As the world begins to reopen, and for some states, close back down, I am hearing from clients a resurgence in low energy, lack of motivation, and sadness. I’m hearing more and more that people just aren’t able to get done what they think they should be, or that they are finding themselves more irritable with their loved ones, or that they can’t concentrate at work. I’m also hearing an increase in anxiety, especially about being around others again. It all feels similar to what I was hearing four months ago when we first began staying safe at home. The disconnect between the rising number of cases and the continued opening of businesses feels, for many people, confusing and unsettling. The reality is that simply because you can now sit inside a restaurant, does not mean the physical and emotional toll of the pandemic is over.
This started in spring, when many of us (in the midwest, at least) were still running the heat in our homes. Then the bliss of summer arrived, and with it came the message that Minnesota was doing well, we were flattening the curve, perhaps we were turning a corner. We now find ourselves in a standstill, parents and students are unsure of what fall will have in store, businesses are fighting to survive, and yet, I hear this belief from clients that they “should be doing more.” My question to them is, but why? Why “should” you be breezing through an eight hour work day when your office is still in the same room you eat dinner? Why “should” you finish out those four loads of laundry when your children are fighting because they’re bored? Why “should” you go for a run when you only managed a few disrupted hours of sleep? We are not that far removed from the stress we were under in March, so let’s stop “shoulding” ourselves, and give ourselves some grace.
Just like when this all started back in March, taking care of ourselves, mind and body, is what will get us through this tumultuous time. I tell my clients to adjust their expectations, to take time to slow down, and to explore what’s really important. While we may all be staying home more these days, that doesn’t mean we have the mental or physical capacity to cross off every item on our never-ending to-do list. I often recommend aiming for one or two things to accomplish each day and if you’re having a day where simply taking a shower is your one thing, that. is. okay. Our calendars may be more sparse, but our brain space is not, so rather than “shoulding” yourself, or adding guilt and shame to the list of other pandemic emotions, adjust your expectations to an attainable, realistic level. Slowing down is also key. Because we have fewer social engagements or activities to rush to, take a moment to breathe. Go for a walk, stand with your feet in the grass, pull some weeds, take a bath, watch that show that allows your brain to relax and let go. Use this unique time to find space in your day to ground and recharge. Finally, evaluate what’s important. When you notice those thoughts of things you believe you should do, ask yourself why you feel that way. Is it vital to the health of your household that you finish that fourth load of laundry at 10pm? Or could your time be better used getting that extra hour of sleep, or simply sitting in a quiet home? Must you attend that fourth zoom happy hour this week? Figure out what fills you up, what recharges your battery, what’s truly important for yourself and your family, and practice letting go of the rest.
If you’re like many others and you notice your energy levels are low, your irritability is high, and your motivation is nowhere to be found, take a breath. It’s okay. You are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not failing. You are still living in unprecedented times.
Written by Elise Zimmerman, MS, LMFT