How To Cope With The New Normal

Cope with new normal

COVID-19 Social Distancing or Lockdown

Thank you to everyone out there doing their part to stop the spread of COVID 19 with Social Distancing, also known as Physical Distancing! I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the front-line workers making sure that we continue to function as a society the best we can. We hope to give you some tips to cope with the new normal of this lockdown.

This little ditty is for all of those working from home, schooling from home, socially distancing from home, or straight up quarantined at home people. Hey! I’m with you working from home. I thought I would reach out and talk about a few things that I would imagine many of us are thinking about during this weird, uncertain time.

Staying “healthy” is something a lot of us struggled with before the pandemic hit. For those feeling the pressure to somehow be more productive even though the old normal was tough, I want you to know that some of us get it. In the field of mental health, practitioners understand that any changes can be difficult, even good changes.

The new normal of living in pandemic time has presented many of us with new challenges we were not expecting to face. So let’s take a look at how to survive this change the best we can without feeling like we have to solve all the world’s problems. I’ve been saying to clients lately and constantly reminding myself, this is not a vacation. The next few sections will talk about how to survive the new normal through four main aspects of life: physical, psychological, environmental, and social.

Physical Aspects of Social Distancing

You have likely been told from day one that physical activity is healthy and contributes to improved mood, endurance, and overall health. You knew about that pre-demic (Like, before the pandemic. Did I just coin a new term?). Our body-mind connection is very strong and the psychological stressors that people experience do impact physical health. If you had a routine before that involved physical fitness you’ve probably made some changes to that routine lately. If this sounds like you, please be kind to yourself. Developing the new normal workout routine may take time and will likely feel less effective or even frustrating at times. Do. What. You. Can.

You do not have to feel ok about the new normal and you can work on accepting that this is where you are. For those of us who did not engage in a physical fitness routine before please follow some of the same principles listed above. Be kind to yourself, work on acceptance of the situation, and do what you can. You do not need the new normal to pressure you into making stressful changes that you may have felt were out of reach before. If now is the time to start a fitness routine at home, great! Do what you can. For resources about at-home fitness routines, you can Google “at home fitness routines” and there are a ton of free resources.

Psychological Aspects of Social Distancing

The psychological impact of COVID 19 likely will not be understood for a long time. We all experience stress differently. You may be really cheerful while reading this or you may be on the floor crying wrapped in a fuzzy blanket with same PJ pants on as last night (assuming you wear pants). I tend to fluctuate on a continuum between those two. This morning I felt the need to contribute to something and I engaged in that urge by writing. Yesterday I did the bare minimum at work, made dinner for the kids, and then hid in bed on my IPad for most of the evening before watching the last episode of Tiger King. I’m learning that those days are just fine and that I need them to help me appreciate the more productive days.

We all have a “default mode” which is how we generally feel most of the time.  Psychologically this default mode may have shifted since COVID 19. You may feel more uncomfortable feelings of uncertainty, boredom, or irritation for example. Please be kind to yourself. Even though these feelings can be difficult to deal with, try to acknowledge them. “Hey irritation, we meet again. I get why you’re around. My kid does sing the same song over and over again. I can sit here and feel the irritation wash over me, breathing slowly through it, and know that it will pass.” Sounds simple, right? Notice how I didn’t say it’s easy because it’s not easy. Practising mindful acceptance of thoughts and feelings has many proven benefits for mental health. If you find yourself struggling to cope with thoughts and feelings please reach out to a mental health professional for support. We are here to help you.

Environmental Aspects of Social Distancing

I’m going to write this section assuming that you may want to be involved in caring for the environment and/or enjoying it in some way. If not, please skip to the next part! People generally have access to parks and outside spaces like trails, bike paths, and playgrounds. In this new normal some of us have very limited access to the outside world and honestly, we may not have used our access a lot during pre-demic times (there’s my word again!). The new normal likely includes some interesting changes that impact the environment. For example, I have never used as many disinfecting wipes as I have in the past two weeks.

My plan to support and enjoy the environment involves trying not to pressure myself into going outside but doing so when I feel like it. I plan to sit outside on sunny days and drink coffee, to grow some vegetables over the summer in my outside space and to go for walks a few times a week on the road while practising physical distancing. This is what I’ve come up with so far and I’ll reassess how that works as time goes on. As usual for me, I plan to compost and try to avoid single-use items as much as possible knowing that zero-waste is not a reasonable option for my family. There are 5 humans in my house all the time now so rotating inside and outside use of space has been very helpful. Do what you can to take advantage of any outside space you have access to while continuing to use physical distancing responsibly. Good luck out there!

Social Aspects of Social Distancing

I often ask clients where they think they generally sit on the introverted vs. extroverted continuum. Although we can flow back and forth on this continuum, we likely have a default mode for connecting with others just like we do for mood. Hey, introverts! I’m guessing that some of you are experts at quarantine protocol and are feeling just fine about the increase in alone time. Do what works! Check-in with your people when you feel like it, hang out with yourself and engage in solitary activities when you want. I suggest some self-reflection to make sure that “alone” does not flow into “lonely” so that you can continue to feel as connected as needed right now. If you feel like you could benefit from a little bit more social contact, keep reading.

For those of us who would like to be more connected to others during the new normal, we have options. My first suggestion is to check your socials online. Make sure you are connected to friends and family who post things online that you actually want to look at. We can support people from a distance without having to read every sad or angry post they make. Unfollow people or companies that post things you find no value in. Yes, even that one friend from public school who really struggles with relationships and posts about it on the regular. You do not have to read about or engage in their daily struggles. If you feel like you are that person struggling and reaching out for help on social media, please feel free to connect with a mental health professional when you feel ready. Stay connected to people who put a smile on your face at least some of the time.

Another way to feel connected is through the many video options most of us now have access to like FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype for example. I have had three different “hangouts” with friends online since social distancing started at home and let me tell you it has been wonderful to see other people! I love my family and I’m around them now a lot more than I was used to. Making sure to connect to people outside the house has been very fulfilling and I plan to continue the online hangouts. There are likely many other ways to feel connected to others on the phone or online so please do what works for you.

Wow, you made it through the whole thing! Hope you learned something new or felt validated in some way. My aim in writing this piece was to highlight the ways we can care for our physical, psychological, environmental, and social aspects of life during COVID 19. Do what you can, be kind to yourself when experiencing the new normal, be kind to others navigating their new normal. Some days we write blog posts and some days we’re on the floor. Do what you can.

If you or someone in your household is experiencing mental health challenges, please feel free to reach out to HeadWay Clinic for phone or video counselling during the COVID 19 pandemic. We are here for you! https://www.headwayclinic.ca/appointment/

Counselling North Bay

Alyssa Koenderink

Registered Psychotherapist