Two weeks ago I was able to attend my first in-person retreat at my beloved Mercy Center. The retreat leaders asked us to share how we felt coming into the retreat, and I said, “I’m so glad to be here, and I’m also feeling anxious. I may have forgotten how to PEOPLE.”
The fact that things are opening up a bit seems to be having this effect on many folks. It’s exciting to think of reconnecting with friends we haven’t seen in a year, AND it’s also anxiety-producing.
You go to the store because you CAN, and only half the people are wearing masks. Should you wear a mask or not? You go out to eat because you CAN, but it feels odd to be eating inside. These conflicting feelings are exhausting.
Many of us enjoyed being less busy than we were before the pandemic, and we are asking ourselves how to re-engage without falling back into the pattern of being overworked and stressed out. I want to see people, but I don’t want to see people. You get me? It’s very confusing.
I just finished listening to a book by Oprah and brain doctor Bruce D. Perry called, “What happened to you? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing” Dr. Perry talked about how our brains are wired to scan for threats. For instance, whenever we are in a new place where we don’t know folks, our brains scan each face we pass, asking the question, “Safe or unsafe.” We hold the likeness up to some imprint we developed as an infant. This is why moving to a new place is stress-producing and exhausting. We have to re-scan and relearn who is safe.
Now we’ve had a global pandemic where many who were not in our bubble for a year fell into the “unsafe” category. And the idea of getting back out there in the crowds sets off all the “unsafe” alarms in our heads. This leads to the underlying anxiety about re-engaging.
But Dr. Perry also talks about how being involved with a group of friends and family (our clan) helps us heal past trauma and live our best lives now. We just can’t get the same kind of support online no matter how much we Zoom. It’s time, folks. It’s time to re-engage.
So how do we do it?
I’d say start with the people you know best. For me personally, we were thrown into re-engagement when one of our close friends died last month from Covid. Yep, this scourge is still happening. Our group of friends rallied to host the family’s gathering after the funeral. We set up the chairs, served the food, and cleaned up, so the grieving family didn’t have to worry about anything. It was a sorrowful day, yet gathering for the first time in a year with friends felt very good (and because we were all vaccinated, we could hug)!
Do something fun! This last year was HARD. We all pulled together to make the world a safer place. So, pat yourself on the back and do something you enjoy! For me, it was going to that women’s retreat. I’d forgotten how fun it was to laugh out loud in a group. Laughing on Zoom isn’t nearly as fun because everyone is muted. You can tell people are laughing by looking at them, but you can’t hear them. Laughing releases endorphins, and doing it in a group releases more. Do something with folks that makes you laugh out loud. I promise it will make you feel better.
Get out in nature. Living in a desert, I’ve missed being out in the trees more than anything else this year. We have planned a road trip to the giant redwoods in June. I can’t wait! Nature also releases chemicals that calm our nervous systems. You just can’t be anxious with natural beauty all around you.
Pace yourself. Like a turtle, you can stick your head out and then retreat to your shell as needed. You don’t need to be out there 100% of the time. In fact, you’ve probably learned that downtime is vital to your mental health as well. I’m contemplating going back to work in person. I’ve asked my clients what they think, and more than half of them are eager to be face to face. Others want to continue online. I’m not rushing this decision for myself, and I’m not making it for anyone else. I will offer both in-person and online counseling as long as the insurance companies allow it. We each need to move forward at our own pace.
We have no idea when this pandemic will end. We may all end up back in quarantine come next winter, which is a harrowing thought. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to stretch your legs and your comfort levels to get out of the house. Enjoy some sunshine and some people. And let me know how it’s going for you.
Photo at top by Charles Parker on Pexels.com
Photo of mountain by James Wheeler on Pexels.com