IYou’ve been waiting … and waiting … and waiting for this amazing magical day when you could get back to “normal life”.
To many people in the U.S., it seems that the dim light at the end of the pandemic tunnel is getting brighter. My 12 and 14 year old daughters now have their first shot, and the second will soon follow. I was euphoric when the children received their vaccines, drowning under my mask in the face of the relief that now my family was not likely to get sick or transmit the coronavirus to other people more vulnerable than us. Eventually, our family could begin to return to the so-called normal life.
But what should those lucky enough to be vaccinated return to? I didn’t feel exactly euphoric every day in my normal life before COVID-19. How do you choose what you want to rebuild, what to leave behind, and what new paths you want to try for the first time? Clinical psychological science provides some useful clues on how to chart the course of pandemic life.
1. Set realistic expectations
You are less likely to be disappointed if you do set reasonable expectations.
For example, you are likely to feel some anxiety as you try to figure out what you can do and what is still risky. Although the level of risk has decreased in many places, there is still uncertainty and unpredictability related to current coronavirus risks, and it is natural to feel anxious or ambivalent when he lets go of an established habit, how to wear masks. So be prepared to have some anxiety and realize that it doesn’t mean something is wrong, it’s a natural reaction to a very unnatural situation.
Many social interactions are also likely to feel a little awkward at first. Most Americans are out of practice for socializing and repeated practice is what helps us feel comfortable.
Even if your social skills were at their best, the current moment is very useful for navigating interpersonal. Chances are you don’t always agree with the people in your life about where to draw lines about what’s safe and what’s not. There will be some tricky Fourth of July holidays to navigate, as many families have some members vaccinated and others not. This will be frustrating after waiting so long to finally get together.
And you won’t automatically have warm, fuzzy feelings about all of your colleagues, family, friends, and neighbors. Many of these little annoyances that arose in your interactions before you ever heard of COVID-19 will still be there.
So expect some discomfort, frustration, and annoyance – everyone creates new patterns and adapts to changed relationships. Everything should be easier with time and practice, but having realistic expectations can facilitate the transition.
2. Live your values
To help you plan what activities and relationships you need to spend time on, think about your priorities.
Live in a way that is consistent with your values it can promote well-being and reduce anxiety and depression. Many therapeutic exercises are designed to help reduce the discrepancy between your stated values and the choices you make on a day-to-day basis.
Imagine being asked to cut a cake to illustrate your different roles and how important each is to your way of feeling about yourself and the values you prioritize. You can highly value your roles as a mother, spouse, and friend by assigning them the largest chunks of your cake.
Now, what if you were asked to sculpt this cake in a way that reflects how you really allocate your time and energy, or how you tend to evaluate yourself. Is the time you spend with friends much less than it is worth to you? Is the tendency to judge oneself by rigid work much greater?
Of course, time is not the only significant metric and we all have periods in which certain parts of our lives need to be mastered: think of life as a newborn parent or as a student during final exams. But this process of considering your values and trying to align what you value and how you live can help guide your choices during this complex time.
3. Keep track
Clinical psychologists recommend participate in activities that feel rewarding somehow to avoid negative moods. Doing things that are enjoyable, that provide a sense of accomplishment, or that help you achieve your goals can be rewarding, so it’s not just about having fun.
For most people, a certain balance of fun, productive, social, active, and relaxing activities in life is key to feeling that your needs are met. So try to keep track of your activities and mood for a week. See when you feel more or less happy and when you feel you are meeting your goals, and adjust accordingly. Trials and mistakes will be needed to find the balance of activities that this sense of reward provides.
4. Is it a time of growth or conservation?
There is fascinating research that shows that the the perception of time can influence your goals and motivation. If you think the time is slowing down, as is often the case in older adults or people with a serious illness, you are likely to look for deeper connections with fewer people. Alternatively, those who feel that time is open and expansive tend to look for new relationships and experiences.
As the restrictions are lifted, are you desperate to visit a close friend in the city where you grew up? Or more excited to travel to an exotic place and make new friends? There is no right answer, but this research can help you consider your current priorities and plan your next meeting or trip accordingly.
5. Recognize your privilege and pay it forward
If you are vaccinated and healthy and can return to more normal activities, you are in a lucky group after such a devastating year of losses. As you plan to use this time, consider research that proves it your emotional health improves when you do things to benefit others.
Being intent on helping others is win-win. There are so many people and communities in need right now, so think about how you can contribute, be it time, money, resources, skills or listening. Asking what your community needs to recover and thrive and how you can help address those needs, as well as considering what you and your home need, can increase everyone’s well-being.
As the return to so-called normal life becomes more of a reality, don’t idealize the post-pandemic life or it will surely disappoint you. Instead, be thankful and intentional for what you decide to do with this gift of a reboot. With a little thought, you can do better than normal.