is anticipating that reducing stress on you, may add a burden to someone else, so be thoughtful in how to mitigate that stress so everyone benefits.
Prepare to protect necessary space and time.
Part of making room for a change is learning to say no to requests for your time and energy that aren’t as valuable to you as other activities. If saying no is difficult for you, use the remaining time of social distancing to adopt and practice a strategy for saying no.
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There’s no doubt that this is a difficult time for all of us. But it’s also an unprecedented opportunity to take stock of what’s working and what isn’t, and formulate a plan for how to change your life for the better going forward.
Doing so will steer you in the direction of post-traumatic growth – a sense that we can grow and improve our lives in the face of unwanted and challenging circumstances – and away from the effects of post-traumatic stress.
We have an unprecedented opportunity for radical and positive change before us. Let’s not squander it.