By: Kate Daigle
“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” -Kakuzõ Okakura
I remember hearing we were locking down...that the world would have to adjust to this “new normal” and that we’d be facing it together, on a global scale. After many months in, I realized that all of the news stories, social media posts and daily conversations were reflecting similar anxieties and worries for many people.. People seemed to be consistently talking about:
● “What is the new normal going to look like?”
● “Will we ever go back to the previous normal?”
● “What does this change mean for my family, friends and finances?”
● “Will anyone I know be affected?”
● “What if I or anyone I love gets sick?”
Now, over a year later, when you turn on your tv, login to your social media or talk with others, the same fear and anxiety has returned, only this time it is all about returning to our previously established status quo. The question of how and if we can get back to pre-pandemic life seems to be the newest uncertainty for many people. Some, who previously felt comfortable in social settings, might now feel uncomfortable and out of sorts around groups of people. All of the new changes, such as being able to hug again, being able to stand close to one another, moving from virtual platforms back to in-person,, changing schedules, adjusting childcare,are all causing new, evolved, forms of anxiety that is different what we’ve been seeing over the past year and a half.
I was walking around a store the other day and I started feeling out of place. When I sat with that feeling for a moment longer, I realized why things felt unusual...I could see people’s faces again. You’d think this would feel relieving but, yet, it felt foreign. How something could feel so foreign after adjusting to a different reality for only a year and half’s time seemed baffling. As soon as this bizarre feeling subsided, what came next was an interesting feeling. I couldn’t stop thinking about how we’re hardwired for change. Then I realized, it’s only when we get stuck in our fear-based thoughts and the “what-ifs” such as “What if I get laid off at work?” that we begin to question what we already know how to do.. adapt.
Merriam Webster gives the following definition of adaptation:
ad*ap*ta*tion: adjustment to environmental conditions: such as
a: adjustment of a sense organ to the intensity or quality of stimulation
b: modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the condition of its environment: a heritable physical or behavioral trait that serves a specific function and improves an organism’s fitness or survival.
When you think about it, we’re all in a constant state of change or adaptation. A simple example would be adapting to the temperature of your home after walking in from outside. On a more complex level, adapting to a new job could mean adjusting to a new budget and schedule. The beginning of any kind of change or adaptation could feel disorientating and scary because it’s new and uncertain.
So, how do we generalize these seemingly basic ways of adapting to bigger scale adjustments and changes?
Here are six helpful ways for creating new “normals”:
1. Consider what you can and can’t control – understanding and accepting what you can and can’t control can help provide perspective as well as direction on where to channel your energy and focus. In general, we tend to focus more energy on the things we can’t control because those are the things that are more anxiety-provoking. But this actually makes it worse because we can struggle to find solutions and our bodies and minds can pay the price of staying in a prolonged state of anxiety. If you instead focus on what you can control, you will find more relief and inner peace.
2. Don’t go it alone – Think about your personal support system. Who do you have in your life to talk through your worries and fears? Make sure to engage those in your support system who won’t shame, blame or guilt you for how you feel..
3. Consider previous successes – Given that you’ve probably been adjusting and readjusting to things for your whole life, consider a time when you were required to adapt to a new “normal”. How did you get through it? What personal strengths did you use? What did you learn the last time you were required to adapt?
4. Establish your boundaries – In our society, we can become inundated with messages from all kinds of media sources and this can contribute to stress, overwhelm and anxiety. Think about your boundaries when it comes to how you get your information and how much access you have - what changes can you make or tools can you utilize to reduce exposure to the amount of information you are absorbing each day.
5. Check your expectations – What expectations do you have of yourself and others when it comes to navigating back to “normal”? Oftentimes, disappointment and frustration come from unmet and/or unreasonable expectations. Are your expectations realistic to the situation? Or could you be ok with readjusting them?
6. Practice patience and kindness – Adapting to any version of “normal” can be tough. So, make sure you’re practicing patience, kindness, empathy and compassion towards yourself. After all, you deserve it!
Remember that, on some level, you’re already a pro at adapting to change…. you’ve been doing it your whole life. Some changes, adjustments and transitions are harder than others. But you’ve got an inventory of skills and strengths inside of you waiting to support you while we return to “normal”. Perhaps this past year and a half of navigating the pandemic caused you to slow down and reflect on what’s important to you. Don’t forget to consider your values. This can be a helpful tool in navigating change. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Rarely do people welcome change with excitement but you never know how sitting back and enjoying the ride might ultimately be a positive thing.