Disciple: Re-entering the World
COVID-19 took us all on an unexpected and disorienting journey over the past 18 months. It turned our lives upside down and sideways, taking us down paths we never saw before, often presenting us with new challenges on a daily basis. Some, such as essential workers, have been interacting with others throughout the pandemic. Others, sheltering at home, have not with only few exceptions. As vaccinations increase and restrictions are lifted, all now have to adjust once again. As the world reopens, the readiness to emerge back into it may not quite be there.
- Know where you have been; learn from the good and bad.
- Locate where you are right now, name it and acknowledge it. Remember it is okay if where you are is different from where others might be.
- Make a plan for how you will navigate the world while taking care of yourself.
- Take your journey one day at a time. Be present, learn as you go and stay flexible.
A LOOK BACK
However, it was challenging, and no one was spared from a variety of stresses.
COVID threatened our basic safety needs. We worried over our food supply and basic necessities like cleaning products and toilet paper. We were stressed over our protection from contracting this mysterious virus. Our psychological needs were affected as many people suffered loneliness and isolation during quarantine. The loss of jobs and the restrictions that kept us from meaningful activity hurt our self-esteem needs and diminished our feelings of accomplishment. Finally, opportunities to meet self-fulfillment needs lessened as activities to fulfill our potential were hampered. People of all ages were restricted from educational, career and creative pursuits.
However, even in the midst of the stress, perhaps we can see some gifts that emerged. There was evidence of our resilience and creativity as we invented “drive-by” celebrations, held virtual family and friend gatherings, and developed new hobbies and skills. We explored the outdoors and reorganized our indoors. We got to know our families better and gained new appreciation for other relationships. Although too much time alone can be unhealthy, we were reminded of the value of being still and connecting with our thoughts, emotions and spirituality.
Things may never be the same as they were before the pandemic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. As we prepare to engage in a new normal, we can ask ourselves a few questions about the last year that will help recalibrate what normal can be.
- What was most difficult?
- What did we learn about ourselves and others?
- What “gifts” did the pandemic provide us personally?
- Post-COVID, how will we use these gifts to improve our life and the world?
TAKING STOCK OF TODAY
- COVID concerns, including new variants, effectiveness of vaccines and future spikes
- Decreasing financial protections as debt pressures build
- Uncertainty around jobs, including discomfort about returning to the workplace
- Children, including learning gaps from lost time in school and anxieties around their own feelings of safety
- Damaged relationships with family and friends
- Relationships with co-workers, including differing opinions about workplace safety and the best ways to interact and communicate
- Grief, whether over the loss of loved ones or opportunities to acknowledge important life transitions
- Guilt about staying online due to hesitation to re-engage in person, or simply opting for the convenience of logging in over going out.
- Trauma (PTSD) relating to separation or abusive quarantine situations
- Loss of confidence to perform job or to stay in profession due to overwhelming workload or feelings of helplessness
- Depression or fear stemming from the isolation
- Social appearance, embarrassment over weight gain
- Fear of getting used to a more normal life and then having to give it up again
- Anger and regret over being behind on life plans, travel, pursuit of interests
- Working from home brought better work/life balance; fear of losing that
- What are your biggest stresses?
- Why are these bothering you the most?
- What is the worst thing that could happen?
- If the worst thing happened, could I deal with it?
CONSIDERATIONS FOR LOOKING FORWARD
Whether or not we feel ready for it, life continues. But as we look forward to our next steps, there are a few things we can do to prepare for them. First, know yourself and acknowledge your stresses. It is normal to feel anxious. Pay attention to your feelings. Once you have a clear sense of “pain points,” it is time to address them. Secondly, make a specific and detailed “Re-entry Plan.” The act of making plans will help relieve your stress. Here are some examples to get your thoughts flowing:
- If you must return to a workplace, work out caregiving for your children, other dependents and your pets.
- If possible or desirable, negotiate to continue working from home OR seek a new job if working from home has become a necessity.
