Want to make a stress-free comeback after months of Covid lockdowns? Use these tips to reflect on how you want your post-Covid life to look.
The UK is set to ‘return to normal’ following nearly 18 months of living through a global pandemic.
If you’ve had your Covid vaccinations, you have the green light to return to work in the open-plan office, hug strangers in the street and squeeze into a packed nightclub to order drinks at the bar.
Does that sound stressful to you? You are not alone.
According to new research by CV-Library, over half of UK employees feel anxious about returning to the office. Just the idea of dealing with office politics is enough to make many break out in a cold sweat.
There’s even a new mental health condition which has emerged following the pandemic: Covid-19 Anxiety Syndrome.
The symptoms of this syndrome mimic those of other mental health conditions, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The pandemic and related factors appear to be the cause.
Even if you’re some way away from feeling this strongly about the return to normality, you may not feel entirely confident that you’re ready for the risks associated with being in close proximity to other people.
How do you know what to rebuild, what to leave behind and what to try for the first time as freedom beckons?
Clinical psychological science provides some helpful clues for how you can make a stress-free comeback from Covid and emerge safely after months of lockdown.
1. Get comfortable feeling uncomfortable
It’s completely normal to feel anxious when you’re pushed out of your comfort zone and forced to let go of an established habit.
We’ve just got used to wearing masks and now we are told that it’s safe to take them off again.
It’s no wonder that your natural instinct is to want to hide at home until the perceived danger has passed.
Lean into this feeling of unease. Don’t try to suppress it or judge yourself for feeling stressed.
The brain is hardwired to look out for danger to keep you safe and this is not something which you can consciously change or control.
So expect to feel uncomfortable and get comfortable with it. When you’re expecting a certain degree of stress and anxiety, you’re better prepared for it and this can make the transition a little smoother.
2. Get clear on what you truly value
Covid-19 lockdown brought with it a range of unexpected benefits; from having more time with the family to avoiding the daily commute on crowded public transport.
It also provided an opportunity to take a closer look at how we are spending our lives and consider if we have got our priorities right.
Now is a good time to get clear on what you truly value so that you can stay true to yourself.
Staying true to yourself means that you act in harmony with who you are and what you believe. It means that your “insides”, your feelings and beliefs, match your “outsides”, or your actions.
We know from positive psychology research that being clear on what you truly value and living in accordance with those beliefs can promote a sense of wellbeing and reduce anxiety and depression.
Imagine that you are asked to list all the different roles and responsibilities that you have in life and assign a % number to indicate how much time you would like to spend on each of these priorities.
You might value the time that you spend on parenting, marriage, friendship, work, running and hobbies.
Your ideal time allocation might look something like this:
Now get real and assign a % number to indicate where you actually spend your time
Do you spot the difference?
Recognising that your real life choices don’t match up to what you value the most can help you to identify the parts of your life that deserve a higher priority.
Of course, time is not the only meaningful metric and all of us have periods when certain parts of our lives need to dominate. For instance, a sudden family crisis may mean that we need to focus all of our time and energy on this for a while.
However, the process of considering your values and trying to align what you value and how you actually live can help guide your choices during this time when we have an opportunity to shape our ‘new normal’.
3. Starve off negative emotions
When you go through stressful times or feel anxious about a change that is looming, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by negative emotions and forget how to have fun.
However, research suggests that you can starve off negative emotions by engaging in activities that feel rewarding.
Doing things that lift your mood or provide a sense of accomplishment help to lower the body’s stress response and make you feel more optimistic about the future.
So try to keep track of your activities for a week and monitor how they make you feel.
Are you doing enough to starve off negative emotions and safeguard your emotional wellbeing?
The only cure for unhappiness is happiness!
Never feel guilty for putting yourself first and strengthening your resilience.
It’s the best defense you have against stress and the foundation for a strong come-back.
4. Pay It Forward
If you are vaccinated and healthy and can return to more normal activities, then you are in a fortunate group after a year of such devastating losses.
As you plan how to use this time, consider the research showing that your emotional health improves when you do things to benefit others.
Being intentional about helping others is a win-win.
Many people and communities are in need right now, so think about how you can contribute—be it time, money, resources, skills, or a listening ear.
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 household need, can boost everyone’s well-being.
As the return to so-called normal life becomes more of a reality, don’t idealize post-pandemic life or you are bound to be disappointed.
Instead, be grateful and intentional about what you choose to do with this gift of a reboot.
With a little thought, you can do better than “normal”.
Stress-Resilience can be learnt so that you’re ready for a stress-free return from Covid.
Check out my Stress-Proof Your Team in 15 Days Programme and build inner strength in just 10 minutes per day.