Spring has Sprung, Have You?

Spring has Sprung, Have You?

04/9/21 Laura Gibbons

This is likely the first time that we have had a collective experience with the global pandemic. No one was has been immune to the impact of COVID-19. From shutdowns, to mask wearing, to changes in the way we work, live, and learn.

Although we have this shared experience, our individual experiences and reactions may vary. Some have had the flexibility to work remotely while others were essential workers having to continue to serve in very different conditions. For some, it offered the opportunity to slow down and be more present. While others may have frantically tried to adapt to circumstances beyond their control and resources.

COVID-19 is unlike other events because it has been ongoing rather than a single event. Individuals may have had immediate, delayed, or ongoing reactions to the pandemic based on their circumstances and how they process events and change.

Are We There Yet?
After a year living in the pandemic, we may feel some hope with the dawn of spring, as well as seeing the number of COVID-19 cases declining and having access to vaccines. Although some may have adjusted and feel hopeful, others may feel like a kid in the backseat of a car asking, “Are we there yet?” as their recovery seems to be more challenging. There are many factors that can contribute to how we are moving through this pandemic, including:

Grief and loss. We have all experienced the effects of COVID-19, but it has been up close and personal for some if they or a loved one contracted it, has had long-term effects as a result of COVID-19, or unfortunately died from it. Individuals may also feel loss due to disappointments from missing milestones such as graduations, birthdays, weddings, births, anniversaries, vacations, and even saying goodbye to loved ones with a ritual of a funeral. The picture once envisioned has been altered; therefore, the grieving process may continue as we move toward acceptance and hope.

Sense of safety. COVID-19 has altered a sense of safety that we once knew. Individuals can feel at risk going to the grocery, work, or even visiting family. The unknown can make individuals feel helpless and vulnerable. When we have a lack of safety, it can increase our hypervigilance, fear, and cause an uptake in energy. Increasing one’s sense of safety is a process and may be based on our personal experiences, what we feel we can control, how others make us feel, and what efforts we see locally and nationally in regards to the pandemic.

Ongoing stressors. When COVID-19 hit, many went into survival mode as they faced many changes all at once. Whether it was moving to remote work, children at home e-learning, disruption in social and family interactions, or restrictions that made daily life feel out of balance, individuals, families, and workplaces had to adapt quickly. While some may have adjusted quickly or over time, others may still feel challenged and fatigued by ongoing or cumulative stressors making their world still feel upside down.

History of mental health conditions. If someone has a history of anxiety, depression or other mental health condition, they may likely experience more intense reactions and increased symptoms during these uncertain times. Others who haven’t experienced depression, anxiety, or other symptoms, may feel out of sorts as they may be experiencing these symptoms for the first time and are unsure how to manage them.

Social distancing and isolation. They say it takes 21 days to make a new habit, and we have had a year of conditioning ourselves to changing the way we do things. And so as we move forward, it could feel more difficult to change newer habits into ones that allow us to reintegrate ourselves as things look up. For instance, some may feel less excited or uncertain about going out, doing things, and seeing people like they thought they would be. Others may feel they get more overwhelmed about smaller things or having to change again.  And, some may feel the physical toll of being more sedentary or gaining the COVID 15+ which can change the way we look and feel about ourselves.

To help process all that we have experienced or may still be experiencing, here are some tips:

Acknowledge your feelings. This has been an unprecedented time with many challenges. Like grief, it is important to acknowledge your feelings. Stay away from judging them or labeling them as bad or wrong. Based on what you are feeling (sad, lonely, angry), think about what you need. People respond differently based on their current and past experiences. Ignoring or fighting your feelings will likely prolong the recovery process and healing.

Focus on what you can control. COVID-19 has been notorious for taking away our sense of control making some feel uneasy, uncomfortable, or even helpless. It is important to accept what you can’t control and focus your energy on what you can control. Ruminating about what you can’t control just increases stress and the sense of helplessness.

Re-establish routines, but remain flexible. For those who feel like they have been out of their normal routine, accept that things look different and that it may need to change again. Look at routine in smaller chunks. Plan day by day or week by week. Remain flexible, and take note if strict routines led to missed opportunities and that re-establishing new ones gives you an opportunity to add in some structure but with new purposeful activities that enhance relationships, connectivity, and fun. 

Celebrate what you’ve accomplished. Don’t forget to recognize and celebrate what you have accomplished during these difficult times. Even in the hardest of times, you may have learned something about yourself, developed new skills, tackled long overdue to-do items, became more adaptable to change, increased empathy, and recognized new appreciations. When we acknowledge what we’ve accomplished and overcome – big or small – it reminds us that there has been progress forward and that there are positive things to reflect on.

Reconnect with your support network. Social distancing has been a part of increasing our safety, but feeling distant can also be a ramification. One’s family and social support network is important during these times to feel connected and supported, even if it looks different. And if you have gotten too settled into isolation, make an effort to reconnect. 

Importance of self-care. Whether it is during a pandemic or on the other side of it, getting adequate sleep, eating nutritiously, practicing mindfulness, getting out in nature, exercising, doing a hobby, asking for help, and other activities that bring one joy are important to one’s own self-care. Self-care helps us better balance new and changing demands of work, home, and health.

Use humor. One of the healing agents we often overlook is humor. Humor can combat fear, comfort us, relax us, reduce stress, spread happiness, and create optimism. Even during difficult times, we need to give ourselves permission to smile and laugh.

As we continue to adjust to the next normal, the EAP is a great resource for employees to find strategies to effectively move through these uncertain times to feel more positive, productive, and healthy.

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