Are we there yet?
While the pandemic might not exactly be history yet, more of our world is starting to "open up". I've heard this phrase "open up" more in the past month than for the entire year prior. The year prior everyone was using the word "unprecedented" like it was a new discovery. Did you ever hear yourself utter that word prior to 2020? Did you comment that the traffic on the way to work was unprecedented? Or that the laundry in your household was unprecedented? Probably not. There just didn't seem to be a strong enough reason or a big enough event to warrant such a multisyllabic word, especially when often times we rely on memes and gifs to communicate.
They do the trick though, don't they? Add a little humor to the message and make people smile. I think it's a great way to communicate - as long as it's not the ONLY way we communicate.
Today is the first day of summer break for my kids. They are lazily taking in the freedom of no obligations or schedule while I find myself in the opposite boat. Yes, I also am on a "summer schedule", but unlike the tweener and teenagers in my house, I plan my time. Obviously the years I've spent on this planet has taught me that time is fleeting and it will fly by whether I've been intentional about its use or not.
As I write this in June 2021 we are in a different space than we were a year ago. We are starting to explore more and get back to activities and routines that we engaged in prior to the pandemic. Yet - we are not the same. Would you agree? Don't you notice that you cringe a bit when someone gets within your bubble - or the 6 feet window? Even if the mask mandate has been lifted, do you still want to wear the mask to remain anonymous when you run into a store for a quick item or because you might have something in your teeth and have grown accustomed to the mask allowing you to avoid a mirror to check? Perhaps you've noticed that if you were fortunate enough to avoid contracting COVID yourself that you also have not experienced so much as a common cold in over a year. We have changed and there really was no avoiding it.
While so many of us are eager to get back to live events that draw large crowds of people or to fly on an airplane to a place we miss or a new place we want to explore, I think it would be wise to check in with ourselves first. This new sense of freedom has led to many people becoming overjoyed and maybe even quite dysregulated. We are experiencing emotions that we haven't had in awhile. We are moving out of feelings of blah and a sense of "meh" to unbridled joy and excitement. I am envisioning cartoons where the eyes on Wylie Coyote pop out. We have our eyes wide open and everything looks like a dessert that has been off limits for too long.
What happens with all of this excitement and anticipation? Have you ever been on a road trip and someone in the car perpetually asks, "are we there yet?" That is what is ringing in my ears right now. Summer is here, we want things to be exciting and engaging. We desire freedom over our activities and who we spend our time with, whether that be with one person or a large group of people. Yet - is our nervous system ready?
Before any ambitious goals can be attained, whether that is health goals, professional goals, personal goals, or family goals, our nervous systems need to be healthy, safe, and calm. Our nervous systems are not healthy, safe, and calm when we are sleep deprived (and many people don't realize that they are), stressed, anxious, or dysregulated in any way. If you were not diligent about tending to your nervous system during the pandemic (i.e., you were in a constant state of adapting, agitation, survival mode), then your nervous system needs some immediate TLC before you can take on all of this new joy. Your body won't know the difference. It will become overwhelmed and you'll start to feel yourself withdraw or experience negative emotions and wonder why. You might even think there is something wrong with you because you should be filled with joy and lots of energy when all you really want to do is take a nap. Take the nap! This is your nervous system telling you that it needs to rest, NOT take in more stimulation.
An easy way to get in touch with your nervous system is to be still and check your breath. Close your eyes if that is comfortable to you and you are in a safe place to do so. Notice your breath, both your inhale and your exhale. This simple act can tell you a TON of information about your mood, emotions, and physical health (e.g., acknowledging physical tension and pain). Notice - what are the thoughts that continue to come up for you? To-do lists or self-judgement? Spend some time each day clearing this out. Think of it like spring cleaning or a tune up. You would do these things for your house or your car. Imagine your smart phone never needing to be charged or completely shut down and restarted. That would be crazy, right? So why do we expect that our nervous system can continue to manage the life we lead if we don't intentionally tend to it?
I know that this post is getting long and that a lot of reading may not be something you have the time for, much preferring a few gifs or memes and moving on to the next thing. I do truly hope that you've made it this far though. If you have, please take care of yourself and don't expect "life as normal" to be here yet. Don't demand yourself to feel positive emotions and then become disappointed when you don't. Simply sit in quiet a few times a day. Tell your family that you need that time for yourself and then don't feel selfish about it. You cannot care for others if you haven't taken care of yourself first. It's okay to say this to your children. I encourage you to do so. They need to hear it and see you follow through. Find some space, anywhere that is comfortable and safe. Breathe. Seems simple, but if you haven't done this before, it might be very difficult at first. Have patience with yourself. The patience and compassion you offer yourself is vital and foundational for all that you aspire to experience in the days ahead.