- If concerned about your physical work environment, go in early to clean your office.
- Think of ways to feel at home in your workplace again.
- Maintain current self-care and relaxation activities.
- Plan social time with friends with whom you feel safe.
- Learn a new skill.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. If worries make sleep difficult, write them down and leave them for tomorrow.
- Give yourself permission to laugh and cry as needed. Allow specific time to attend to your feelings if they are affecting your work or social life. It is important to balance your obligations with your need to process your emotions. Both are important, and this can allow you to give each the focused attention they deserve.
- If a “worry thought” intrudes, notice it and let it pass without judgment.
- Compose a “Promise to Self:”
- Pledge to do the self-care activities that nurture you.
- Affirm that you will protect your own safety.
- Promise yourself and others grace in difficult interactions.
- Reframe your fears, concerns and beliefs as positive statements: “I am the only one who feels afraid” becomes “Everyone has some level of fear surrounding post-pandemic life. I am not alone.”
- Protect your mental health
- Maintain connections. Find support from friends, family or your faith community. Feeling alone can be destructive.
- Comprise a crisis plan for times you feel overwhelmed.
- Use “if...then” strategies, e.g., “If I feel overwhelmed by my fears, then I will call my friend, talk to my therapist or priest, practice self-care, or call a mental health crisis line such as 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).”
- Don’t beat yourself up if you find you are not as worried or anxious as others or that you actually miss some of the changes in your life that COVID allowed.
- Compile “scripts” for dealing with differences in perspectives regarding safety measures.
- Ask questions to understand others’ points of view. Listen and acknowledge their feelings. Conversations around differing comfort levels can be helpful to all.
- Assure your staff you are doing all you can for safety and following company policies. Let them know you are always available to listen.
- Discuss with your staff how to address others’ concerns, opposing views and disparate comfort levels.
- Offer safe “workplace joy” activities to help morale during this transition.
- Reach outward and show care for others (as safely as you see fit).
- Organize a group of friends to walk with and support each other through re-entry. Make yourself the leader in these social opportunities, counteracting your own feelings of helplessness and helping them to feel safe.
- Form a support group for others who are adjusting to this transition.
- Keep in mind that others are struggling, and you are not alone.
- Take time for the spiritual practices that are meaningful to you.
- Seek spiritual direction or counseling from those you trust.
- When you are ready, consider attending group worship and re-engaging in your spiritual community.
- Don’t take relationships for granted. Be present with others, in every sense of the word.
- Spend time together, whether in person or via one of the ways we learned to do it during quarantine.
- Be present with others emotionally, minimizing distractions and giving your full attention. Listen, focusing on understanding their thoughts and feelings without judgement.
TAKING YOUR FIRST STEPS
First and foremost, be gentle with yourself. When you are ready, take small steps and move at your own pace. Similarly, give grace and space to others, allowing them to make their own decisions. Don’t feel compelled to accept every social invitation, and don’t be afraid to say “no” if you have reservations about attending certain events or venues.
Take it one day at a time; focus on being mentally and emotionally present to this new freedom. Be open to learning new lessons about yourself and others. Stay flexible.
As we start this new journey together, we realize the world is not the same, and even more importantly, we realize that we are not the same. Through our collective suffering, we have changed and grown. We may have gained a greater appreciation for the precious value of human life and our connection with one another.
The pandemic gave us opportunities to develop our resilience as we were adaptive and creative in the sudden onslaught of a radically new and different reality. And now, again, we face new challenges as we move forward. Let us grasp the opportunity to create a new and better world as we travel with a firm sense of where we are, who we are and what we have learned. As we do, may it give us hope for richer lives of faith and love for one another.
Nancy Montgomery, Margie Hodgin, BSN, RN, and Marianne Schubert, PhD, are members of the Caring in Community Ministry Group at St. Paul’s, Winston-Salem. Learn more about the ministry at stpaulswinstonsalem.org.
Tags: North Carolina Disciple