This new normal we’re getting used to is pretty strange isn’t it? I’ve heard the word surreal used a lot lately as many of us get to grips with lockdown in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. It goes some way to explaining the bewildered looks on people’s faces as they wander around supermarkets considering this new reality where shelves are suddenly empty, at least here in the UK. And as we all wake up to a world where nothing feels the same, but outside the sun is still shining and the birds keep on singing as if nothing has changed, surreal just about covers it.
So how do we adapt to these changes, however temporary, and how do we navigate our way back to feeling normal when everything around us feels anything but?
Accept discomfort – it will pass
The first step is to accept that it is entirely natural and normal to feel uncomfortable emotions right now. It is also okay and normal not to like any of what is going on. Yes, it is good to be positive, to remain upbeat and try to find the silver lining in the face of what feels scary, but that comes later.
In order to remain positive, we must accept all those uncomfortable and darker feelings first. Sweeping negative emotions under the carpet does not make them go away.
“What we resist, persists” – Carl Jung
What we resist, persists. Carl Jung explained. The easiest way to deal with a negative emotion is to look it squarely in the face and call it by its name.
EXERCISE ONE: Today, I feel….?
Grab a pen and a piece of paper and list everything you are feeling right now, in this moment. Where does it sit in your body? Get in touch with what the feeling is? Is it covering another deeper emotion? Sit quietly with this feeling and accept that it doesn’t feel good – you can’t will it away, you can’t fight it, you can only accept it.
- Tell yourself, everyone feels sad/frustrated/angry sometimes, everyone hurts.
- Tell yourself, it is okay to feel bad.
- Remind yourself that feeling negative emotions will allow them to pass more quickly and easily. Noticing them makes them smaller.
- Tell yourself it will pass.
What is keeping you stuck?
In a crisis, our refusal to give up expectations of how things should be prevents us from experiencing how things could be.
One of the rules of the mind is that our minds like the familiar. When change is forced on us before we are ready, the natural human response is to resist. First there is shock, then denial, then anger. It is a grieving process all of its own, grieving for an old way of living and an old way of doing.
What keeps us stuck is trying to hold on to the old ways – our old normal – when all around us has changed so dramatically that what used to work no longer does.
The best way to look at it is to consider normal as just an old set of habits we now need to grow out of. Our minds love what’s familiar and are destabilised by the unfamiliar. If you’ve ever given up sugar in your coffee you’ll know how it takes some time to get used to the new taste. But once you’re used to it, if someone accidentally puts sugar in your .coffee it tastes disgusting – you wonder how you could have ever drunk it that way.
In order to cope with the new normal during the coronavirus pandemic and quickly, it’s about making the “unfamiliar familiar and the familiar unfamiliar”.
The quickest way to do this is to create a new structure to your day as soon as possible.
EXERCISE TWO: A new daily routine
Write down all the things you used to do every day and every week before the current crisis. What did your day look like? Why was it structured that way? For ease, efficiency, comfort, enjoyment?
Now look at what your day looks like in the current crisis. What has changed? Ask yourself what changes are you finding difficult and what are you resisting? See if you can work out why – and then get to the bottom of the feeling, and as in Exercise One, fully experience the feeling and let it pass.
The new normal
In creating a new normal, look for the opportunity. As coach David Hollis writes: In the rush to return to normal. take the time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.
“In the rush to return to normal. take the time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to” – David Hollis
A case in point, having fewer items on the supermarket shelves made me buy different products I might never have tried before and most of them were cheaper, and the family even liked them (which was quite a miracle in itself!). So, because of the current lockdown, because there was panic buying, because there were fewer products on the shelves, I tried something new and saved money. It’s a simplistic example I know, but it’s a small thing that made me see the current crisis in a new way.
Not everything about our lives pre-Coronavirus worked well, Now is the time to stop and reflect and choose a better way of living once we are out of this crisis, which of course one day we will be.
EXERCISE THREE: Life after the crisis
On your piece of paper write: once this crisis is over…
- This is what I want to change:
- This is what I want to keep:
- This is what I want to try:
- This is what I want to do:
- This is how I want to be:
Adapting to change is never easy, even at the best of times. Coping with the new normal is a challenge. In the current crisis, everyone is struggling in some way, big or small. Recent research reveals that self-compassion is key to handling difficult times in life. Knowing that we all hurt, all feel pain, all struggle, all fail, is about making us more aware of our vulnerabilities, and that’s what makes us human. That’s what makes us compassionate.
We don’t have to achieve great things. We don’t have to put a brave face on hard times or be cheerful all the time – those things come all on their own when first we recognise that times are tough, but they will pass.
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