Back to normal? Today is a new day

By Dr. Batya L. Ludman, Psy.D., FT · Published June 11, 2021

Last month I proudly got my column in to my editor three weeks early, allowing me to leave my work behind and finally travel to visit family abroad. I usually submit my column in advance to reduce the stress of last-minute deadlines.

In doing so, I try and anticipate what issues we might face in the weeks ahead. Today I ask myself what planet I was on. After dissecting COVID from so many angles all year, like others, I was very ready to leave this difficult topic behind and move on to more exciting topics.

Little did I anticipate that a mass casualty incident would be declared in Meron and while taking the lives of 45 people, involved me professionally thousands of miles away. Nor did I anticipate a war, all the while wanting and trying to get home to face both missiles and political turmoil. Our country's collective mood was so incredibly sad. The list of tragedies continued and all I could do was wish my editor in all seriousness a boring week as I planned for this column.

At times like these, it's important to remind yourself that grief is cumulative. Grief involves not only death but also non-death losses and if you are wondering why you lack energy, feel somewhat disconnected, sleep poorly and aren't completely ecstatic at the prospect of returning to your former life, this may in part explain it. It is hard to jump for joy when in the pit of your stomach you feel pain, anxiety and fear about leaving the comfort and presumed safety of your home, and experience stress over what was and what might be. All these changes, involving uncertainty on top of uncertainty, can bring on an unwanted sense of doom and gloom for even the most relaxed among us. They impinge on your level of enthusiasm and motivation, leaving you feeling lethargic and lost. Not to mention the rapid cycling of one minute you are in COVID, the next you aren't, one minute there is a war with hundreds of missiles coming your way and the next- silence, it's purportedly over. One day you seem not to have a government, and the next, you don't know what you have and how you feel.

This ongoing anger and lack of stability has had many searching for normalcy and at the very least some sense of comfort. You reach for food or drink, your smart phones and other form of passive entertainment to reduce your anxiety and quell your sense of being overwhelmed, allowing yourself to dumb down and zone out. Now however, is your opportunity to return to a healthier and happier lifestyle. Get rid of what hasn't worked and make changes that will take you to a much better place.

Here are some suggestions for moving forward. Maybe not all will apply for you right now. That's okay. Pick what works for you, embrace your new post pandemic lifestyle and get started!

  • Note the blessings of everyday life. Life is what you choose to make of it. Notice and appreciate the positive and let go of the negative. Do you focus on what you have or on what is missing? Do you see the gifts around you or find yourself complaining constantly? We got a vaccine in only nine months and it works very well. Life has opened up again. Quite a feat, given there has been a worldwide pandemic. We seem to have a government and hopefully are working toward unity (at least at the time this was written!).

  • Examine past routines and rituals and select one small aspect and make it work for you. Challenge yourself to try it for a day a week, or a month. It could be going to bed earlier, returning to synagogue as a family, planning healthier meals. You might be surprised how grounding it feels to have a routine and establish a sense of balance in your everyday life.

  • Check out your values. Are you the person, partner and parent that you'd like to be? Respectful and kind? Honest and full of integrity? Do you show up on time and keep your promises? Do you make choices that you are proud of and honor the person that you want to be? Are you a mensch or have a sense of entitlement?

  • Check out your habits and consider a change. Something so small as separating mood from food or spending 20 minutes of talk time alone with your partner, for example, can make a huge difference.

  • Get out of your shell. Schedule outdoor time during daylight hours. Take a walk, visit a friend or sit in nature. These can elevate your mood.

  • Evaluate how you'd like to divide your time with family, friends, work and leisure. What would you do differently, and how can you reorganize your priorities and find a way to make this happen?

  • Get back to basics. Embrace the concept of simplicity and the idea of less being more. The pandemic has taught us that there is so much that we can do without. Simplify your life whether with respect to menu planning, your wardrobe, or entertaining. Recognize that there is a difference between needing and wanting something. Do you really need to try everything and then return again to the all-you-can-eat buffet? Think about the world's emphasis on "sustainability." How can you apply that to your life? What kind of footprint are you leaving on the world?

  • Think about taking a three-week holiday. What would you pack? What else is important to you? Now declutter the entire contents of your house – everything – your clothes, possessions that you neither need nor enjoy, your relationships that are not healthy. You will be surprised at how much lighter you feel and how much easier it will be to move forward.

  • Dare to dream for your future. Think of that three-week trip we just discussed. Where would you go and what would you want to see? What is on your bucket and "to do" list?

  • Volunteer. Doing and giving to others will increase your sense of well-being and enable you to feel more motivated.

  • Be kind to yourself. Let go of the past and move on. Be kind to others and give them the benefit of the doubt. This is especially important now.

  • Try and find other ways for dealing with boredom or feeling overwhelmed. We have gotten used to having everything in a matter of minutes and in doing so have lost the ability to wait. Read a book. Call a friend. Start a project. Get back into exercise, spend quality time with the children. Start that diet and shut off the news.

  • Set realistic expectations. We all know what we need to do. Finding the balance is not always easy and in being your own best friend, don't set the bar higher for you than you would for others.

  • Today is a great time for a new beginning. By challenging yourself to break the cycle, you'll be amazed at how much better you can feel. This is your opportunity to define who you want to be post-pandemic and in doing so to better appreciate a more relaxed way of life.

A version of this article suitable for printing is available here.